Philippine Corruption at a Glance

April 20, 2015 at 3:16 pm 11 comments

political corruption
Getty Images

It used to be that the Philippines was at the top of the heap. In the 50s, it was second only to Japan in East Asia. Those were the good old days. A decade later and decades that follow, it began its spiral downward. In 2014, it’s ranked 114 out of 125 countries in the Good Country Index published by Simon Anholt based on 35 data points mostly provided by the United Nations.

It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out how it happened. Political corruption did it. Wikipedia defines it as “the use of powers by government officials for illegitimate private gain.”

time magazine
Time Magazine 1986 Cover – Corazon Aquino and Ferdinand Marcos

In the 60s and 70s, corruption in government metastasized like cancer during the administration of President and Dictator Ferdinand Marcos who became at one time the richest man in the world. When he was overthrown by people power in 1986, he was replaced by Corazon Aquino, the widow of his assassinated critic, Benigno Aquino II. Despite her efforts, she confessed that “corruption has returned, if not on the same scale, at least with equal shamelessness.”

esquire magazine
Esquire Magazine 2012 Cover – Clockwise from left to right: Joseph Estrada, Fidel Ramos, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Benigno Aquino III

After her term, General Fidel Ramos was elected president in 1992. Corruption remained in remission but continued to haunt his administration ranking it as third among the major problems of his presidency.

It was when Joseph Estrada became president in 1998 that corruption started to develop and grow unabated once again. This led to a second people power that forced his resignation. He was subsequently charged, detained, and convicted of plunder.

After Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo took over the presidency in 2001, corruption got worse and turned into a much bigger tumor. During her administration, Transparency International gave the Philippines a score of 2.5 out of a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being the most corrupt.

Under President Benigno Aquino III, who became president in 2010, corruption has continued to be a source of national embarrassment. Although he has made an effort to contain it, the Philippines remains as one of the most corrupt countries in the world.

time magazine
Time Magazine 1935 Cover – Manuel L. Quezon

Manuel L. Quezon, the first President of the Philippine Commonwealth once said that he “would rather have a country run like hell by Filipinos than a country run like heaven by the Americans, because however bad a Filipino government might be, we can always change it.”

If he were alive today, I’m sure he’d be glad to take his words back. Most of the supposed elected leaders have taken advantage of their positions to enrich themselves through bribery, kickbacks, patronage, cronyism, and creative ways of looting public coffers.

Corruption can only be stopped if the government officials are held accountable for their actions. More often than not, they are given a free pass. They feel so entitled that they consider themselves above the law. In the Philippines, no big fishes go to jail for wrongdoing. If they are caught with their hands in the cookie jar, they absolve themselves just by taking their hands off. Ok, some progress has been made lately. Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and three senators have been detained for plunder. But whether their cases will gain traction is another story.

Part of the problem can be due to the Filipino culture itself which seems hospitable to corruption.

Filipinos are known for their compassion. They are very easy to forgive and let bygones be bygones. Take the case of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. One of the highlights of her presidency was pardoning her predecessor, Joseph Estrada, who was convicted of plunder.

Mr. Estrada decided to run in the 2010 presidential elections and almost won. He placed second to Benigno Aquino III in a field of 4 candidates proving that the people had forgiven him, too, even after all the shenanigans that he had made. In 2013, he ran for Mayor of Manila and won handily against all his rivals.

As for Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, she ran for congress in 2010 to represent her district, which she won with hardly any opposition. In 2011, she was detained and placed under hospital arrest for plunder allegedly committed during her term as president. Many of her supporters including Catholic bishops are now pleading the court to place her under house arrest instead so she can enjoy her notoriety in the comfort of her home.

marcos family
Pctured, from left to right: Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., Imelda Marcos, and Imee Marcos

The Marcos family didn’t fare bad either courtesy of the people’s short memory and accepting nature. Imelda Marcos has become a congresswoman, daughter Imee a governor, and son Ferdinand Jr. a senator who is contemplating to run for president in 2016. Most importantly, they are still rich beyond anybody’s imagination.

Lastly, it’s reflected in the condonation doctrine that the Philippine Supreme Court holds dear. It says that a public official is no longer liable from administrative acts of misconduct during his previous term if he’s voted back into office. By the power of his re-election, it’s perceived that his constituents have condoned him for committing such acts. Darn, the justices really know which side of their bread is buttered on.

I believe it was Plato who once said that the government is what it is because the people are what they are. If we change the culture, we can change the country’s future.

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11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. kenkierkeguaard  |  April 20, 2015 at 7:11 pm

    Reblogged this on balot_dealer.

  • 2. pinoytransplant  |  April 21, 2015 at 5:05 am

    Sad, but true.

    • 3. plaridel  |  April 21, 2015 at 11:06 pm


      we can start the change by voting intelligently. i know it’s hard, but we can always try.

  • 4. rebelliousrick  |  April 22, 2015 at 2:36 am

    “Filipinos are known for their compassion. They are very easy to forgive and let bygones be bygones”


    • 5. plaridel  |  April 22, 2015 at 11:11 am


      compassion maybe a virtue. But like everything else, when brought the extreme, it becomes toxic. we should learn to temper it with common sense.

  • 6. Leigh W. Smith  |  April 22, 2015 at 12:43 pm

    Plaridel, this is sad (but fascinating; almost a modern-history lesson). I hope the Philippine people are able to pull their noble country out of the quagmire. As you noted in this post at least a couple times, people power has worked to replace or censure corrupt leaders already.

    • 7. plaridel  |  April 22, 2015 at 2:11 pm


      the presidential election in 2016 is very crucial to the future of the country. unfortunately, the candidate leading in the survey right now is very corrupt. if he wins, we’d be back to square one again.

  • 8. Noel Dela Cruz  |  October 28, 2015 at 7:57 pm

    Quite a good article with the exception of this line:

    “As a result, United Nations has warned the Philippine government in 2014 to get its act together in handling corruption within the next five years. Otherwise, the Philippines runs the risk having its membership revoked.”

    Can you please enlighten me of your reliable source? I’ve read something similar from a story full of holes to personally consider it credible.

    • 9. plaridel  |  October 28, 2015 at 11:17 pm


      thanks for reading. i don’t have any other source but the internet such as this one:

      if you find any article debunking it, i’d be interested if you lead me to it.

      • 10. Noel Dela Cruz  |  November 4, 2015 at 4:52 pm

        This is how I came up with the conclusion that that article is a hoax without citing other articles.

        First, if you try to find any other article that that tells you similar news, you will always end up at thephilippinepride, a website of questionable credibility. You may also notice that although the video is taken at a UN forum, it has nothing to do with the “news” being narrated. To find how ‘credibe’ philippinepride is, check their other ‘news’.

        Second, in case you haven’t noticed it yet, the narrator is a mere text-to-speech software with an english accent. It can’t even read “10 billion pesos” correctly, instead it says “P10B” like it is some sort of a serial number. No credible media outfit uses a text to speech software for news releases. If you have an adobe acrobat software, open a readable .pdf file, activate click ‘read out loud’, click the arrow (text selection tool) and click on the texts to initiate the reading. (You may need to connect to the internet to get it working) It may have a different accent but it works in the same manner.

        Third, the article mentions a “recent report from UN and TI” which cites Philippines as the fifth most corrupt just above 4 countries mentioned. A report is supposed to have a title for reference but none was mentioned. A quick check in TI ranking will tell you that in 2013 Ph ranks 94/177 in corruption with 1 as the least corrupt In 2014 Ph is 85/175 They could have warned Ph back in 2010 when the ranking was 134/178.

        I also checked on the names of people mentioned who gave their piece for the ‘news’ but no name matches the profile in the news.

        I came across similar opinions, one coming from ‘kapatiran’ and another one from an ateneo alumni group. I’m not sure why I can’t find a credible writer making a piece to debunk it, maybe because they find that it is not worth their time.

        I remember Raissa Robles dismissing the article as a “misleading news from a satirical site” when it appeared at the comments section of her blog.

        • 11. plaridel  |  November 4, 2015 at 6:59 pm


          obviously, i had been duped as many others. i had deleted the questionable quote from my post. thank you for all the research. the thephilippinepride web site should be held accountable for spreading this hoax.


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