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Selected pertinent editorial and OpEd views

Philippine Democracy: Alive, but is it well?

By Walden Bello, INQUIRER, 5/11/2010 (emphasis added)
The 2010 campaign has drawn to a close, and it’s time to distill my experiences after registering hundreds of miles by land, sea, and air crisscrossing the country as a party-list candidate.

On the purely physical side, my shaking thousands of hands—I estimated some 3,500 in one two-hour period in the public market in Angeles, Pampanga—has apparently given my right arm a life of its own, like that of Dr. Strangelove or one of Jim Carrey’s characters. It twitches uncontrollably when not in action, as if waiting impatiently to be fed.

There is no doubt in my mind that Philippine democracy is alive. Everywhere I went, there was intense interest in the candidates, particularly the presidential candidates, with many pausing from their labors to inquire which presidential nominee I favored and what program my party Akbayan had to offer. Everywhere the courtship of the voter was intense. Gone are the days when the “command vote” for a candidate could be considered sufficient to deliver victory. Except in the remotest places, the “market vote” has increased in both size and decisiveness. The market vote is no statistical abstraction for candidates: In almost every municipality and city, it has become de rigueur for candidates to present and sell themselves in the public market, trying to shake every hand within reach, even the wet hands of fish and meat vendors embarrassed to extend them.

Most of the time, the cynics say, the people are at the mercy of the politicians. Maybe, but for at least three months every three years, the politicians are at the mercy of the voters.

Philippine democracy is alive, but is it well?

It is difficult to answer in the affirmative. The reason for this goes beyond the fact that come election day, scores will have been gunned down and huge sums will have been passed out to buy votes.

What worries me, more than the violence and the vote-buying, of which we will always have a good dosage of, is the skyrocketing cost of elections. P9 billion is now said to be a conservative estimate for a presidential run, and P1.1 billion for somebody running for the Senate is said to be a low figure. For a candidate for Congress, P450 million is definitely on the low side. Most of these sums are spent on media outreach, particularly television. One is tempted to say the media is king. It might be more appropriate to say that the market is king, since it is the demand for advertising space, in a system where there are few legal constraints on electoral spending on media exposure, that raises its price many times over in the course of the 12-week election period.

The need to raise enormous sums to have some impact on an expanding electorate has, of course, naturally strengthened the influence of the rich and those organizations favored by the rich over the electoral system. In this respect, Philippine electoral democracy is a spitting image of its parent, American democracy. In both, the influence of moneyed elites in shaping electoral outcomes is enormous. Candidates fit themselves to the interests of the rich and powerful when they do not themselves come from the ranks of the rich and powerful. In a very real sense, in both countries, elections function not so much as a means through which people choose their leaders but a mechanism whereby rival factions of the elite compete for possession of the state apparatus.

The Political Class on a Treadmill

There is a strong correlation between wealth and political power, but it is not perfect. There is a distinct political class, and in this campaign I truly learned the meaning of the saying that politics is a profession. While it usually does have other sources of wealth, like land, this class is extraordinarily dependent expanding its wealth, power, and status on the control and maintenance of political office.

For competing factions of this class, the positions of mayor, governor, and district congressman are critical offices to gain, and once one reaches the limit of three consecutive terms for each office, one feels compelled to run for another position or return to a previously held position. One cannot just vacate a position for which one can no longer run but ensure that a relative, preferably one’s spouse or offspring, fills it. Politics is truly a family affair in the worst sense of the term. The consequences of losing the hold of one’s family on a political office can be the beginning of decline, and eventually marginalization. The prospect of this loss of power, fortune, and prestige is what motivates families not to be satisfied with just having one position but to monopolize all the key positions—mayor, district congressman, party-list congressman, and governor. The best defense is offense, and family monopoly is best since political alliances based on short-term interests tend also to be short-term.

With almost no exception, this dynamics of dynastic succession repeated itself in almost every city and province I campaigned in. We are accustomed to condemning politicians seeking to keep everything in the family, but, in a sense, they are just as much trapped in a system as the rest of us in a system that encourages destructive dynastic politics.

Non-existent: the Policy Debate

The Villar camp made poverty the issue. But it was the Noynoy-Mar camp that hit the right note with the voters by claiming that corruption caused poverty. After nine years of unbridled corruption in Malacanang and deepening poverty among the masses, the popularity of the kung walang kurap, walang mahirap slogan was understandable.

The only problem is that while indeed corruption contributes to poverty, it is not the main cause of poverty, and the hegemony of the corruption discourse curing the campaign meant the avoidance of any substantive discussion of the key issues behind poverty and economic stagnation--among them, uncontrolled population growth, a debt service policy that has radically reduced funds for capital expenditures, trade liberalization that has devastated industry and agriculture, and the completion of the land reform program. Sure, some policy issues were discussed during the presidential debates, but these were often those, like education policy, that elicited the usual motherhood statements. And when a controversial policy issue could not be avoided, like the issue of reproductive health, most candidates threw principled but unpopular positions out the window.

One can, of course, understand the necessities of campaign rhetoric, but the danger is that campaign rhetoric might substitute for policy initiatives when the new administration comes to power. This would be a disaster since poverty will not be eliminated or reduced by moral crusades against corruption but by reversal of the anti-growth, anti-equity policies such as the debt service policy and trade liberalization.

Religious Diktat Subverts Democracy

During one of the meetings I had with community leaders, I asked a member of the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) if the rank and file had influence on the selection of candidates to support. His response was curt: that was the prerogative of the Church leaders.

This was one of the incidents that revealed to me just how fragile the principle of the separation of church and state is in our democracy. All the presidential candidates fawned on the INC, with its five million votes and paid several visits to Pastor Quiboloy in Davao, who is said to command three million votes. Whoever Church patriarch Eduardo Manalo tells his sect to vote for is law, and the same is said to be true of Quiboloy. The danger to democracy becomes very apparent when elections are closely contested, which is the case for the current race for vice president. The dictatorial bloc voting of the INC and Quiboloy could end up determining who wins the vice presidency, thus subverting electoral democracy, which rests on the principle of choice of the individual sovereign citizen.

As in every dictatorship, authoritarian control spawns collateral abuses. For instance, in one Bulacan municipality, residents allege that local Iglesia leaders sold the promise of bloc votes to local candidates, something that is said to be prohibited by the Church leadership but which occurs nevertheless since the penalties are relatively light.

But it is not only the INC and Quiboloy’s Kingdom Nation that pose a threat to the principle of the separation of Church and State. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines encouraged voters to vote against proponents of the Reproductive Health Bill, wrongly and maliciously accusing them of promoting abortion. The question is not so much the people, which surveys reveal to be in favor of artificial contraceptives like condoms for fertility control, but the politicians, who pander to the Church hierarchy, thinking they still exert strong influence over the opinions of the laity. This is a big myth, and the sooner the politicians see the hollow threat behind the bishops’ pronouncements on matters of individual choice, the better for all of us. With its veto over reproductive rights, the Catholic hierarchy has now become one of the biggest blocks to women’s health, poverty alleviation, and environmental protection.

The Party-List Fiasco

When I mentioned during our innumerable sorties in public markets that I was running for the House of Representatives under the party-list system, I would often be met with a quizzical look. So I can confirm first hand what the surveys have consistently shown: that up to 75 per cent of voters are not aware of the party-list system or how it works.

This dismal state of affairs is not surprising since so few resources have been spent educating the voters about the party-list system that the chairman of the Comelec, Jose Melo, himself has admitted that he did not understand it.

Yet the Comelec is not the only institution responsible.

The framers of the 1987 Constitution appeared to have two related ideas when coming up with the party-list system. One was to give an avenue for the articulation of the voices of marginalized groups that could not prosper under the money-intensive elections for district congressman. The other was to encourage the formation of such parties for the politically marginalized on a nationwide basis. So for 20 per cent of the seats in the House, elections were to be held not on the basis of the first-past-the-post, plurality- winner-take-all system, but on proportional representation.

The idea was excellent, except that a clear definition of a marginalized group was never really made by the framers of the Constitution or by the party-list law. Many party-list groups that formed indeed represented marginalized groups, but the political class saw in the ambiguity of the concept of marginalized group a new avenue to get to the House. From the very beginning, the number of participating parties claiming to represent all sorts of “marginalized groups” was large: 123 in the 1998 elections and 162 in 2001. This election, the size of the ballot—25 inches—was determined by the need to accommodate 187 competing groups.

Malacanang also saw the system as a way of ensuring its control of the House, so in the last few years, it has informally sponsored and funded all sorts of parties claiming to represent marginalized groups, from balut vendors, tricycle drivers, and security guards, to ethnic minorities, and regional ethnic groups. It has been conservatively estimated that at least 45 of this year’s participating groups are “pakawala” or agents of Malacanang, their purpose being to ensure that the president, who is running for the second district of Pampanga, becomes the Speaker of the 15th Congress.

Perhaps the nadir of the party list system was reached two days before the May 10 elections when the Comelec ruled that presidential son Mikey Arroyo could run as a representative of security guards under the party Ang Galing Pinoy even with overwhelming evidence that he had no historic links to the sector whatsoever.

In Sum…

These considerations could lead to the conclusion that the balance of trends in Philippine democracy is negative. However, if one factors in the fact that the Automated Election System (AES) has worked, despite many glitches, the balance, in my view, is positive. Perfected in elections to come, the AES will hopefully reduce poll irregularities significantly.

Yet the disturbing trends we have pointed out cast their long shadow on our democracy. If unchecked, they will definitely destabilize further an already gravely flawed system of governance.

Vantage Point -- By Luis V. Teodoro, Business World 5/13/10

...and now, the hard part

PRESIDENT-elect Benigno Aquino III ran his campaign on the slogan "None Poor Without Corruption" (Walang Mahirap Kung Walang Corrupt). His platform of governance not only emphasizes the same theme. The same platform also links corruption to mass despair, apathy and cynicism.

That document (http://www.malayanghalalan.com) declares that: "We have lost trust in the democratic institutions we so courageously re-established after the dictatorship. Our proven capacity for collective outrage and righteous resistance has been weakened. We have ceased to depend on the patriotism and civic engagement that used to animate many of our efforts.

"We have become divided and alienated, focusing only on ourselves and on our individual pursuits. Our moral faculties as a people have been paralyzed. We have retreated into a dark world of self-absorption and cynicism. Our collective despair has reached its lowest point."

The corruption that has metastasized throughout Philippine society has indeed created a culture of helplessness, resignation and moral decay in which criminals, brutes, clowns, idiots and liars are held up as models for emulation, being otherwise having been shown to be fatal to one’s life and fortune.

The same culture has bred an indifference to, and even approbation of, evil, and condemns self-sacrifice, patriotism, and moral outrage as the quaint vices of idealist fools. In this setting the most egregious injustices are shrugged off as part and parcel of the human condition, and fear accepted as the necessary condition for survival in a countryside ruled by murderous warlords and political dynasties.

The link between corruption and poverty is even more evident. Estimates vary, but there is general agreement that trillions of pesos in public funds have been lost to corruption since 1946. The World Bank estimate in 2000 was that $48 billion (P1.968 trillion) had been lost to corruption during the 20-year period from 1977 to 1997. It is more than probable that the (hopefully) outgoing, flagrantly crooked Arroyo regime has added at least another half a trillion to that amount during the nine years in which it has been in power.

The usual lament is that instead of keeping corrupt politicians, generals, police officers and other officials in mansions, mistresses, vacations abroad, yachts and fleets of cars, these amounts could have built schools and clinics as well as roads and bridges, created industries and jobs, and helped fund the stalled and failing Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

The country’s land problem is even more basically linked to poverty. Funding constraints due to corruption would indeed be a problem if CARP were being rigorously implemented. But there is the even more crucial issue of the program’s flaws and the many loopholes that haunt it that have led the Department of Agrarian Reform to cut back its targeted land acquisitions -- by almost half in some years-and to fail to spend its budget for that purpose.

Except for the government, every other institution that has evaluated the program has questioned its supposed success. The late President Corazon Aquino proclaimed the program in 1987, but left the drafting of the law to the restored, still landlord-dominated Congress that was about to convene.

Farmer groups complained that leaving it to Congress to work out the details of CARP doomed it to failure. A World Bank mission that evaluated the draft of the program agreed, though not in so many words. The mission suggested, among others, that CARP be immediately implemented to frustrate efforts to go around it. It was also critical of a provision allowing the distribution of stocks to tenants and workers instead of the land itself. The mission noted that landowners would find stock distribution a more attractive option to actually transferring land ownership to their farmer tenants. Congress predictably ignored these suggestions.

Everyone knows by now that among the landowning families that opted for stock rather than land redistribution were the Cojuangcos, whose Hacienda Luisita was specifically mentioned by the late Corazon Aquino as subject to the program. The stock distribution option, under which the workers obtained 33% ownership, and the Cojuangcos 66%, kept Hacienda Luisita under the family’s control. Several dozen agri-corporations followed the Cojuangco example.

While Mr. Aquino’s campaign emphasized the corruption and poverty nexus, it did not note the iron link between poverty and the failure to eradicate land tenancy. Mr. Aquino has in fact been visibly annoyed whenever the Hacienda Luisita issue is mentioned, and seems to have no particular interest in re-examining CARP, much less committing to the dismantling of the archaic land tenancy system as a fundamental solution to the poverty and stagnation of the Philippine countryside and, hence, of the entire country itself.

It’s understandable from a human standpoint, CARP being among Corazon Aquino’s legacies. But any attempt to at least mitigate the deepening poverty of the country, which every survey ever taken during the last nine years has found has made hunger a daily reality among more and more families, must address the land problem.

A successful and authentic land reform program would not only free millions from the Jurassic serfdom that, uniquely in Southeast Asia, still exists in the Philippines. It would also boost rural incomes and stimulate the growth of industries, create jobs, and incidentally help keep families together rather than depriving children of parents who have had to seek employment in other countries to assure their families of any semblance of a future.

Mr. Aquino won the 2010 elections handily, and, unless the usual suspects have other plans, will probably preside over this country for the next six years. Assuming that he is honestly committed to diminishing, if not eradicating, poverty, he will have to bite the bullet of family and self-interest by addressing a problem whose solution has eluded this country for decades.

Winning the elections despite such hazards as the Comelec, failing PCOS machines, warlord tyranny, disenfranchisement, a fickle electorate, and an administration noted for its absolute lack of transparency and goodwill was the easy part.

Rule Of Law -- By Augusto R. Bundang

Corruption overdose

Part II

If a survey were conducted today, asking people what they think is the main cause of our economic deterioration, I would bravely opine that the overwhelming answer would be corruption. With so much talk by politicians, government leaders, and international organizations about corruption, it would appear that corruption is our society’s greatest evil, the removal of which will bring about the economic renaissance we have been praying for all along.

But on the assumption that the next government, with the support of the people, is able to totally conquer and defeat corruption, will it mean that we can now say goodbye to poverty in this country? Apparently, the answer is a resounding "no."

There is no doubt that corruption significantly undermines growth. A discussion presented by the World Bank during the 1998 Beijing International Symposium on the Prevention and Control of Financial Fraud noted that corruption, among others, increases transaction costs and uncertainty in an economy and weakens the state and its ability to promote development and social justice. This is the standard conclusion as well in many other international studies and discussions on corruption and progress. Ergo, one can perhaps arrive at the understanding that fighting corruption must be done and prioritized to achieve progress.

However, what if the reverse is true, i.e., progress must be secured first in order to reduce corruption? In other words, in order to destroy corruption, society must initially focus on ways to bring about genuine economic development. As a society improves in efficiency, productivity, and creativity, it is likely that corruption loses its attractiveness and becomes more expensive to resort to. If by paying a legitimate and sufficient government fee, an individual can obtain a business permit in an hour because of the efficiency of the local government, then why does he have to resort to paying bribes to expedite the release of his permit? Significantly, with growth and economic resources in the periphery, initiatives to curtail corruption may be more intense and serious than when there was no growth at all.

My own simple observation leads me to the plain realization that most countries that have developed economically were in the same boat as ours before becoming economic giants. South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and even the United States started out poor with no capital and dependent on agriculture, experienced war and repression if not colonial rule, were politically and socially unstable, and had major corruption issues. But as they began to industrialize, invest in education and training, develop self-confidence and national pride, and attain democracy and good governance, corruption was consistently addressed and penalized, thereby lowering its incidence. In Singapore, Hong Kong, and the United Kingdom, it has been noted that significant efforts to curtail corruption took place after, not before, the industrialization process had already started.

It is best that we are not swayed by arguments that point solely to corruption as the lone cause of our decay and that it should be the most important order of the day for the next leaders of the land. To believe in and be persuaded by this line of ratiocination is to be blind to history and to the lessons that the developed countries have shown us. Verily, corruption gravely contributes to our poor state and slow recovery, but it is not the only factor that has led us to this quagmire of destitution. Let us remember, it is our so-called leaders’ ineptitude, lack of foresight, political will, and patriotism, and colonial mentality, first and foremost, that have kept us in the dark all these years and will continue to keep us so if we remain ignorant and dumb as in the past.


Institutionalized corruption next president's big challenge (click here to read article)

Manila Standard Today - Editorial
Corruption and culture

THE yearly survey by the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy provides political fodder every time it comes around. Those opposed to the administration hold it up as proof of the government’s moral bankruptcy. The administration, in turn, will dismiss the survey as being unrepresentative of the true picture.

This year’s survey by the Hong Kong-based think tank labels the Philippines the fourth most corrupt nation in the Asia-Pacific region, behind Indonesia, Cambodia and Vietnam, in that order. On a scale of 10 with zero indicating the lowest level of corruption among politicians and civil servants, the Philippines scored 8.06, worse than Thailand’s 7.6, India’s 7.18, China’s 6.52, Malaysia’s 6.47 and Taiwan’s 6.28.

Our fourth-place finish was two notches down from the previous year’s survey, giving the Makati Business Club ample ammunition to complain about the “continuing deterioration” that besets the bureaucracy.

Just as predictably, a Palace official played down the survey, noting with some validity that it reflected perceptions that did not take into account steps already taken to address corruption, such as the role non-government organizations are playing to safeguard against irregularities in government procurement.

The Palace spokesman pointed instead to a Social Weather Stations survey that found fewer managers were paying bribes—even though 60 percent of them said they were asked for bribes in one of seven government transactions.

Offering a less common response, deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar said corruption persists despite government efforts to fight it because our culture has tolerated such practices for generations.

It would be easy to dismiss this as a view coming from a government apologist but any number of everyday occurrences point to its validity. For better or for worse—probably the latter—we are a culture that values the shortcut. In traffic, drivers do not wait in line; they rather steal a lane from the oncoming vehicles to get ahead. In schools, parents seek to improve their children’s standing by giving gifts to teachers on special occasions. In law enforcement, police prefer the quick confession over painstaking detective work. In politics, we have leaders who prefer the swift grab for power than waiting six years to replace a president. From this perspective, is it any wonder that we are perceived as corrupt


“A Growing Culture of Impunity”

 7 September, 2007

We are appalled that the culture of impunity among certain government officials appears to have spread to an extent exceeding that of all past administrations. This impunity seems also increasingly evident in many agencies of government.


A glaring example is that of COMELEC Chairman Benjamin Abalos who had no business in allowing himself to be entertained by officials of ZTE Corporation, a potential contractor of the Republic, particularly considering he had an important electoral exercise to administer.  His indiscreet conduct and absence from his official duties could only have happened if he believed he was immune from sanctions.  We reiterate our call for Chairman Abalos to resign.


Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) Secretary Leandro Mendoza needs to think very carefully about the charges leveled against him by Congressman Carlos Padilla. Like other questionable projects, the ZTE deal will no doubt be rejected by the court of public opinion and, sooner or later, evaluated and ruled on by our own independent courts of law.  Sec. Mendoza should prove his worth and rescind it now. 


Should he choose not to do these, we would support a full investigation by the Senate of this highly questionable project given the huge expenditure of public funds involved.  We also demand that government publicly release a copy of the contract as mandated by Article III, Sec. 7 of our Constitution which states that “The right of the people to information on matters of public concern shall be recognized.”


The secrecy about this project, despite repeated demands by the public, is contrary to the principle avowed by this Administration for complete transparency in matters of public interest and to the provisions of Republic Act 7925 which emphasized that “public telecommunications services shall be provided by private enterprises.”


We are heartened by the courage of journalists and fiscalizers who bring to light the anomalous activities of public officials who believe they are protected by their position. We join them and encourage others in expressing public outrage at these questionable acts and the growing culture of political impunity.

We call on President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to heed our pleas and take immediate action to rectify blatant wrongdoings of public officials, lest she be accused of condoning them.







Glimpses : An anatomy of corruption

By Jose Ma. Montelibano, Columnist

November 24, 2006

IT IS easy to talk about something that is everywhere. It must be that corruption rightly ranks as one of the most known and popular topics in the Philippines. After all, even the world at large seems to have no problem in identifying the Philippines as one of the most corrupt countries in the planet. What is not easy is having to live with it.

By definition, corruption is the depraved exploitation of power for personal gain. As such, there are several categories of corruption. However, one stands out and that is the particular meaning that international agencies refer to unless otherwise specified. And that is political corruption, the exploitation of government power by officials or by political parties acting out in greed. It is a kind of corruption that affects everyone and can cause great damage to society.

The world's foremost corruption monitoring organization, Transparency International, focuses on political corruption in general and in the following fields in particular: (1) campaign and political party influence, (2) corrupt money flows from the corporate sector to politicians, (3) obstacles to bringing corrupt politicians to justice, (4) vote buying, (5) parliamentary ethics, and (6) electoral fraud and election monitoring.

Transparency International has been ranking our political corruption as one of the worst in the world. It is particularly sad and perverse for this to be so, as the Philippines stands as the only Catholic and Christian dominated country in Asia, and Filipinos to be especially caring for family and community. Of course, the history of political corruption can be traced back to colonization itself when the exploitation of power out of greed was applied by one country to another. What is worse is that the example of our foreign masters and our present-day leaders is today being emulated by the structures below them.

The pervasiveness of corruption has reached cancer proportions. Even attempts by senior government officials to stem the tide have been marked with little success, catching a bureaucrat here and there, but none of the politicians or those in the private sector who aid and abet corruption. And the constant prayers that are said for the conversion of public officials have been no match for the greed that drives man to exploit fellow man -- if we are to go by the measured results of actual performance.

I am reminded of what I saw when we visited a modern facility for abused children three years ago. During the tour, we were told by the administrators that almost 80 percent of the abused children in their care had parents who themselves were victims of abuse from their parents. The victims learn a perverse lesson -- to follow the example of parents even if that example hurts them directly. If one were to take a historical view of political corruption, it seems quite apparent that our being victimized or exploited by the countries that ruled us serves as a more powerful and followed example by Filipino leaders who have ruled us since our political independence up to today.

Political corruption causes poverty. Only such a superior force as the government, or the governments of foreign masters lording it totally over their conquered territories, can cause poverty at the massive scale that Filipinos have experienced for centuries. It was the wholesale confiscation of land by the Spanish king that converted all Filipinos into squatters. While some, through personal wealth or favored relationships with rulers or senior government officials, get some land into their possession, the vast majority of Filipinos stayed landless, and remain landless.

Landlessness then gives birth to a whole line of ugly consequences like homelessness, hunger, and eventually, bloody rebellion. In cognizance of this, government has applied a number of land reform programs and has succeeded in reducing landlessness. Still, the landless remain as the majority. And the new landowners will most probably return to landless status if and when they cannot pay the amortization of land newly awarded to them through land reform programs. The Central Luzon region, where the first land reform program was implemented, can affirm that the original land reform beneficiaries had sold out -- even if not allowed to do so under the rules.

If political corruption can cause poverty and landlessness, as it has in Philippine history, it is not land that ought to be reformed but those who wield power. Political corruption, too, is the greatest cause of instability in governance and the economy. It is not the Constitution that causes political instability and a weak economy, it is the corrupt among government officials and political groups -- and the businesses that are corrupt or corrupted. Only people can be corrupt because only people can be greedy. Systems are merely mechanisms that support what people want to happen. Changing them without changing their creators is not only a waste of time but also a grand deception.

From the perversion of corruption and poverty arise perverse attempts to justify what is wrong, or to take attention away from wrongdoers. It has been the usual commentary that the poor are poor because they are lazy. Through this statement, the victims become guilty of their own misery. How much more perverse can a situation be when poverty is blamed on the poor?

Well, it gets more perverse. Today, corruption is blamed on the form of government and weak economies on laws that keep land in the hands of Filipinos. With one lie, a whole army of corrupt people made up mostly of government officials, both elected and appointed, receive general absolution. The lie says they are not corrupt, or have never been. The lie says it has always been the system that was at fault, and it must be the system that has to be changed.

Instead of purging our value system, particularly the value system of those who are clothed with official power over others, we want to dance the "Cha-cha" [Charter change]. Instead of millions of citizens demanding that their own leaders become honest and efficient, they are asked to sign petitions for a change in a Constitution that is as much a victim of the politically corrupt as those who sign papers they hardly understand. The perversion of blaming the poor for their poverty has found a match in the perversion of blaming a Constitution for the ills of governance, especially political corruption.

If there is any people's initiative that can truly begin a real reform in Philippine society, it is to raise the standards of our ethics or morality, to raise the bar of our intolerance to what is wrong, to rise above the pattern of electing officials based on the favors they grant our impoverished state or the fear they generate in our locality, and to commit ourselves to be the first to show the way.

People's initiatives that have caused great change have been called revolutions. All nations that had transcended their own battles against political corruption had experienced rebellion, revolution and radical changes in governance and even social patterns. It is only in the Philippines that a people's initiative become a testimony to a lie, a great lie that shifts accountability from corrupt people to a piece of paper.

When the corrupt decide to be honest, when the preachers decide to walk their talk, when the people decide not to tolerate wrongdoing anymore, then and only then will the great revolution of the Filipino take place and assure a future full of hope.


Worsening corruption

Philippine Daily Inquirer - 06/30/2008

A World Bank study released last week said that corruption in the Philippines is perceived to be the worst among East Asia’s leading economies. The Philippines is now at the bottom of the list of East Asia’s 10 largest economies when it comes to control of corruption, edged out by Indonesia, which scored the worst in the region in the 2007 survey.

The Philippines’ percentile rank for corruption fell to 22 percent from 23 percent last year. Percentile rank indicates the percentage of the 212 countries studied by the World Bank that rate below the rank of a specific country. Higher values indicate better governance ratings. Thus, the Philippines ranks higher than only 22 percent of the countries studied.

The ranking of the Philippines on control of corruption has worsened over the past 11 years, from 45.1 percent in 1996 to 22.0 percent in 2007. It has gone down during the incumbency of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, from 36.9 percent in 2000 to 22.0 percent last year.

Other studies and surveys have shown basically the same trend: the slackening of control over corruption. For instance, the 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) released by Transparency International, a global corruption watchdog, gave a score of 2.5 to the Philippines, on a scale of 10, with 10 as the cleanest. The Philippines ranked 117th among 159 countries included in the index, and its rating indicated that it had a “severe’’ corruption problem.

In September 2006, a World Bank Report on Worldwide Governance Indicators showed a sharp decline in the Philippines’ ranking in the control of corruption, from 50.5 percent in 1998 to 37.4 percent in 2005.

The 2006 World Competitiveness Survey by the Switzerland-based Institute for Management Development ranked the Philippines 60th on bribery and corruption among 61 countries surveyed. In the 2007 report of the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy, using a grading system with 10 as the worst possible score, the Philippines got 9.4, worsening sharply from its grade of 7.8 in 2006.

The problem of corruption in the Philippines is getting worse, and it appears that it is not just a problem of perception but an actuality. The corruption cases are increasing not only in number but in the amount of money involved. In the past, the big cases involved tens of millions of pesos; now, the figures run into hundreds of millions and even billions.

The major cases are familiar to people who have been following the news avidly: the $2-million IMPSA bribery case allegedly involving former justice secretary Hernando Perez, the allegedly overpriced P1.2-billion Diosdado Macapagal Boulevard, the Commission on Elections’ P1.3-billion poll computerization program, the P728-million fertilizer scam and the $329-million national broadband network deal with ZTE Corp. Except for the IMPSA case, charges have not been filed in these cases. There are scores of other “minor’’ cases that have not been given much publicity.

In 1997, the Office of the Ombudsman estimated that the government lost $48 billion (about P2.4 trillion at the exchange rate then prevailing) to corruption in the previous 20 years. Think of what the government could have done with all the money that was lost to corruption. The P2.4 trillion could have financed the construction of hundreds of hospitals, thousands of school buildings, tens of thousands of kilometers of roads and bridges, and scores of seaports and airports. It could have funded, among other things, a new Masagana 99 program that would have increased the country’s rice production.

Corruption has debilitated the nation and has deprived it of financial resources with which it could have developed its untapped natural and manpower potential. It has worsened the problem of poverty.

Recently, the people witnessed what havoc natural disasters could wreak upon the country. Corruption is a continuing manmade disaster that is weakening and destroying the nation. David Nussbaum, Transparency International’s chief executive, said, “Corruption isn’t just a natural disaster: It is the cold, calculated theft of opportunity from the men, women and children who are least able to protect themselves.”

If corruption has worsened, it is because the people have been apathetic. They feel they can do nothing about it. But they can. They can monitor and denounce big projects that are tainted with graft. They can pressure government officials to be transparent and upright. And they can, like the Argentines several years ago, humiliate public officials who are robbing them of their tax money.


MANILA, March 2 (Reuters) Philippines has a reputation for endemic corruption and persistent instability that undermines many of its comparative advantages. Corruption extends through all levels of government and is a serious barrier to attracting more investment. Business had expected a better environment under Arroyo compared to the excesses of the Estrada regime, but the current administration appears to be no better, or indeed worse.

The massacre of 57 people in Maguindanao late last year has focused attention on the rule of law, and the ongoing trial of the suspects will be watched to see whether it is fair or reinforces perceptions of a culture of impunity. [ID:nSP334762]

What to watch:

-- Trend in corruption level. Transparency International's 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index suggested a marginal improvement from the previous year, with the Philippines rising to 139th out of 180 countries from 141st the previous year.

-- Strengthening or worsening in the rule of law. The World Bank's World Governance Indicators showed perceptions of rule of law in the Philippines falling over the past decade, even sinking below Vietnam, viewed as a risky frontier market. These figures are watched particularly by longer-term investors and they show the Philippines is in danger of losing more investment to regional competitors unless it can reverse the slide.

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