Institutionalized corruption next president’s big challenge

Institutionalized corruption next president’s big challenge
By Philip Tubeza, DJ Yap
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Old habits die hard.

The incoming President will face a tremendous challenge in stamping out corruption with corrupt practices having been institutionalized in the Philippines, an official of Transparency International (TI) said Tuesday.

Speaking before the Second Integrity and Human Rights Forum in Makati City, Samantha Grant, program coordinator for TI-Southeast Asia, also warned that “envelopmental journalism,” or payoffs, had become “prevalent in the run-up to elections.”

“Any new government has a tremendous challenge to win back the respect of the people. To do this, they must tackle the institutionalization of practices currently accepted that are, in a word, corrupt,” Grant said.

The forum was organized by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in partnership with Bisyon 2020, TI-Philippines, Civil Service Commission and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Three presidential candidates—Senators Benigno Aquino III and Jamby Madrigal and Olongapo Councilor JC de los Reyes—attended the forum and committed themselves to fight corruption and uphold human rights.

Extremely corrupt officials

“The main issue in this election is human rights and corruption,” said Loida Nicolas Lewis, chair of Bisyon 2020.

“At least the three candidates who came here today can look anyone in the eye and say they will fight for human rights. As to those who did not come, I will not say anything,” she said.

Grant said that 2009 TI Global Corruption Barometer surveyed Filipinos and the reply was that they “strongly believe” that corruption affected Filipino public officials and civil servants.

“The Barometer asked 1,000 people in the Philippines to grade civil servants and the average score was 4 out of 5, with 5 being extremely corrupt. Seventy-seven percent said government actions to counter corruption were ineffectual,” Grant said.

She said TI also conducted a National Integrity Study of the Philippines in 2006 but, four years later, the recommendations it made remained relevant.

“In any country with institutionalized corruption, integrity pillars (the judiciary, the executive, the police, and the press) themselves are continually compromised,” Grant said.

“According to the report, collusion, state capture, and leadership incapable of crushing vested interests are all areas that still need to be addressed,” she said.

“There should be no nepotism in appointments and there should be a clear will to prosecute those found guilty of corruption including the powerful. Too often it is the small fry targeted for obvious reasons,” Grant added.

Follow through needed

“To hear the candidates this morning, it would appear that they understand this message. But words and commitments are only a first step. Whoever is elected President will have to follow through. They will have to act on their words,” she said.

Referring to journalists, Grant said that the media survived on advertising.

“Criticizing the hand that feeds requires courage and conviction, particularly when jobs and livelihoods are at stake. No one expects this to be easy, particularly in a system that has tried for decades to coopt journalists, often successfully,” she said.
However, Grant also noted that 31 of the 57 people massacred in Maguindanao in November were press people and that this is “a horrifying example of what it means to support the ideals of democracy.”

European Union Ambassador Alistair Macdonald told the forum that the massacre “tarnished” the Philippines’ reputation abroad and that this could be repaired only if the perpetrators were punished.

Don’t trivialize human rights

CHR Chair Leila de Lima reminded the presidential candidates about the importance of human rights issues in the election and challenged them not to trivialize human rights with empty rhetoric.

CHR Commissioner Jose Manuel S. Mamuag said that extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances continued despite a declaration from President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo adhering to the recommendations of a UN special rapporteur.

He said that the CHR had recorded 777 cases of extrajudicial killings since 2001. Last year, there were 47 political killings reported while there were 251 cases of enforced disappearances.

P1.92B lost to corruption

The Philippines loses P1.92 billion to corruption a year, said UNDP country director Renaud Meyer. “Over a 20-year period, that’s close to P2 trillion.”

“In 2000, the cost of corruption was at 10 percent of the (gross national product). A more recent estimate put it at close to 20 percent of the national budget,” Meyer said.

“As a comparison, 16 percent goes to education and 4 percent goes to health. With this 20-percent figure in mind, let’s think how many schools, hospitals, barangay clinics could have been built, how many kilometers of road could have been built,” he said.

The ProPinoy Project