Orlando Oxales, Fellow of the Stratbase ADR Institute
A Social Weather Stations Survey commissioned by independent think tank Stratbase Albert del Rosario Institute through its project Democracy Watch revealed that Filipino voters first and foremost look for one thing in their senatorial candidate: Those who won’t be corrupt.
More than fulfilling promises (14 percent) or the ability to provide solutions to the country’s problems (9 percent) or leadership qualities (6 percent) or faith in god (5 percent), more people preferred candidates who “will not be corrupt” (25 percent) and who are trustworthy (21 percent).
The findings cut across geographic areas and between the urban and rural divides. Respondents from the National Capital Region, the rest of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao who said they are looking for candidates “who will not be corrupt” constitute 25, 26, 27, and 22 percent, respectively.
This is hardly surprising, of course. According to a 2014 report by Global Financial Integrity, some $410 billion, or around P19.34 trillion, had been lost to corruption in the Philippines over a 52-year period between 1960 and 2011. For perspective, this staggering amount translates to the country’s annual budget for social services like health and education dozens upon dozens of times over. Whatever deficiency or lack or dysfunction in our schools and hospitals and roads, one of the culprits is corruption.
The sentiment is also fueled by a pervasive perception of government service as a breeding ground for corrupt practices. Lists of corrupt leaders throughout history routinely include Philippine politicians occupying the highest positions of power. Corruption scandals are part and parcel of prime-time news, and it takes something huge, like the pork barrel scam engineered by Janet Napoles, to really shake us from our complacency.
As a result, there seems to be a collective disdain for political leaders, who are by and large perceived to be corrupt and untrustworthy.
“Filipinos always call for reducing poverty, creating more jobs, and fighting graft and corruption,” said Dindo Manhit, Lead Convenor of Democracy Watch and resident of Stratbase ADRI. “None of these concerns come as a surprise since they effect the daily life of every Filipino.”
The results also stem from a pervasive dissatisfaction as regards how our institutions are combating corruption. Stratbase ADRI said that since the passage of Republic Act 3019, or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, the plunder law has only convicted one public official; the rest who had been accused, including former senators, were either pardoned, acquitted, or, worst of all, remain on trial but still for some reason have the gall to run for office.
“This raises the question, are the anti-corruption laws in the Philippines strong enough to keep public officials in check of their duty? If not, then shouldn’t we elect officials who show integrity?” Manhit said.
What’s surprising indeed is how the preference for senators who will not be corrupt to a certain extent contradicts some, if not most, of the names that dominate pre-election surveys, which include, among others, scions of political clans that had long been tarnished by corruption.
Many of the frontrunners also belong to a provisional coalition headed by someone who openly proclaimed that honesty is not a prerequisite for a senatorial position.
Why else is integrity important? It’s important to note that the job of a senator goes beyond legislation, Manhit said. “The Congress has power over the president in times of national emergency and a state of war; impeach and hold constitutionally mandated public officials accountable, propose charter change; and even conduct necessary hearings in the process of creating laws.”
He explained: “Analyzing a candidate’s credibility, competence, and integrity is a responsibility therefore of a voter.”
It is no surprise that the topic of corruption—or those officials perennially tied to it—seems to be connected to political dynasties. Claudette Guevara, secretary general of Democracy Watch, noted that the 1987 Constitution is clear about the prohibition of political dynasties in the Philippines and yet every anti-political dynasty bill that had been filed since then had failed to prosper.
Worse, there has been an increase in the percentage of political dynasties in government over the last ten years or so between 2007 and 2016—from 75 to 78 percent among representatives, from 70 to 81 percent among governors, and from 58 to 70 percent among mayors. A correlation between the prevalence of dynasties and the level of poverty in areas has been established again and again.
Guevara said: “From the reports of the Office of the Ombudsman, corruption is rampant among LGUs and Congress. While they enrich themselves further by abusing the power vested in them, poverty increases, the quality of social services decreases, and it’s the people who suffer.”
Clearly then, the elections represent one of the few rare opportunities in which the Filipino people, long mired in systemic problems exacerbated by corruption, can break the status quo and begin the genuine struggle for profound change.
“We deserve leaders who are not corrupt, have good character and trustworthy,” Manhit said.
The survey on the “Qualities that One is Looking for in a Senatorial Candidate of the Philippines” was conducted by the Social Weather Stations from Dec. 16 to 19, 2018 via face-to-face interviews of 1,440 adults nationwide, of which 1,363 were registered voters.
This article was originally published in Manila Standard.