Take Corruption Seriously: Prioritize FOI and Whistleblowers’ Protection

Dindo Manhit, President, Stratbase-ADRi

With the Presidential elections just around the corner, fighting corruption is, as expected, becoming a major campaign issue. Not only does every presidential candidate have “fighting corruption” or some version of the phrase as part of his or her governance platform, but one of them has actually vowed, if elected, to put an end to all corruption in just six months.

Unfortunately, promises made on the campaign trail will not end the country’s problem of systemic corruption. Beyond these campaign promises, the country needs reforms that will outlive the next political cycle and serve as the foundation for long term good governance.

I am not saying that the current Aquino administration hasn’t made progress on the good governance front. Almost six years ago, the Aquino administration set a course down the Daang Matuwid, with the promise of fighting corruption in all levels of government. That’s why former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has been under hospital arrest at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center, while three sitting Senators- Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, and Ramon Revilla Jr.- were arrested and detained on plunder and graft charges.

Along the way, investor confidence went up, and the country’s competitiveness along with, so much so that the country made a turnaround from Asia’s sick man to its ‘rising tiger’ in the span of a few short years. For the first time, it secured investment grades from the major international credit rating agencies and based on 4th Quarter 2015 figures, the Philippines recorded a higher than expected 6.3% GDP growth, with the government expecting growth in the upper range of 6-7% for 2016.

While Daang Matuwid may have contributed to increased competitiveness and confidence in the Philippine economy, corruption undoubtedly still persists. Depending on what side of the fence you are sitting on, the aforementioned arrests, the high profile investigations into misuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), or the constant stream of allegations of corruption against high ranking government officials and presidential candidates serve as constant reminders of this.

Most recently, Transparency International released the results of its corruption index which saw the Philippines drop 10 notches to the 95th spot. Compelling arguments questioning the accuracy of the index and its methodology aside, the study, coupled with headline grabbing announcement of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales that corruption still exists throughout the bureaucracy, serves as the latest reminder that more must still be done to battle the corruption that has entrenched itself in Philippine society.

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Image source: Philippine Daily Inquirer

In our recently launched book, entitled Thinking Beyond Politics, Dr. Kiko Magno in his chapter on Strategic Policy Directions for Governance Reform, has some recommendations for the Philippines to continue the progress made by the current administration and further advance the fight against corruption. Two important mechanisms, Dr. Magno said, are freedom of information and the whistleblowers’ protection. Whistleblower protection, as he says in the book, aims to encourage, incentivize and protect whistleblowers, informant and witnesses, while freedom of information will allow any Filipino citizens to ask any government agency for any information related to official acts, transactions, or decision. Bills pushing for either, however, continue to languish in Congress.

Furthermore, Dr. Magno says that the next administration must also support policies that improve both government efficacy and public trust and confidence. One way of doing this, he said is by continuing and further expanding the current administration’s Medium-term Information & Communications Technology Harmonization Initiative (MITHI) to improve ICT systems and government infrastructure services.

It is vital that the country’s leaders support policies like these that advance the fight against graft and corruption as well as other reforms that strengthen transparency, efficiency, and accountability in the way government is run. Harnessing ICT and the passage of legislation protecting whistleblowers and institutionalizing freedom of information early in the next Congress would be a good start.

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