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.