Philippine Corruption at a Glance
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 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 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 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.
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.