Why corrupt politicians keep getting elected


Do you trust the government and its leaders? If you do, you are among a rare one in every nine Filipinos, or 11 percent of the public. That’s the finding of the Philippine Trust Index survey for 2014, conducted by public relations company EON and the Ateneo Graduate School of Business, which fellow front-page columnist Yen Makabenta cited this past Tuesday. The latest and first two PTI presentations are available on www.slideshare.net.

The latest rating for the government is down from 15 percent in the second PTI, which rose from 7 percent in the first. Another 39 percent “somewhat trust” the authorities. By comparison, 75 percent have confidence in the Church, the most trusted institution, with another 19 percent somewhat trusting it. Even business did better than the state, with 13 percent trusting the sector, and another 55 percent somewhat trusting.

The survey asked its 1,200 randomly chosen respondents what would give them trust in the public sector? Two out of every five said the key quality is being “not corrupt”. And only one-fifth strongly agree that the government is not corrupt. Just in case that message isn’t clear, for non-government organizations, the key trust driver is also that NGOs “must be incorruptible.”

So how come corrupt politicians keep getting elected? The survey gives clues — and suggests how honest and upright individuals can get into public office. This article looks at why sleaze wins elections; we will discuss how good guys can finish first next week.

Why the corrupt win elections

Besides honesty, other traits that don’t necessarily have much to do with trustworthiness actually help win trust. For substantial segments of the public, being a competent leader and providing basic needs for the poor (11.7 percent each), and giving decent jobs (10.1 percent) gain trust.

Thus, if a congressman uses his pork barrel for a project that gives some employment to a poor community and a bit of help to the indigent, he would win the confidence of as many as one in three people, even if he pockets half the budget. Ditto the leader of a local government unit who gives doleouts and temporary work using kickbacks from the LGU budgets and Internal Revenue Allotment, another graft-ridden slush fund.

And the trust-building impact of such largesse is greater among poor communities. They give much more value to jobs and basic needs, or may be more easily impressed by speeches and vanity projects. So why won’t politicians skim off billions, then throw crumbs to the indigent while bankrolling publicity about their “competence”?

Being transparent and communicating win over another 5.7 percent of Filipinos. That also works for glib grafters with big public relations budgets who seemingly share governance information. Another confidence-building trait is implementing laws equally. The right PR can impart that quality to a politician, since voters can’t actually verify if laws are carried out without fear or favor.

So while less than one-fifth of PTI respondents strongly agree that government leaders are not corrupt, about a quarter are convinced that they are competent and provide decent jobs and basic needs for the poor. Those proportions are generally less for the well-informed, whose results were extracted from the main poll.

Interestingly, while those informed respondents give high value to fulfilling campaign promises, the general public do not. That means voters don’t care as much about candidates’ pledges as they do about other things. Or they don’t recall or have enough information about promised programs and projects to base judgments on them.

Still others may see candidate speeches as all sweet talk and don’t expect much of what’s said to happen. Indeed, respondents who think elected leaders are true to their campaign promises, are about the same percentage as those who think politicians are honest — less than one-fifth. But being incorrupt is a far greater source of public trust than fulfilling campaign promises. So one can lie on the hustings, but not take bribes.

Media cleans up the dirt
Besides doleouts and jobs for the poor, the corrupt can also win trust by tapping entities people believe in. Top three in the PTI are the Church (trusted by three-quarters of respondents), academe (more than half), and media (one-third). So if a corrupt official is often seen with prelates, priests, nuns, and parish groups, the public may forget his sleaze. Ditto if he speaks and receives honorary degrees at graduation ceremonies.

Of course, media campaigns are the most common, if expensive way to build reputations of integrity, competence and caring. About half of Filipinos trust television (53 percent) and radio (45 percent) as news sources, while a third turn to newspapers (35 percent) and a fifth to magazines (20 percent). All these ratings are up significantly since the 2012 survey. So is trust in online news, social media and blogs, though they don’t rate as high as traditional media, largely for lack of Internet access.

Media power is most evident in the current administration. Major forms of corruption have reached record levels under President Benigno Aquino 3rd. Smuggling rose five-fold from past administrations to $19 billion a year, based on International Monetary Fund trade data. Pork barrel more than tripled from the last years of his predecessor (see Rigoberto Tiglao’s Monday column, “Largest pork barrel ever: P21B in 2015”).

Plus: Aquino has openly defended and never sanctioned his Kaklase-Kakampi-Kabarilan clique of associates and allies over anomalies. But these facts never get the kind of prominent and repeated coverage that lesser sleaze got in past administrations. Instead, most media have stuck to the initial impression or narrative that Aquino is an honest reformer fighting corruption. Thus, his trust, approval and satisfaction ratings remain decent, though they have fallen in recent months.

Still, people are wising up. PTI ratings for the Office of the President dropped by nearly half to 16 percent since two years ago. Most other government institutions kept their ratings, with the Cabinet and LGUs at 17 percent, the Supreme Court at 16 percent, and regional trial courts at 14 percent. But the Senate lost more than half, dropping to 7 percent, while the House of Representatives fell by a quarter to 9 percent.

Plainly, you can’t fool all the people all the time.


Please follow our commenting guidelines.


  1. Sonny De La Cruz:
    Did you mean Bi-cameral? The 1987 Philippine Constitution mandates a bicameral form of government in Congress: Senate+House of Representatives. That’s what the Philippines has.

    ” I have been advocating in many of my comments to dissolve the present system of government ( Unicameral )”

    In my opinion, it’s the poor’s lack of participation in the social media that makes them elect the incompetents.

  2. Elections are USELESS.

    Government is USELESS.

    Electing people into government is like choosing whether you will be raped by the Yellows… or raped by the Reds… or raped by the Greens – or whatever color each political party chooses.

    The outcome will always be the same – you will be taxed and regulated to death.


    If people truly want to remove corruption – they have to strike at the root – and break the process of plunder.

    This means people’s initiatives to repeal all taxation, reduce government spending, downsize government, eliminate regulations, privatize GOCCs, free the market, and embrace free enterprise.

    After all – when there is no government to take your money away – what government corruption is there to talk about.

    It’s simple really but not for Pinoy simpletons.

  3. All of the entities including the yellow media who benefited from the pork barrel, DAP, and etc., supports Noynoy. It was designed that way to supports the Aquino’s agenda.

  4. why corrupt politicians keep getting elected? because they keep on lying and lying and some media, like abscbn, phil.star and inquirer told it as truth.

  5. …Why corrupt politicians keep getting elected????
    >>> the answer to this is the same answer to ” Why people electorate keep voting corrupt politicians and easily vote the popular candidate?

    Like that Antonio Trillanes …. became popular in attempted cudeta, and was charged and to be sentenced on case of treason and rebellion when this fucking president BSC-Aquino3rd gave him amnesty, later became a candidate and elected although nothing knowledge to manage a government.


  6. What kind of a system allows only the rotten apples to rise to the top? A rotten system of course. How to bring down a rotten system that benefits only the rotten apples clearly becomes the problem. I don’t have the answer, but I know that the first step is to attack what gives the rotten apples their power but is also the same time their achilles heel, and that is the election cheating machine. I hope the current very feeble discussion of how to approach this cheating machine problem snowballs into something more material, as any discussion of national matters that do not touch this achilles heel is always a welcome diversion for these rotten apples and their oligarch handlers.

  7. Need to put these corrupt politicians in jail so they will not get elected again,check lifestyle and saln.Investigated by DOJ and NBI need several special courts just to try these crook politicians.

  8. I have another take on why corrupt politicians keep getting elected because of the corrupt media. Instead of helping the electorate in exposing corrupt officials running for office, they write glowing articles why they should be elected. You are always barking of the power of the surveys and statistics but when majority of the people surveyed wants the VP to answer all allegations of corruption what did majority of the columnist in this paper did, but to reinforce the spin masters, its only politics. No wonder corrupt politicians are keep being elected

  9. Dear Sir Richard,

    On the question of : ” Why do corrupt policitians keep getting elected ? ”

    The answer is very simple : The majority of the Phillipine electorate are uneducated
    and ignorant ………and most are on empty stomachs. They vote on the basis of who
    can releive their hunger pangs when they are in the polling booth and not on the basis
    of the intellect.

    Do you think that a change in the form of government would change the current
    dire political/economic situation we are now experiencing ? Of course not,
    just too many hungry Filipinos whose intellect are numbed.

  10. muriel magtanggol on

    It’s not only the poor and hungry who vote for them. There are also rich, educated but foolish people and also rich, educated and with their own vested interests. Just an example are people who voted for Noynoy knowing he had no good track record to speak of, either in public or private sectors. Some were even more more intelligent and accomplished than him yet, they believed in him. You’ll wonder if they would have even hired him for any managerial jobs in their companies knowing his experience or lack of it. Even lack in track record for honesty. What was their basis? Do intelligent, educated or rich people vote by mere perception or by transitivity? I’d say, we are just generally foolish and not grounded with good and solid values.

  11. Sonny Dela Cruz on

    Why corrupt politician is being elected or re-elected, its because many of the Filipinos are poor and hungry. These poor people has the biggest votes than the better off financially. They vote to eat and to survive. They never see or enjoy what a good government can give them, because they never see one. That’s why many of them don’t care whom they elected. Now, its not too late anyhow for a change for a better Philippines. I have been advocating in many of my comments to dissolve the present system of government ( Unicameral ) because it’s not working in the culture of the Filipinos, that’s why rampant corruptions in all sector of the society, you name any dept. or branch of the government which is not corrupted. The Philippines should have a Federal System of government to lessen the corruption in the government. Federal system is more in the culture of the Filipinos because the Philippines was once in a Tribal system. Start molding the children to become a better adult through education by strong teaching of citizenship and the law. But don’t forget to feed the hungry first so that they can think and to be aware to have a better government.

    • I agree. Those who vote political thieves are the d and c groups. Why, because all or most of them sell their votes to the highest bidding candidate when, thereafter, they can eat decent food. Although after the elections, they are back to poverty. Current politicians and those in office wants the common man to live in poverty so they can be controlled by these thieves with no shame and souls. Reminds me of the book authored by Adolf Hitler. He wrote that in order to control the lives of the common citizen, keep them poor so they can be easily controlled.