How corrupt is the Philippines?

Published by rudy Date posted on April 1, 2011

THIS week’s release of corruption survey results by the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC) brought back memories of this writer’s stint in Ma-lacañang. The annual poll prompted much downplaying by Palace officials, especially when the Philippines’ corruption score and ranking rose.

The survey asks foreign business people to “grade the extent that corruption detracts from the attractiveness of the overall business environment in the country” where he or she works. As deputy presidential spokesperson early last year, this writer questioned the PERC rating, which had worsened from 2009.

Social Weather Stations’ 2009 survey of enterprises, covering about the same period as the PERC 2010 report, showed significant declines in actual corruption on the ground, so why should the Hong Kong-tabulated rating get worse?

SWS reported that solici-tation of bribes fell markedly in tax assessment and payment, obtaining permits and licenses, processing importations, supplying goods and services to the public sector, collecting receivables from the government, and availing of business incentives. Clearly, this data from local firms showing declining graft seemed to contradict foreigners’ perceptions of worsening corruption reported by PERC.

Today, it is the turn of President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s spokespersons to respond to the 2011 PERC results. In it the country’s score got worse, hitting 8.9 in a scale of one to 10 (higher is worse), up from 8.23 last year and now the third-highest among the results for 16 countries surveyed.

The current regime is lucky that unlike other papers, the highest-circulation broadsheet kept off its front pages both the PERC survey and the SWS one in which PNoy’s net satisfaction rating fell, stories that the pro-Aquino daily always headlined during the past administration. Another break: the execution of three Filipinos in China dominated the domestic news.

For those who did see the PERC rating, many, including PNoy supporters, must be wondering why business people found corruption to be a much bigger problem under a leader who won the elections on a staunch anti-graft platform. Political corruption got a rating of 8.27, fourth highest in the poll. Local bureaucrats, local politicians, national civil servants, and national leaders were rated most to least corrupt in that order.

In institutional corruption, the Philippines’ 8.5 grade was third-highest, with the military (9.25), the tax bureau (8.97), and the police (8.89) getting the worst marks. For private sector corruption, the country was rated 8.5, sharing third-worst place with Cambodia. As for the prosecution and punishment of corrupt individuals, the country got a dismal 9.75 grade, just 0.25 above the worst level of 10. The government got a better but still deplorable 8.1 mark in penalizing graft.

Why are we so poor in fighting sleaze? One big reason: Filipinos’ tolerance of corruption is rated a stratospheric 9.21, despite the landslide victory the electorate gave to Noynoy Aquino, who ran on the slogan, “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap.”

We will leave the requisite explaining to this writer’s successors at the Palace or to PNoy himself. But one perspective deserves consideration: Corruption is a centuries-old bane that cannot be blamed or ascribed to any single regime; nor can it be solved if a leader does not make fighting corruption in his own government a top priority.

Rather, the war on graft demands sustained reforms and relentless vigilance year after year, administration after administration, with the whole nation joining hands to root out the scourge at all levels and sectors of society, not just government. And the No. 1 requisite is a no-compromise integrity campaign attacking sleaze in the incumbent administration, rather than being soft on one’s people while raging against the past.

Sadly, it is politically expedient for new leaders to make a big splash in running after previous administration, since such crusades make the crusaders look clean and upright. Corazon Aquino hounded the Marcos family and cronies, and Joseph Estrada had Fidel Ramos’s Centennial and Ama-ri projects investigated. Erap was prosecuted and jailed under Gloria Arroyo, and now PNoy has trained his gun-sights on her.

Yet each crusading regime had its own scandals, from Cory’s Kamag-anak Inc. to Estrada’s jueteng payola and Gloria Arroyo’s string of alleged anomalies. The lesson here is clear: Even as a new government seeks justice for past ills, it must institute deep reforms in its own house first of all, or else it may well reap its own harvest of sleaze.

[Concluded tomorrow. The foregoing is the first half of “How corrupt is the Philippies?” Space limitations forced the editor to break it into two parts.] –RICARDO SALUDO, Manila Times

Ricardo Saludo heads the Center for Strategy, Enterprise & Intelligence ( He holds a M.S. in Public Policy and Management from the School of Oriental & African Studies, London.

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