THE recent Anti-Corruption Summit, in London, might have posted another landmark in the global movement against corruption with its proposal for all countries to establish a public register of foreign real-estate holdings. The establishment of the register in London, said UK Prime Minister David Cameron, meant, “Corrupt individuals and countries will no longer be able to move, launder, and hide illicit funds through the London property market…” Several countries pledged to launch such registers. But the United States was not among them. It then seems that any Filipinos, who has laundered ill-gotten wealth through the acquisition of mansions and shopping malls in the United States, can heave a sigh of relief.
The global anti-corruption movement, according to international observers, may be traced for its origin to the decision of Swiss banks to cooperate with the Philippine government in recovering the hundreds of millions of dollars stashed by Philippine dictator President Marcos in Swiss vaults. The unprecedented media coverage of the EDSA revolution of 1986 and the sheer size of the Marcos loot, eclipsing the amount that any previous dictator hid in Swiss banks, caused Switzerland to fear a reputation as a “pirate’s haven.” They thus expressed an unprecedented readiness to turn over the said seeds of plunder to the Philippine government provided the latter can prove its ownership in a court of law.
The next critical step in the global anti-corruption movement was the UN resolutions in the aftermath of 9/11 to close the financial arteries giving sustenance to terrorism; these pressured all members of the UN, including the Philippines, to pass anti-monetary laundering laws, which apply not only to terrorists’ money but all substantial amounts suspected of coming from illegal sources.
An international community awakened to the important role it plays in the movement against corruption and money-laundering was to join hands negotiating and crafting the UN Convention against Corruption. It has been observed that developing countries like the Philippines have been staunch supporters of the convention because it facilitates the challenging task of recovering coffers hidden abroad by erstwhile dictators. Among other things, State Parties are obliged to assist one another in every aspect of the fight against corruption, including prevention, investigation, and the prosecution of offenders.
It thus appears that the international community has kept up in closing all nooks and crannies where ill-gotten wealth can be stashed abroad, but this endeavor is obviously not over.
The international community risks interfering in the domestic affairs of countries by touching on the causes and factors spawning this evil that is the root of the problems challenging developing countries in particular.
Summing up the rationale for the London Anti-corruption Summit, Cameron stated that corruption was the cause of poverty in the world. Doesn’t that ring a bell to Filipino ears?
Yes, it is an echo of the slogan of President Benigno Aquino’s 2010 campaign and administration: Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap. (If there is no corruption, there is no poverty.) From the role of the issue in the last and previous elections, Filipinos hold this proposition to be true.
PNoy was not among the anti-corruption summiteers in London. If he were, could he have made substantive contributions to the exchange of best practices that was part of the work of the Summit? Yes, naman, but to a certain extent.
During his term of office, Transparency International saw corruption declining in the Philippines each year but only by a bit. Foreign investors were nevertheless encouraged to come to the Philippines because investing had been reported to be a less expensive undertaking. In 2015, however, a survey quoted by the New York Times considered the Philippines to be the most corrupt of the leading economies in the Asian region.
Perhaps reflective of this paradoxical situation are the recent surveys showing the popularity among the people of PNoy himself on one hand, and the defeat of the presidential candidate, whom the anointed and who ran on a platform of continuing his anti-corruption legacy, on the other.
A colleague, who has seen all of Philippine politics in his long life, describes the anti-corruption drive of PNoy as simply one of providing leadership by example. No doubt a leader having integrity is himself an indispensable condition for a successful anti-corruption campaign, but even this is not enough. The problem has been that PNoy’s glorious example has not been followed by all the agencies under him. The gross inefficiency of the Department of Transportation and Communication, for example—so gross as to suggest that there could only have been corruption in the department—would, to long and much suffering MRT passengers, outweigh the merits of PNoy and the many achievers in his administration. (Indeed, graft charges had been filed against certain DOTC officials.) And then there was the head of the national police and a close friend who, despite being already suspended on graft charges, was given the helm of a delicate mission. … No whiff of corruption should be sensed of the President’s friends, allies and everyone else in his governing circle. Otherwise, Daang Matuwid would sound no more than a hollow slogan as it did to rivals and many voters alike during the last election campaign.
But let us end here, before someone recalls the saying that after an election, winners who have many relatives and losers are orphans. The knowledgeable reader is welcome to connect the dots.
In sum, corruption in the Philippines is, in fact, a culture affecting not only the government but all sectors of society. As such, it can only require a total, holistic approach. Perhaps the President-elect, with the relentless and uncompromising energy he promises to give to governance, is the exact warrior to wage and win this battle.