SWS survey

Tilting at Windmills

Just then they came in sight of thirty or forty windmills that rise from that plain. And no sooner did Don Quixote see them that he said to his squire, “Fortune is guiding our affairs better than we ourselves could have wished. Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them. With their spoils we shall begin to be rich for this is a righteous war and the removal of so foul a brood from off the face of the earth is a service God will bless.”

“What giants?” asked Sancho Panza.

“Those you see over there,” replied his master, “with their long arms. Some of them have arms well nigh two leagues in length.”

“Take care, sir,” cried Sancho. “Those over there are not giants but windmills. Those things that seem to be their arms are sails which, when they are whirled around by the wind, turn the millstone.”

[Excerpt from The Ingenious Knight Don Quixote of La Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes, 1604]

This week, the president’s allies in the House of Representatives numbering 188 voted to impeach Chief Justice Renato Corona. This came after a flurry of attacks against the high court launched by the president himself on numerous occasions. The ‘rap sheet’ or articles of impeachment contains allegations previously laid by him before the chief justice in a legal forum where both were present.

They include his voting record as a member of the Supreme Court that seems to favour the former president and now congresswoman Gloria Arroyo which was claimed to have been responsible for the loss of public trust in the institution he leads as shown by its extremely low rating in the SWS public opinion polls. The prefatory statement issues the charge that

Never has the position of Chief Justice, or the standing of the Supreme Court, as an institution, been so tainted with the perception of bias and partiality, as it is now.

It then proceeds to build a narrative to support its case. Beginning with his close association with the former president prior to his appointment to the Supreme Court, his voting record as member thereof before assuming his present role, followed by his acceptance of Mrs Arroyo’s ‘midnight appointment’ to be its chief, and the numerous incidents in which the court displayed its ‘bias’ towards the Arroyos. It is peppered here and there with allegations of improper use of public funds and nepotism.

On the face of it, there seems to be a strong case to be made against the Chief Justice, but whether it can be proven in such a way that would lead to a conviction is another matter altogether. The articles certainly tell a coherent story, but as any legal expert will tell you, in most matters that involve the high court, there are legal merits on both sides. In defending himself, Corona will simply have to recite the legal underpinnings of the high court’s decisions.

It will then appear that Congress (and the president) can impeach any member of a co-equal branch of government simply for making decisions that they find disagreeable. This means war between the executive and judiciary with each side claiming the other overstepping their boundaries and seeking to establish a dictatorship by one branch.

At the moment, the palace has the moral ascendancy. The high court is already viewed with suspicion by the public. Pursuing this case against Corona and by implication the rest of the court that he leads however could place suspicion on the president’s motives because of the Hacienda Luisita ruling which disadvantaged his clan. P-Noy by taking this bold step has highly discounted the risk of losing the moral high ground.

Secondly, most of the accusations save for the one involving Corona’s failure to file a statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (which might not be an impeachable offense based on previous court resolutions) involve decisions made by the entire bench not the chief justice alone.

The high court’s decision to exempt itself from midnight appointments, the creation of a new congressional district that became the seat for Mrs Arroyo’s son, the injunction against the lower house of Congress in hearing an impeachment complaint (its sole prerogative) against the ombudsman appointed by her, the exoneration of one of the justices for plagiarism by a committee comprised of magistrates, the injunction it issued against the secretary of justice’s hold departure order on Mrs Arroyo which it said was in effect despite the non-fulfilment of certain conditionalities were all made by a majority of the court.

Given the collegial nature of this body, the prosecution will have to prove that Corona exerted some kind of influence akin to a Jedi mind trick that forced other justices to side with him against their free will. Either that or Congress will have to impeach all the members of the majority who voted with him for showing bias. That will take some doing. Even if they (by ‘they’ I not only mean the prosecution, but the president) succeed in this (and there are already plans afoot to impeach two other justices), their side could suffer from what economists call the winner’s curse.

Having spent so much time and effort in this game to the detriment of all else (with the economy sputtering to a halt, which is what a 3.2% GDP growth figure represents), there will be hardly enough space for the government to move on policy matters as the legislative process gets tied up with the trial/s. Investor confidence could dissipate (adopting a wait and see attitude) as the country becomes wrapped up in the unfolding political saga. It seems that winning legitimately as in the case of this lawful and constitutional exercise could come at a heavy economic price for the republic.

Thirdly, while the public mood towards the Corona court is certainly non-supportive, it is quite spurious to lay the grounds for an impeachment complaint based on the fact that the accused garners very low esteem from the respondents to a survey no matter how representative it is. To begin with, let us assume for a moment that this low rating is due to the poor quality of decisions rendered by the court.

The articles of impeachment claim that this is because the court is biased in favour of Mrs Arroyo. An alternative explanation is that the justices sitting on the bench are simply not up to scratch and that their legal credentials were not properly screened. This too was asserted in the complaint. But whose job was it to screen presidential nominees to the high court anyway? Shouldn’t they bear responsibility for this outcome, not the appointees?

Also, the fact that the ‘bias’ explanation fits the narrative that the palace weaves makes it credible in the minds of the public in search of meaning behind events, but it does not necessarily make it true. Impeaching the Chief Justice based on his voting record on cases that affected Mrs Arroyo suffers from the law of small numbers. ‘How many cases does it take to prove that someone is biased?’ you might ask. Well that is precisely the problem. We cannot really use statistics to prove it one way or another. Of course an impeachment trial is more political than legal, which will make the outcome a product of naked power rather than a triumph for the rule of law.

The foregoing analysis lays down the reasons why I believe the impeachment of Renato Corona is more about the administration tilting at windmills than pursuing what it calls ‘reform’. The meaning of that word has become so mangled in its usage by the government that it has been equated to sending Mrs Arroyo to jail.

In the narrative of the palace, the president is the chivalrous knight who has come to rescue the nation, which is the helpless damsel in distress, from the villains of the republic, Mrs Arroyo and her ilk. It makes for wonderful imagery and rhetorical flourishes, and anyone or any institution that strikes a discordant note upsets the psychological balance derived from this plot and deserves to be called an Arroyo sypathiser.

Yesterday, the Chief Justice began to weave a narrative of his own. He spun it as I said above an encroachment by the executive on an independent judiciary, a creeping dictatorship through legal and constitutional means (alluding to the method used by Ferdinand Marcos). It is quite ironic that the son of the twin icons of democracy should be accused of making such an audacious attempt at witling it down.

Our minds naturally seek coherence. This makes us susceptible to several cognitive biases. This is often achieved by creating causal relationships. The entry of P-Noy into the 2010 presidential race after the death of his mother—it was all pre-ordained (based on hindsight bias). His elevation to the highest post in the land was to serve one purpose, and that is to send the villainous Mrs Arroyo to the dungeon beneath his palace (based on confirmation bias). From there, the nation will achieve its destiny of greatness (halo effect).

Unfortunately, reality is not quite as neat. The real world is much more complex and random as our minds would wish it to be. The successful prosecution of Mrs Arroyo and her minions by itself will not move us any closer to the rule of law or to economic deliverance. These things are achieved through actual hard work and good fortune. In fact, the real reforms that could move the country closer to these ideals can be achieved in spite of Mrs Arroyo and the high court.

The fact that many of them will now be delayed due to the impeachment trial means that we are actually farther away from achieving our potential than we were before. The words ‘downgrade’ and ‘catch-up’ are once again on the lips of credit rating agencies. As it turns out, the very windmills that the government seeks to joust with in its anti-corruption drive are the very mechanics of government that help deliver bounty to the nation.

Unfortunately, P-Noy and his allies have made up their minds. This court which has upset them once too often in their ‘quest’ can do no right, just as the knight leading the charge against it can do no wrong. The same goes for Renato Corona and his sympathisers. They believe the president is out to get them, and that this impeachment trial is a vendetta masquerading as a crusade against injustice by the high court.

How much longer will the nation be captivated and spellbound by the romance of these cognitive illusions? How much longer will people ‘dream the impossible dream’ as the country languishes at the bottom of the heap? Someone has to play the role of Sancho Panza and unmask the romanticism woven by both sides for what it really is: a farce.

How long is a piece of string?

What yardstick are we using to measure P-Noy’s performance?

The arbitrary, rule of thumb of the first year in office is about to come and go for this administration. The obligatory journalistic pieces assessing the president’s performance have consulted the usual suspects.

Political analysts, polling firms and pundits, the business community and the average man on the street express varying degrees of satisfaction, from impatience on the part of Conrad de Quiros for instance, to a more sanguine position on the part of Mon Casiple. Regardless of their positions, they are essentially in agreement that while one year is too brief a period to expect major change, some demonstrably concrete level of progress or achievement is lacking in the president’s first 365 days in office.

As expected the president’s men were engaged in a charm offensive to address these complaints with Undersecretary Manolo Quezon of the Communications Group appearing on ANC, Deputy Spokesperson Abigail Valte on Twitter, and Budget Secretary Butch Abad polemically addressing the issue of economic management. The to-ing and fro-ing has been at times entertaining as in the case of the Valte-Magsaysay twitterverse exchanges and insightful as in the case of Quezon’s revelations about the president’s love life.

The advocates of the president (both in and out of government) say that much has been accomplished. The emphasis on government frugality and public spending restraint has created domestic private investor confidence and a credit ratings dividend according to Cielito Habito. Plugging the leaks in infrastructure spending has generated fiscal space to expand social spending by the end of the year according to Abad. Public private partnerships are “on track” to be consummated this year according to Finance officials.

That in essence is the shortlist of accomplishments brandished by Malacanang. Judging by his poll numbers, the public seems to give P-Noy the nod of approval with 64% expressing satisfaction with his performance.

Is that it, then? Should we give the president a pass too?

Unfortunately, what is missing is a solid discussion over, well…what sort of yardstick is appropriate for measuring the president’s performance. For instance,

• Shall we judge him on what he said he will do?

Based on the president’s anti-Gloria campaign theme, De Quiros now questions why the former president and her ilk have not been brought before any court to answer for her alleged transgressions. Based on his anti-corruption platform, the Management Association of the Philippines now asks why there have been no measures like the Freedom of Information bill or any meaningful reductions in business redtape progressed.

Civil rights advocates wonder what has happened to Jonas Burgos and many other like him. Women’s groups are still waiting for the RH Bill to be passed. Farmers are wondering what happened to the resolution of Hacienda Luisita. The ordinary man on the street wonders where the jobs are and the relief from the rising cost of living. These were issues PNoy promised to resolve once in office.

• On the other hand, should we judge him based on his ability to prudently modify or alter what he said he would do?

Those with a nationalist agenda like Teddy Casino say P-Noy is delivering more of the same as far as economic policy goes, and hopes he will re-think his developmental economic strategy. The anxiety felt by Casino and others like him (Walden Bello for instance) is that the quality of growth is poor and insufficient to make a dent on unemployment.

Budget analyst Ben Diokno is looking for a two-step tax reform process that will make the system fairer and more effective at raising revenues. Both of these policy prescriptions run counter to the “steady as she goes” pronouncements that PNoy made during the election season.

Measuring up

The answer to the question, what yardstick do we use, depends on whether you are a strict contractualist or not. Some will say, we should evaluate the president plainly on what he said he would do, and nothing more. For me, however, I believe that given the tenor of the campaign, there were promises that were bound to be made in the spur of the moment, which need to be reconsidered.

The problem for the president of course is, whether you adhere to the strict contractual sense or not, he has failed to register meaningful progress on many fronts. So the question then becomes, how much time should we give him before we start downgrading his performance assessment? How long before we start saying that the president has either reneged or foolishly forged ahead down a dead end path?

Should we give him another six months? A full year? Two years? It’s like asking the question, how long is a piece of string?

After all, for the marginalized groups awaiting resolution to decade’s old injustices, their well-being has been put on hold for far too long. The well-healed chattering classes may feel aggrieved that bringing justice to Arroyo has been delayed, but their grief is nothing compared to what farmers and human rights abuse victims have suffered.

Similarly for those denied access to education, healthcare, sanitation and protection from the elements, the experiment to improve tax collection without a root and branch reform process would prove to be the most costly of all, if it fails. Is it therefore worth the gamble?

Perhaps, it is in addressing the needs of the least of our brethren that the president ought to be judged. In his “Back to the Future” moment, the president like his mother in the mid-1980s seemed to have prioritized the needs of rich creditors and bondholders over that of poor and marginalized stakeholders. Private investments have improved the skyline, but public investment failed to raise more out of the poverty line.

How long is a piece of string? Well we will have to wait and see…

Principle or politics?

The policy elite continue to give President Aquino the benefit of the doubt as a stream of bad news regarding the state of the nation hit the headlines in the last couple of weeks.

A series of indicators seemed to point to the deteriorating state of governance in the country. Despite all this, expert commentators continue to give consideration to what they see as the genuine desire of the president to steer the ship of state safely through the rough seas. In the space of a few weeks, a number of surveys uncovered a not too rosy picture of the country. In quick succession the following came up:

To the policy elites, these reports would certainly be disconcerting as the consensus has formed that the actions taken by the Palace have allowed the country to turn a corner. Take for instance the PERC survey. Ateneo economist Cielito Habito asks whether corruption is really worse, stating that the sentiment of domestic investors who possess more complete information regarding the state of affairs in the country counts more than the views of foreign players. Domestic investments have surged under the new administration. He provides a plausible reason for the worsening perception of foreign investors identifying the senate hearings on corruption in the military in the first quarter which may have tarnished the entire government’s overall reputation in the eyes of these executives.

On the fall of the president’s trust ratings, UP economist Solita Monsod countered over the weekend that a number of appointments bode well for the president’s agenda on good governance. These good appointments may be just a fluke as the underlying current that runs through them may be factional infighting among his political supporters, but never mind, she says, as a win is a win.

On the rise of hunger, sociologist Randy David poses one possibility (remote though it seems) that the self-reporting on hunger may have gone up as many of those surveyed mistook the SWS interviewers for public social workers who were reportedly screening households for the conditional cash transfers program that would entitle them to receive monthly allowances. As for the fall in consumer confidence, this was attributed to external factors stemming from the uprising in the Middle East and North Africa affecting prospects of foreign nationals working in the area.

Just a few months back, the president was claiming credit for the decline in poverty incidence saying that his reforms had already borne fruit. Never mind that what was being reported was the effect of reforms instituted by the previous administration.

Now it seems in a bid to counter the negative news, the president has been going out on the offensive running after the people close to his immediate predecessor. The impeachment of Ombudsman Merci Gutierrez has occupied much of the news of late. Her trial in the senate will no doubt hug the headlines in the weeks to come. Never mind that her term is expected to expire anyway.

When the proceeds of the sale of the confiscated property of Lt Gen Ligot was handed over to the government, the palace was quick to claim it as an endorsement of the integrity of the president. Never mind that this was the result of the actions of the lady whom they had just impeached in Congress through their party mates.

The tax fraud case filed against former presidential son Rep Mikey Arroyo is currently capturing media attention with continuing revelations of properties he is alleged to have left out in his tax declarations. While palace officials were quick to deny this move was a form of political harassment, Conrado de Quiros who many regard as a surrogate mouthpiece for the administration provided a reality check by claiming that the former presidential son was indeed targeted for this kind of treatment.

While these sorts of exposes and trials make for good political theater, allowing the administration to score political points, they do come at a cost. The cost is that the legislative agenda of the government will come to a standstill during the impeachment trial. Also there is a tendency to give the rulers a free pass on the more crucial bits of governance that go unnoticed.

Take the rise of poverty (by the proxy measure of hunger) for instance. This could have been a result of the phaseout of the grains program run by the National Food Authority. None of the policy elites want to acknowledge this because they are almost ideologically opposed to it. Yet this would explain why poverty rose in Luzon while it declined slightly in the rest of the country where the conditional cash transfers were mostly targeted.

As food inflation rises resulting from global production shortfalls exacerbated by the price of oil and transport, the timing could not be worse for the government which has withdrawn its support for the grains importation program. It is reported today that a possible rice shortage may be in the offing over the coming months.

At some point, the tendency to blame the administration immediately preceding it will become old hat. The current rulers will have to take ownership for the current state of affairs. While the policy elite might continue to give this president the benefit of the doubt, some time in the future there will be a reckoning. If the negative indicators continue to point down, that moment might come sooner than expected.

Fewer go hungry, feel poor. Affected families, however, still number in the millions

Fewer go hungry, feel poor
Affected families, however, still number in the millions
Business World

FEWER FILIPINO FAMILIES claim to have experienced hunger or feel poor but their numbers remain in the millions, a Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey showed.

A September SWS poll, the results of which were made exclusive to BusinessWorld, found 15.9% of households — equivalent to some three million families — claiming to have had nothing to eat at least once in the past three months, down from 21.1% in June.

Some nine million families or 48% of the respondents, meanwhile, rated themselves “mahirap” or “poor,” a slight improvement from June’s 50%, while the ranks of those who considered themselves food-poor stayed unchanged at 39% or an estimated 7.1 million households.

President Benigno C. Aquino III welcomed the results and said he remained committed to good governance and improving the economy.

The latest hunger figure was down from over 20% results in the last three quarters. It is two points above the 12-year average, the SWS said, adding that hunger has stayed in double-digit territory since June 2004.

Overall hunger fell due to declines in both moderate and severe hunger, the SWS said. Moderate hunger — experiencing it “only once” or “a few times” — was down four points to 12.9%, equivalent to 2.4 million families, while severe hunger — “often” or “always” having nothing to eat — slipped a point to 3.1% or 575,000 families.

Overall hunger declined in all geographical areas, decreasing the most in Mindanao to 16.3% (700,000 families) from 26%. The Visayas saw an almost six-point dip to 15.3% (580,000 families), in the Balance of Luzon it was down almost four points to 14.7% (1.2 million families), while Metro Manila trimmed its ratio by nearly two points to 20.3% (507,000 families).

Broken down, moderate hunger declined in Mindanao to 13.3% from 21%; in the Visayas to 11.7% from 17.3%; in the Balance of Luzon to 12.3% from 14%; and in Metro Manila to 15.7% from 19%.

“The new moderate hunger rates are still higher” than their 12-year averages, the SWS said.

Severe hunger, meanwhile, was down by two points in Mindanao and the rest of Luzon to 3% and 2.3%, respectively. It stayed at 3.7% in the Visayas and rose to 4.7% from 3% in Metro Manila. The new rates are above their 12-year averages in Metro Manila and the Visayas but are lower in the Balance of Luzon and Mindanao.

By geographical area, meanwhile, self-rated poverty dropped to 40% from 44% in the rest of Luzon and to 53% from 56% in Mindanao. It increased in the Visayas to 61% from 58% and in Metro Manila to 49% from 48%.

It declined by three points to 55% in rural areas and by one point to 43% in urban areas.

Self-rated food poverty, meanwhile, fell by 12 points to 36% in Mindanao but rose in other areas: to 41% from 35% in Metro Manila; 50% from 45% in the Visayas and 32% from 31% in the rest of Luzon.

The self-rated poverty threshold, or the monthly budget poor households say they need in order not to consider themselves as poor in general, remained sluggish in an indication of belt-tightening, the SWS said.

As of last month, the median poverty thresholds for poor households was P10,000 in Metro Manila, P9,500 in the rest of Luzon, P6,000 in the Visayas and P5,000 in Mindanao. The median food-poverty threshold, meanwhile, was P6,000 in Metro Manila, P4,000 in the rest of Luzon and P3,000 both in Visayas and Mindanao.

All thresholds have been surpassed in the past, the SWS said.

In Metro Manila, the SWS said the median poverty threshold was equivalent to only P6,146 in terms of 2000 purchasing power. The deflated threshold of below P10,000 per month, it added, is a “throwback to living standards of over 10 years ago.”

The P10,000 per month is equivalent to P16,270 in the September 2010 cost of living and subtracting one from the other yields P6,270, the extent of belt-tightening that took place, the SWS said.

Metro Manila’s median food poverty threshold of P6,000, meanwhile, is equivalent to only P3,883 in terms of 2000 purchasing power. It is equivalent to P9,270 per month at the September 2010 cost of food. Subtracting the 2000 threshold of P6,000 yields P3,270, which is how much food-poor Metro Manila households have lowered their living standards, the SWS said.

Mr. Aquino, in a text message, to BusinessWorld: “Corruption enfeebled [the] government. Our fight is meant to empower government in service of the people focused on the most disadvantaged.”

“The PPP (private public partnerships), the CCT (conditional cash transfer) program are examples of this thrust. Of course, we are heartened by the survey. [But] the problems are huge…

“Growth of the economy and efficiency in effective governance have been done and continue to be priorities,” Mr. Aquino added.

The SWS polled 1,200 adults nationwide last Sept.24-27 using face-to-face interviews. The error margins used were ±3% for national and ±6% for area percentages. — AMGR

Gordon: Don't be fooled by surveys, ads

Gordon: Don’t be fooled by surveys, ads
abs-cbnNEWS.com

MANILA, Philippines – Sen. Richard “Dick” Gordon on Friday took a swipe at 2 of his presidential opponents who have been topping election surveys, urging 50 million Filipino voters to discern deeply their choices for next Philippine president.

“Ang survey na iyan ay ingatan natin… Dapat mag-isip ang tao. (We should be careful with these surveys… People should think),” Gordon said in an interview on ABS-CBN’s Umagang Kay Ganda, when asked about his consistently low voter preference in presidential surveys.

Gordon, standard-bearer of Bagong Bayan party, criticized the surveys conducted by Pulse Asia and Social Weather Stations for conditioning the minds of the voters.

He said these surveys sway people from making careful choices, and rob them of their votes.

“Itong eleksyon, mahalaga iyan eh. Kapag pinabayaan mo na hindi ka mag-isip, ninakaw na ang boto mo (Elections is a very important political event. Your vote is already robbed if you stop thinking and depend on surveys),” the senator said.

He also said that he is against the publication of election survey results. He added that surveys should only be used internally by candidates to guide their campaign.

Gordon said that in 2004, he was No. 29 in the senatorial surveys, but he ended up fifth in the actual senatorial race.

He added that instead of focusing on survey results, people should look at the issues being raised by presidential candidates.

He said voters should not immediately believe candidates’ promises. They should also not rely on political ads as the basis for choosing who they should vote for in the elections.

“It’s not the survey, but what this [candidate] can do. We should ask somebody like Erap (former president Joseph Estrada), how are you going to lift me from poverty?” Gordon said.

What’s wrong with Villar and Aquino

He also said people should look at the positive and negative qualities of candidates, citing as examples, Nacionalista Party standard-bearer Sen. Manuel Villar and Liberal Party’s Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.

“Ang isa [Villar], ayaw magpaliwanag sa Senado. Ang isa naman [Aquino], nakasandal sa nanay at tatay (There is one candidate who avoids explaining at the Senate. The other one is dependent on his mother and father),” Gordon said.

Villar has been accused by fellow senators of using his position so that his companies will benefit from the C-5 road project. Aquino, on the other hand, is banking on the good reputation of his late parents, Corazon Aquino and Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr.

Both candidates have been topping presidential surveys.

Gordon, meanwhile, said that he will not back out of the presidential race despite his poor showings in presidential surveys.

Government corruption remains high

Government corruption remains high – poll
By Helen Flores
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Businesses believe nothing much has improved in the government’s efforts to stamp out corruption, a survey by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) showed.

“Perception of managers on the extent of public sector corruption has not changed over the past three years,” SWS president Mahar Mangahas said in his presentation of the “2009 SWS Surveys of Enterprises on Corruption” at the Asian Institute of Management Conference Center in Makati City yesterday.

The survey, sponsored by the Asia Foundation, was conducted from Nov. 3 to Dec. 5, 2009 among top and middle-level managers. The survey found that three of every five managers see “a lot” of corruption in the public sector, and that the picture has remained unchanged since 2008.

The survey showed that nine of every 10 managers believe corruption was most prevalent in the national government based on the perception of 97 percent of respondents in Cagayan de Oro-Iligan City; 94 percent in Metro Manila; 91 percent in both Metro Cebu and Metro Davao; and 89 percent in Cavite-Laguna-Batangas.

The survey also showed that 60 percent of managers were asked for bribes in one of seven transactions tested.

The new figure, however, is 11 points lower than the record-high 71 percent in 2008, 58 percent in 2006 and 61 percent in 2007.

Compared to the previous year, incidence of bribery declined for all seven transactions tested in the 2009 survey. It fell by 17 points in getting local government permits and licenses; 15 points in securing national government permits and licenses; eight points in application for government incentives.

The survey also established that Metro Manila had the highest incidence of bribery solicitations in “assessment and/or payment of income taxes (50 percent)” and in “complying with import regulations including payment of import duties (40 percent).”

Reports of solicitation of bribery were equally prevalent in Metro Cebu and Metro Manila in getting local permits and licenses, 42 percent and 39 percent, respectively.

Reported solicitation of bribery in “collecting receivables” was 22 percent in both Metro Cebu and Metro Manila.

SWS said the proportion of managers reporting bribe solicitation to authorities has fallen to nine percent in 2009 after steadily rising from seven percent in 2006, to 11 percent in 2007 and 14 percent in 2008.

SWS said the perception of futility of reporting bribe solicitations explains the reluctance of many businessmen to squeal on corrupt government personnel.

Other reasons cited were “Afraid of reprisal” (51 percent), “Will spend much” (50 percent), “Cannot prove anything” (50 percent), “Too small a thing to bother” (48 percent), “It is a standard practice not to report” (46 percent), “Don’t know how or whom to report” (44 percent), “Don’t want to betray anyone” (32 percent) and “It is embarrassing” (23 percent).

SWS said that for the past three years, almost one-third of managers could not name any government agency that could be trusted to address complaints of corruption. It was 28 percent in 2007, 32 percent in 2008, and 31 percent in 2009.

Of those who did name an agency, the Office of the Ombudsman was the most cited agency trusted by managers over the past three years, the SWS said.

In terms of sincerity in fighting corruption, the survey showed that the Filipino Business Associations obtained a “very good” score of +64.

Five institutions were rated “good” – the Supreme Court +40; Social Security System, +40; Department of Trade and Industry, +38; Department of Health, +37; and the city/municipal government, +35.

Two agencies received “moderate” ratings – the Trial Courts, +11 and the Armed Forces of the Philippines, +10.

Five obtained “poor” ratings – Department of Budget and Management, -17; Philippine National Police, -17; Department of Agriculture, -19; Department of the Interior and Local Government, -25; Presidential Commission on Good Government, -28.

Six institutions were given “bad” ratings: the Department of Transportation and Communications, -30; Presidential Anti-Graft Commission, -33; Department of Environment and Natural Resources, -34; House of Representatives, -34; Office of the President, -37; and the Land Transportation Office, -39.

Three obtained “very bad ratings” – the Bureau of Internal Revenue, -57; Department of Public Works and Highways, -65; and Bureau of Customs, -69.

Topping the list of institutions with the most positive or improved change in corruption over the past five years were DTI with +13 and DOH +12.

On the other hand, the institutions that obtained the highest margins of worsening corruption were BOC with -41; BIR, -34; DPWH, -28; and the Office of the President, -14.

SWS said the agencies also obtained the highest margins of worsening corruption in 2008.

The survey used face-to-face interviews with 550 top and middle-level enterprise managers, 366 of them from randomly drawn small and medium enterprises and 184 from randomly drawn large corporations.

It has a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.

Surprised

Customs Commissioner Napoleon Morales has expressed disappointment over the latest SWS survey results.

Morales said that when the survey was conducted from Nov. 3 to Dec. 5 last year, the agency was still experiencing the birth pains of its E2M (electronic to mobile) project that has removed human intervention in transactions.

He said the BOC has already set up the E2M system in the Ports of Manila, Limay, and the Manila International Container Terminal.

“It is a perception survey but the facts say otherwise. We have launched projects to curb corruption, including the harnessing of new technologies that minimize if not totally eradicate face-to-face contacts between our personnel and the transacting public,” he said.

“We have laid down rules that reduce to a minimum discretionary powers of those who assess duties and charges. Through the Run After the Smugglers (RATS) program we have filed charges against smugglers and their coddlers in office,” he said.

“We have conducted intrusive lifestyle checks on our personnel and have asked courts to seize any unexplained wealth discovered,” he pointed out.

“But whatever we do our bad reputation precedes us. The Bureau of Customs has been typecast as an agency beyond redemption when our gains in the area of reform say otherwise,” he said.

“This cynical view of the public is the cumulative results of years of bad publicity,” he added.

Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Undersecretary for Luzon and spokesman Romeo Momo also said he was surprised to learn of the survey results.

Momo said he felt sad that the agency received a “very bad rating” of -65 despite being praised by the Presidential Anti Graft Commission in the 2009 Integrity Development Action Plan or IDAP.

“Before we had pre-qualification, but now we have post-qualification in the bidding process and this means that more contractors would be able to participate,” he said.

It has also partnered with a non-government organization, Project Lansangan which checks on government projects “to ensure that there is no deviation from the contract.” With Evelyn Macairan