Top of the (dung)heap
Last updated 02:27am (Mla time) 12/08/2007
MANILA, Philippines -- It’s no longer surprising. The Philippines has become such a regular fixture in the hall of shame of international corruption that it would be big news if it landed outside the disgraceful circle of the world’s most corrupt countries. In the latest corruption survey of 60 countries by the Berlin-based Transparency International, the Philippines landed 10th among those countries where petty bribery was rampant.
The Global Corruption Survey 2007 of households on their experiences found 32 percent of the respondents saying they paid a bribe to obtain a service in the past year. That put the Philippines in the company of the world’s worst offenders, topped by Cameroon, where 79 percent said they paid bribes, and Cambodia which had 72 percent of respondents saying the same thing.
An earlier survey on corruption also done by Transparency International, the results of which were released in September, placed the Philippines in the 131st slot among 180 countries, ranked from the cleanest to the dirtiest. It scored a sorry 2.5 on the corruption perception index (CPI), using a scale of from 0 to 10, with 0 indicating the highest level of corruption and 10 the lowest. Only Indonesia, among its neighbors, was a little bit worse, with a score of 2.3, even as Thailand got 3.3, Malaysia, 5.1 and Singapore, a very enviable 9.3 percent.
Another survey, done in January-February this year among foreign businessmen by the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy, found the Philippines getting the worst rating among 13 countries in Southeast Asia, edging out Indonesia for that dubious distinction. On a scale of 0 to 10, where 10 is the worst possible score (not 0 as in the Transparency International index), foreign businessmen based in the Philippines gave the country a rating of 9.4.
While it is bad enough that the Philippines is consistently ranked among the world’s most corrupt countries, what makes the situation worse is that corruption is perceived to be getting worse. The PERC score of 9.4 for this year is sharply higher than the 7.8 the country got in 2006. In Transparency International’s CPI, the country’s score remained unchanged from that of 2006 at 2.5, but it slipped in the rankings from 121st place to 131st among the 180 countries surveyed. And in the survey on bribery, the percentage of households that paid bribes in 2007 was actually double that of 2006.
But in the eyes of Malacañang officials, such perceptions do not reflect reality. The chief of the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission, Constancia de Guzman, has been quoted as saying in reaction to the latest survey, “We will take it as a cue to look at our policy. But while bribery is a problem, it is declining because the people have more awareness of it.”
There is no question about public awareness of the problem, for who hasn’t heard of the many scandals involving corruption and bribery in high places -- like the aborted ZTE-NBN contract, the NorthRail project and the distribution of cash to congressmen and governors right inside Malacañang, to mention some of the latest ones? But it’s hard to imagine how anybody can say with a straight face that the problem is declining, given the growing number of corruption cases coming to light and the progressively larger amounts involved.
Such self-deception is alarming because it means that the end is nowhere in sight for such thieving and robbing, whether petty or grand. In fact, such an attitude would prove some 29 percent of Filipino survey respondents correct -- the ones who see corruption rising in the next three years.
Which is sad, because that would make the poor victims many times over. As Transparency International noted, the poor are more likely to fall prey to such predatory practices since individuals with higher incomes are likely to resist such bribe demands. “Too often, poor people must part with their hard-earned money to pay for services that should be free,” said its chair, Huguette Labelle. Another official pointed out that because the police and the judiciary in many countries are “part of the cycle of corruption ... corruption is interfering with the basic right of equal treatment before the law.”