Dindo Manhit, President, Stratbase ADR Institute
The Philippines was rated one of the “most significant decliners” in the 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), as reported by Transparency International (TI). To put it bluntly, corruption in the country has gotten worse despite President Duterte’s rants and threats of going after those guilty of this.
For the past five years, the global average among 180 countries surveyed has improved from 43 (2017-2020) to 45 in 2021. The Philippines, however, sank 18 places, ranking from 99th in 2018 to 117th, with CPI dropping down to 33 from 36. So much for Mr. Duterte’s anticorruption posturing.
TI’s report rightly blames the persistence of grand corruption and the lack of freedoms as significant factors in deterring progress. These factors are indicators of the higher prevalence of corruption in nondemocratic regimes, which parallels the authoritarian tendencies of this administration.
The lower CPI also reflects how the string of corruption scandals involving the top leadership has reversed the country’s improving rankings in 2018, when there was anticipation of systemic changes with the enactment of the Ease of Doing Business Act of 2018 (Republic Act No. 11032). Many had hoped that this would boost business ventures.
According to the assessment of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), anticorruption efforts in the Philippines are “largely diffused and uncoordinated” despite the existence of many laws. This was 14 years ago, and still sadly true.
The cost of corruption at a global scale was estimated to be a staggering $3.5 trillion, or 35 times our 2022 national budget. This, according to a 2021 publication of the World Economic Forum titled “The private sector is key to fighting corruption.” The Forum highlighted the private sector’s efforts to fight corruption and acknowledged that “the world’s leading companies have zero tolerance for corruption and are ready to work collectively across sectoral boundaries to curb it.”
Collective action “must also (be) multilateral and multistakeholder in nature because no single country, company, or industry can achieve its anticorruption goals by itself. Every stakeholder, therefore, needs to be part of the solution,” the Forum added.
The failure of Mr. Duterte to even curb corruption and the Senate blue ribbon committee’s findings of his complicity and that of some of his appointed officials in the plunderous Pharmally COVID-19 deals are a clear betrayal of the people’s trust. They are also a harsh lesson on the consequences of this populist experiment that has been divisive, indecent, and disrespectful of our good values. The direct victims of this governance crisis are us, the Filipino people.
But it is also us, our whole society, who must first realize this mistake and stand up to demand transparency, accountability, and integrity in a government duty-bound to serve, protect, and lead us toward a sustained trajectory of inclusive prosperity, instead of these vicious and myopic cycles of political patronage.
Corruption becomes most despicable amidst the people’s pandemic hardships and should have its day of reckoning. The lingering effects of the social and economic scars of the COVID-19 pandemic will be further prolonged if we cannot unite and purge our institutions of political dynasties as well as the gangs of plunder perpetrators who have been entrenched as bureaucrats.
The emerging digitally empowered world offers new dimensions of approaching systemic reforms with technologies that can transform our corrupt-prone bureaucratic structures. Such technologies include constructive disruptions that can seamlessly integrate operational efficiency and oversight mechanisms to deter and, hopefully, end corrupt practices.
In the fast-approaching elections, one should see that leaders, good and bad, will come and go. As we ponder on who is most worthy of our trust, we should consider the character and capacity of those wooing our votes. Can they be institution builders who have the right understanding and vision to make our country competitive in the global digital economy?
Everyone must fight corruption. It starts by electing leaders who won’t tolerate it at all.
This article was originally published in The Philippine Daily Inquirer