Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer for 2013 confirms what most informed Filipinos have concluded after three years under President Aquino’s administration: Corruption in this country persists and has increased.
Based on 1,000 respondents in the Philippines, the organization’s survey showed that nearly two-thirds (62 percent) believed that corruption has remained the same or increased.
The findings are damning for the Aquino administration considering the fact that about 60 percent of Filipinos—according to a private survey I was a given a copy of –rely for their information on the country’s two major broadcast networks and two broadsheets. These media outfits however have been so sympathetic to this administration even to the point of not running reports of corruption, or at least burying them.
A more independent press, I would surmise, would put the percent of Filipinos claiming a decrease in corruption in single-digit percentages.
Why would the level of corruption fall under Aquino, when much of this agenda has been undertaken solely in the realm of rhetoric?
Leadership by example? Ask any government official—as I had asked many of them when the issue broke out—what they think about the P10 million Porsche he got, or received, as his Christmas gift in 2010 and they’d just shake their heads.
Because of his control of media, Aquino felt no pressure to publicly disclose the car’s deeds of sale, when he purportedly bought it and allegedly sold it. Why couldn’t he if he really bought it from his own funds? Or was it – and quite obviously it was—a gift from some crony?
While Aquino managed to bury that issue when he “sold” his car, the message sent down the bureaucracy by the Porsche issue: “You can”, but we won’t defend you if you get caught.
Leadership by example? “I’ll believe he’s really honest the day his clan actually turns over Hacienda Luisita to its farmers as the Supreme Court had ordered, and leave their mansions there,” one government official said.
There are two main government agencies whose main task is to combat corruption. The first is the Ombudsman, which investigates cases of corruption and files the charges. The second is the Sandiganbayan, which hears and decides on the case, which really make up the fangs of an anti-corruption drive.
It was during President Arroyo’s administration that the Ombudsman was first given major weapons to combat corruption, when its budget was increased drastically. I would know since as Presidential Chief of Staff then, I worked with former Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo to work on the budget department and Congress’ agreements to increase its appropriations. The biggest increase in the Ombudsman’s budget was in 2009, when its financial resources were expanded 37 percent to P1.3 billion.
Despite all of Aquino’s kung-walang-corrupt-walang-mahirap rhetoric, the Ombudsman’ budget had decreased to P1 billion by 2011, and rose only in 2012 to revert to its 2009 level. Apparently realizing that people were seeing through his rhetoric, or perhaps due to the Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales’ nagging, Aquino has increased the agency’s budget to P1.7 billion this year.
We’ll have to see however if that increase would help reduce corruption at this stage of his administration, a lame-duck one when his officials will be scrambling to make their time in government profitable for them.
Worse off though is the Sandiganbayan, whose budget has remained in the P330 million average after two years under Aquino, although this was increased to P380 million for this year.
There are three obvious indications that the level of corruption hasn’t changed and may even have gone worse under Aquino.
First, jueteng, the illegal numbers game has flourished, with nearly every operator claiming – falsely or accurately – that he is merely running the Small Town Lottery authorized by the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office. Jueteng collectors now are even ‘modernized’, using the cheap Chinese-made motorcycles to collect bets in remote barangays and cellphones to be in close touch with bettors.
Who are responsible for the proliferation of the numbers game? It cannot operate without the support of both local governments and the police.
Pay-offs that allow it to operate undisturbed in all administrations go up to the top officials of the Philippine National Police, to its supervising body the National Police Commission, and to the big bosses at the Interior and Local Government Department – and perhaps even to the Office of the President. Media, very surprisingly or not, has left the jueteng issue below people’s radar.
We were jolted into realizing that jueteng had become a high-stakes enterprise when police colonel Hansel Marantan led a group that ambushed in January two cars, killing 13, including another police colonel. Investigation had indicated that it was a rubout by one group representing one jueteng syndicate against another. Colonel Marantan had claimed that the Presidential Anti-Crime Commission, headed by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, had approved his operation.
A second indication of worsening corruption is the unabated smuggling under the noses of the Bureau of Customs. After much brouhaha over 5,000 container vans disappearing, the smuggling of agricultural products hitting our farmers, and the massive shipments of illegal drugs, Bureau of Customs chief Ruffy Biazon remains at his post. Why is Aquino standing by Biazon?
A third indication of worsening corruption is the paucity of cases filed by the Ombudsman against officials in local governments, where the bulk of graft actually occur.
I was told that this was due to the fact that regional offices of the Ombudsman have been largely neglected, with many of its investigators who could have been deployed there still ransacking old government records to find proof of graft by former President Arroyo.
After three years of leaving no stone unturned, the one case keeping her detained is one in which the sole witness would have been in jail for his involvement in the Mindanao massacre, if not for his false testimony against Arroyo.
The expose of this paper’s emeritus chairman, Dr. Dante Ang, of an extortion attempt for an MRT contract could be just the tip of corruption cases, and attempts at such under this administration. It is a breakthrough that should encourage principled people in Aquino’s government to reveal to media how crooked the “Tuwid na Daan” really is.
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