Corruption has been universally characterized as the misuse or the abuse of public office for private gain. Its manifestations come in different forms such as illegal enticements and pay-offs, extortion, fraud, nepotism, graft, speed money, pilferage, theft, and embezzlement, falsification of records, kickbacks, influence peddling and campaign contributions. Although corruption is known to be an attribute of the public sector, it also exists in other facets of governance, like political parties, private business sector and NGOs (USAID, 2005; World Bank, 2001).
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Combating corruption is, evidently, important in its own right because when it is left unimpeded, it will have an acerbic effect on a democracy and in the general well being of a nation. Similarly, fighting corruption can serve as a switch or a tool resulting in wide-ranging economic reforms that can create a level playing field on which businesses operate. These supplementary gains can become significant components in the effort to marshal support for anti-corruption initiatives.
Basically, corruption is predominantly an issue of governance; it manifests a breakdown of institutions, a dearth of competence and a lack of capability to direct society and manage its people through a framework of social, judicial, political and economic checks and balances. When formal structures and informal systems go kaput, it becomes tougher and more difficult to put into practice and put into effect laws and policies that guarantee accountability and transparency. From an institutional perspective, corruption crops up when public officials have extensive influence and ubiquitous power, little accountability and vicious inducements, or when their accountability responds to informal rather than formal forms of regulation (UNDP, 2004, p. 2).
Attempts to assail corruption have grown exponentially in the last decades. High-profile cases of corruption in developing countries and emerging economies, within international organizations, and in the advanced industrial democracies have resulted to a growing public demand to attack the problem forcefully and with conviction.
Addressing the Issue
One could never get to the bottom of corruption by simply digging over and dig out corrupt individuals, whether they are government officials, politicians, or business people. As it is, corruption prospers in environments where legal structures are vague, the rule of law is not deeply entrenched within cultural standards and where laws and the judiciary allow employees chances to exercise or wield unrestricted authority and unlimited power throughout various levels of government. As economies embark on liberalization, corruption can surface within the very process of change. Example, privatization is a major strategy constituent in the conversion of a government-dominated economy into one driven by private initiative. However, this changeover process can alter public officials when it is merged with a blend of low government wages and economic stagnation. Clearly, it is futile to get rid of leaders for governing a corrupt system if there are no changes made into that system; simply educating government leaders would not be sufficient (Sullivan, 2000, pp. 3-9).
In the Philippines, extensive corruption continues rage. According to the international corruption perception index, the Philippines is one of the most dishonest countries in the Asia-Pacific Region; it ranked number 126 from a list of 163 countries (Transparency International, 2006). Distribution of resources does not have transparency and many civil groups are kept out from taking part in the process of drafting and consolidating the national budget. Corruption devours a substantial proportion of government projects, with pay-offs and bureaucratic red tape being unconcealed predicament. Similarly, there still exist countless problems in the bidding processes for government projects. As it is, frail mechanisms for transparency and answerability promote bureaucratic corruption and as can be observed, institutions given the task to investigate and resolve corruption-related cases, like the Office of the Ombudsman and the Special Graft and Corruption Court or the Sandiganbayan, have shown to lack efficiency and transparency. There have also been a number of scandals involving top government officials, a good example of which is the bribery case involving a China-based telecommunication firm (ZTE Corporation) and high-ranking government officials which further stained government integrity (BTI, 2009, p. 21).
Institutions to Abolish Corruption
The creation and maintenance of institutions purposely dedicated to the eradication of corruption is essential for the preservation of the rule of law as well as democratic institutions within countries. In Asia, institutions that are distinctively committed to the abolition of corruption are found in most countries of the region; however, the framework for which they base their operations has not been designed to attain their apparent purpose. Majority of the agencies have extremely restricted powers and work on diminutive budgetary allotments. These agencies frequently produce the idea of the existence of initiatives for the purging of corruption but in reality these are only shallow schemes as evidenced by the lack, and most of the times, total absence of genuine political will to produce effectual institutions that would eradicate corruption. In effect, with the absence of political will, only allegorical pronouncements are made about the purging of corruption while ruling regimes in fact want to continue with the corrupt practices intrinsic within the system. Basically, the desire of people and the will to effect change (who are the victims of corrupt practices) is strong, but unless people who have this so-called ‘will to change’ can articulate such will in a vigorous manner and are prepared to topple down political leaders who wish to carry on with fraudulent practices, change for the better can never take place.
Institutions purposely intended to eliminate corruption should have the following attributes (ALRC, 2010, pp. 10-11):
Autonomy of mandate, powers and appointments- not solely for people who are at the helm but also for all workers giving administrative support; personnel must be given security of tenure if their independence in implementing constitutional functions is to be a reality, by creating stipulation in significant legislation that they are not likely to be removed from office other than for transgression and lack of decorum. In addition, constitutional safeguards are needed to make sure of the trustworthiness of the individuals signed up to hold public positions in these institutions, as well as to check their morality is intact.
Sufficient budgetary allocations to perform researches and inquiries, hearings, deterrence efforts, education and trainings and all other related tasks necessary to attain effectiveness. A competent law enforcement component to fight corruption must incorporate an investigation wing with adequate training and resources.
Accessibility for people to air out grievances through diverse methods and must have other divisions throughout the country.
Accountability to parliament and responsibility through appropriate methods that have been crafted to thwart intrusions by the executive or any other branch of government.
Designed within the scaffold of the rule of law and the UN Convention against Corruption
Vigorous and credible programs and mechanisms are vital to combat corruption in the Philippines for three reasons:
Through the media, business surveys and anti-corruption agencies, the Philippines is cited with increasing regularity as a nation where foreign and domestic investments are hampered because of corruption and whose competitive position is eroded because of its continued existence.
Corruption incontrovertibly depletes existing resources for development, obstructs the right of entry to services for poor communities and destabilizes public confidence in the government’s resolve and capability to serve the underprivileged.
Corruption has surfaced as a critical global measure for allocating scarce development aid reserves.
Strategies and Mechanisms Against Corruption
The Philippines fight against corruption has lingered for decades. In this country, corruption is the offshoot of a culture of personalism in politics, a Presidential structure which gives the President an extensive range of powers and a fragile party-system incompetent in securing support through programmatic politics. Such arrangement places public policy-making in the hands of specific factions or “elite circles” that promote horse trading and spin fraudulent transaction within the system. It has led to institutionalization of corruption as it filters through all of the political system including official procedures and individual agencies (Balboa and Medalla, 2006, p. 12; Rocamora, 1997).
A good number of self-regulating entities and activist groups have embarked on investigations and inquiries on Philippine corruption, with a common objective of upholding good governance, accountability and to aid in anti-corruption efforts (Pacoy, 2008, p. 55). However, several studies have revealed that it is not by chance why most government initiatives have been proven to be unsatisfactory and even fail in its attempts to fight corruption (Larmour and Wolanin, 2001). Quite a lot of factors pave the way and enable the “culture of corruption” to pervade which include the governance environment and lack of political within frail institutions (Varela, 1996). Among the most intense end results of corruption are: a) societal displacement triggered by warped economic growth, poverty and income inequity; b) crushed political trustworthiness and reliability and deflated bureaucracy; and c) jeopardized public order and safety (Larmour and Wolanin, 2001).
Figure 1 – Number of Anti-Corruption Programs
Source: Hills Governance Center. TI-Philippines (2001), Directory of Institutions,
Organizations & Agencies Involved in Combating Corruption in the Philippines.
Diverse initiatives have been carried out to combat corruption in the country. On the government side, these intercessions have been in the form of legal scaffolds, presidential pronouncements, proclamations and other regulations, anti-graft and corruption bodies like presidential committees, commissions, task forces and other committees and units created since the 1950s.
In the 1987 Philippine Constitution, the legal framework against corruption has been provided in Article XI Section 1 which stipulates that, “Public office is a public trust. Public officers and employees, must at all times, be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency; act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives”. The abovementioned article equally affords an anti-graft court and an Ombudsman (Section 5). The anti-graft court is called the Sandiganbayan and the Office of the Ombdusman is also known as the Tanodbayan. The latter has the rank equivalent to that of a Constitutional Commission.
Almost each regime has a flagship committee created to respond to corruption issues and address corruption-related cases in the country (Appendix-1). However, many of them, except for the Presidential Commission against Graft and Corruption (PCAGC) that was instituted in 1994, were short lived and were substituted by a new office or task force when the term of office of the Presidents end.
Fundamentally, the Philippines is not lacking in efforts in curtailing corruption. Anti-corruption policies and measures have been put in place to tackle diverse types of corrupt activities and conduct in the government. In truth, observation has been made that there are just too many laws and regulatory mechanisms and they ended up overlapping with each other. However, if just a few of them will be implemented thoroughly, these laws are adequate and wide-ranging enough to put off fraudulent practices.
Almost all government administrations designed anti-corruption efforts its catchphrases and in the same way created new offices to perform these undertakings in order to produce the impression that the new administration is strict and uncompromising in its anti-corruption initiatives. However, creation of such bodies only led to superfluous functions and depletion of government resources.
While the Philippines has adequately fashioned the legal scaffold to respond to the issue and address its concomitant problems and correspondingly created the institutions tasked to combat corruption, perceptibly, effective implementation of these initiatives has been truly lacking. Absence of a steadfast leadership and political will has made vulnerable these efforts to curtail corruption. It appears that crooked politicians and government officials seemed to be very creative in their methods of circumventing the safeguards that have been in place and get away with it. Hence, it becomes imperative that policies targeted at thwarting acts of corruption and curtailing opportunities for corrupt activities must be at the core of every reform initiative.
Weaknesses – Failure
Current initiatives/mechanisms to combat corruption practices and catch fraudulent officials have several limitations that eventually lead to their failure. Among these weaknesses are:
â€¢ Ineffectual and sluggish implementation of anti-corruption laws
â€¢ Incapability and poor coordination between anti-corruption agencies
â€¢ The low social awareness of and high tolerance for corruption
â€¢ Lack of institutionalization of government-business-civil society collaboration
â€¢ Lack of integrity and accountability in government-business transactions.
In addition, most anti-corruption campaigns are hampered by logistical problems. The Office of the Ombudsman, the lead government body directed by the Philippine Constitution to combat corruption, only gets 0.065% of the total national budget. These logistical problems avert the hiring of competent staff to help guarantee the prompt and successful prosecution of corrupt public officials. On top of this issue on logistics, prosecution of public officials in the Philippines has not been very effective in putting off corruption because court procedures are so sluggish and wearisome. Currently, the prosecution of corrupt public officials is exemplified by a very low conviction rate, in fact, according to a former Ombudsman official, “a high-ranking government official accused of graft and corruption has 94% chances of walking away” (Marcelo, 2006, p. 37).
In theory, the government’s high-status lifestyle check is an excellent anti-corruption program, in practice, however, it has not been very efficient in unearthing irregularities and unlawful activities committed by many top-level officials. To this point, it has not been able to push many organizational insiders to report and provide evidence on the dubious standards of living and questionable sources of wealth of many public bureaucrats. The most important weaknesses of existing anti-corruption initiatives can be traced to derisory systems of putting into effect the code of transparency and accountability of those who hold public power. As it is, government dealings are still veiled in mystery, which increases the probability of abuse or misuse of power for personal gain. These anti-corruption initiatives also depend greatly on mechanisms or instruments external to the agencies being observed.
To address these weaknesses in existing anti-corruption strategies, organizational insiders or people with reliable information must be persuaded to report shady practices that principally transpire in organizational settings. Prompting the “silent majority” to report corrupt practices will generate alternative cultures or behavior that will in due course eliminate individual and societal leniency for corruption.
Strengthening Anti-Corruption Initiatives
In the Medium Term Philippine Development Plan (NEDA, 2004), the national government comes clean with the fact that corruption is a key obstruction to continued growth and development of the country and acknowledges that existing anti-corruption initiatives that include legislative actions and administrative measures to improve transparency and effectiveness of sanctions against corrupt behavior, have fallen short of expectations.
The Office of the Ombudsman, the constitutional body tasked to curtail, if not totally eliminate, corruption, principally applies punitive and retributive procedures to in its anti-corruption approach. It also supports the employment of forceful imposition of administrative sanctions, swift investigations and prosecution of graft cases and responsive public assistance as instruments to fight corruption. Concentrated graft watch over the system of government, values formation, collaboration with other government agencies, and enhancements in systems and procedures are the other constituents of its anti-corruption strategy. However, taken as a whole, the existing anti-corruption initiatives, which include the then high-profile lifestyle checks of public officials and employees, continue to perform below expectations (MTPDP, 2004).
Corruption is actually a governance issue because it involves efficient implementation of institutions and the well-organized and competent management of society via its political, economic, social and judicial mechanisms. With the collapse or failure of these formal and informal institutions, laws and policies that guarantee accountability and transparency of the government become harder to put into operation.
It can be gleaned then that ruling groups, at their will, can lessen accountability, either by lack of transparency or by affirming particular spheres of decision making off limits to inspection and intercession. Therefore, it is imperative that mechanisms aiming to reduce and curtain opportunities to dominate power are in place so that actions and activities that could undercut accountability are instantaneously forestalled and obstructed. Ex-ante or preventive strategies should also be the core element of reform.
Furthermore, since this issue is associated with the quality of leaders the country has, it is important that the anti-corruption endeavor is focused on political reform and democratization. In the Philippines, one of the root causes of corruption is tremendous personalism in Philippine politics and the ‘winner takes all’ system of elections. Policies that will neutralize this structure must be endorsed.
Likewise, the anti-corruption approach must be highlighted by a committed leadership and proficient management to enable the execution of programs and make these programs and initiatives sustainable in the long run. Additionally, continued reengineering of the bureaucracy is also a great necessity, with reforms centered not only on attaining effectiveness and value, but also inculcating a culture of rules in the system.
Lesson can be learned from Thai anti-corruption activist Pasuk Phongpaichit in curbing corruption. According to this activist, the control of corruption demands three strategies — first, the formal machinery of monitoring officials and politicians needs to be drastically improved. There is a need for political will to implement this; second, this will can be generated by popular pressure. We cannot expect the bureaucrats and politicians who benefit from the political system to reform themselves; and third, the public must be educated to exert moral and political pressure to outlaw corruption. The mobilization of such public pressure depends on a clearer understanding of the modern concepts of public office and public service and a more widespread awareness of the social costs and political risks which corruption entails.
Six years (after 2001) since Transparency International accentuated the principal role of government in anti-corruption initiatives and governance reforms, the same call for action is perceived by civil servants today and is slowly but surely pervading the consciousness of Filipino constituents leading to the implacable demand for civil service reforms, financial competence and authentic civil society participation.
Since fighting corruption is everyone’s concern, forceful and potent crusades are needed aside from passionate advocacy. The initiatives to diminish hoaxes and corruption in the government service no longer sound as idealistic or impossible as they were decades ago as the Filipino youth and the masses are fully conscious to the bleak reality that as long as corruption is left uncheck, integrity in politics and in the civil service will remain tainted and while politics is tarnished with issues on procurement and fiscal integrity, the civil service is perceived to have been constrained with public service delivery. Moral profligacy is extensive because even those with the highest righteous objectives are influenced to part with their morals into the politics of corruption.
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“The fight against corruption should be more focused on state capture instead of defining it as an agency problem. Right now the battleground should be shifted from small wars (principal-agent problem) to a grand war (grand corruption, state capture). The challenge lies in the evolution of strategies that are more creative and rigorous and because the challenges are greater the more energy is needed. Due to the fact that the Philippines are a soft state, the country only has few resources to do the battle. Therefore it makes sense to concentrate resources on strategies that would make a big difference and provide the impetus for changes along a broad front. Said in other words this would mean to do a lot for little instead of doing a little for a lot. Also, a shift should take place from personal (patronage) to impersonal exchange (rules that are enforced impartially). The country should come up with mechanism to develop constructs in which there are favorable incentives to impersonal transactions. Concluding one could argue that a good starting point is to devolve the power of discretion related through state capture, and to effectively reduce it by ensuring that big ticket items are out of reach of the few big payers who hold concentrated authority. The danger of course lies in the fact that this could lead to a decentralization of corruption. However, this would at least deal with a greater numbers of rent seekers which would restrict any one faction to a limited domain and prevents it from capturing regulations” (Gonzalez et al., 2006, pp.41-42).
Another matter of significance is that an enabling environment should must be created with incentives and disincentives for change because this is a critical factor in the choice and stepwise implementation of reform initiatives. And so as to obtain more insight into the problem of state capture, the political culture must be explored well to see how it works. Undertakings that are executed must be made sustainable because standalone endeavors are prone to be susceptible to state capture. Likewise, in order to prevent that new initiatives are blocked by inefficiencies at other levels, it is important that they transform into more comprehensive programs. Therefore, it is imperative that while helpful windows of opportunity may crop up, there is a need to focus on the long-term character of reform and to deal with existing expectations. To do this, actions that need to be embarked upon must be commenced with the necessary budget resources as well as capable and skillful manager to implement the targeted and programmatic anti-corruption campaign. This is the part where civil society can play a vital role in the process because business associations and NGOs can help identify and classify priorities and monitor outcomes. However, they cannot deploy the political will and resources of the state that are needed in the end to create transparent and accountable institutions.
Serious anti-corruption campaigns cannot only be commanded from the outside but also need committed leadership from within, more specifically from the topmost levels of the state. While the initial pressure for reform can come from below, any effective program should be supported from the top. However, the downside is that any strategy that relies solely on high-level leadership will be vulnerable to the many uncertainties related to the political process. A ‘convergence’ of strong players would make for a breakthrough performance against corruption.
If leadership is broadly-based, this can make the difference in devising means for sustaining ends. Broadening the number of stakeholders in various sectors and support their partaking in decision-making can end policy biases while the decisions are made in all transparency, open to the scrutiny of the public.
There is Hope
If corruption is assumed to arise from greed and the discretionary powers of public officials, there is still fresh and enough hope for offering a vision of leadership and a strategic reform of the political and bureaucratic system; and that of the people’s mind-set concerning public office and public service. Let this be the battle cry of every Filipino.
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