Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Arias doctrine: another wrong that should be corrected

While the Supreme Court is now seriously considering the scrapping of the old condonation doctrine or the Aguinaldo doctrine, I suggest it also look into and revisit the other twin of the “dodging corruption cases” mantra repeatedly abused and misused by heads of government offices and agencies, the Arias doctrine.

In Arias vs. Sandiganbayan, the Supreme Court in 1989 declared: "We would be setting a bad precedent if a head of office plagued by all too common problems— dishonest or negligent subordinates, overwork, multiple assignments or positions, or plain incompetence—is suddenly swept into a conspiracy conviction simply because he did not personally examine every single detail, painstakingly trace every step from inception, and investigate the motives of every person involved in a transaction before affixing his signature as the final approving authority. "x x x x "x x x. All heads of offices have to rely to a reasonable extent on their subordinates and on the good faith of those who prepare bids, purchase supplies, or enter into negotiations. x x x. There has to be some added reason why he should examine each voucher in such detail. Any executive head of even small government agencies or commissions can attest to the volume of papers that must be signed. There are hundreds of documents, letters, memoranda, vouchers, and supporting papers that routinely pass through his hands. The number in bigger offices or department is even more appalling."

The Arias doctrine has been abused to the hilt by heads of government offices, both appointed and elected, going by the number of corruption cases dismissed by the courts owing to its invocation. These, regardless of whether or not said heads of agencies were the ultimate and prime beneficiaries of the assailed transactions, especially when "added reason" or "unusual fact" could not be established by the prosecution.  

However, it is a not a secret that under the padrino system (kamag-anak, kaklase, kaibigan) prevailing in the bureaucracy, heads of agencies appoint to juicy and key positions only those persons who fall in the 3K category. These are subordinates who usually control the budget and finance; they will not act or do anything, especially those involving the use of public funds, without the bidding and/or imprimatur of their bosses. And so the boss always knows.

At the very least, the doctrine tolerates and even encourages incompetence and buck passing, instead of encouraging competent, upright and responsible leaders. In this manner, the Arias doctrine is sadly and unfortunately turned on its head.


  1. This doctrine has wisdom considering the voluminous documents a Chief Executive has to go over everyday. If the leader does not delegate the nitty gritty to his subordinates, government service will completely bog down.

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