Second of four parts
Myth No. 2: Aquino’s Tuwid na Daan campaign has dramatically reduced corruption.
Along with Malacañang’s false claim that President Aquino engineered the economy’s growth surge, which in fact began with the 2005-06 fiscal reforms, the other oft-repeated myth to debunk is the untruth that he resolutely battled and drastically reduced graft. In fact, Aquino abetted anomalies by allies and friends, and corruption remains rampant after years of Tuwid na Daan.
Just as the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines lamented “selective prosecution” of the pork barrel scam, Aquino has used corruption accusations to jail and oust opponents, while sparing his clique of Kaklase, Kakampi and Kabarilan (classmates, allies, and shooting buddies). This “KKK” coddling sharply contrasts with the quick resignation of then-President Gloria Arroyo’s Justice, Defense and Agriculture secretaries when accused of irregularities in 2001, 2003 and 2005, respectively.
Coddling KKK cronies
Pro-Aquino pressmen and broadcasters helped Aquino get away with this cronyism by downplaying administration anomalies after initial headlines and controversy. Thus, the public has largely forgotten about:
• More than 2,000 containers lost in 2011, the country’s largest spate of smuggling ever
• Archbishop Oscar Cruz’s jueteng bribery charge against Aquino shooting buddy and then-Interior Undersecretary Rico Puno and then-National Police Chief Jesus Versoza
• The overpriced billion-peso PNP rifle bidding supervised by Puno, who quit afterward
• Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa’s rumored P40-million White Plains mansion
• Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima’s reported failure to file income tax returns
• Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala’s alleged pork barrel anomalies
• Political Adviser Ronald Llamas’s firearms and pirated DVDs brouhahas
• Rice smuggling under Aquino’s food czars Lito Banayo and Orlan Calayag
• Corporate meddling and gambling by Land Transportation head Virginia Torres
• Repeated Bilibid scandals, starting with Aquino’s first prisons head Ernesto Diokno
• P400 million lost by state casinos to illicit foreign gamblers allowed to flee abroad
• Israel and Macau junkets by Puno and casino czar Cristino Naguiat Jr.
• $30 million demanded from Czech company Inekon to get Metro Rail Transit deal
• MRT maintenance contract for a firm linked to top MRT and transportation officials
• Resigned PNP Chief Alan Purisima’s anomalous “White House” residence, P2.5-million car discount, and sprawling Nueva Ecija mansion.
In these and other controversies, President Aquino has consistently defended his KKK cronies, and spared them from honest-to-goodness investigations and punitive sanctions. When Naguiat and his family were found to have improperly enjoyed a Macau trip paid for by a company applying for a casino license, Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda justified the junket as “industry practice.”
Aquino did not probe the unprecedented smuggling of thousands of uninspected, untaxed containers, which led to the trebling of contraband to $19 billion a year, based on International Monetary Fund data, and P200 billion in lost revenues, by Aquino’s own count. It would have been so easy to investigate officials accountable for releasing and receiving cargo, who should have taken steps after, say, 50 disappearances. But the Palace won’t sanction anyone who might then name the bigwigs behind the scam.
For Diokno, Puno, Torres, Banayo, and Calayag, as well as Customs Commissioners Lito Alvarez and Ruffy Biazon, who presided over the five-fold leap in smuggling to record levels, it was enough to resign, with nothing to hold them accountable. Ex-PNP Director General Alan Purisima, ex-MRT General Manager Al Vitangcol 3rd, and ex-Health Secretary Enrique Ona, who quit over suspicious vaccine purchases, also look set for resignation without sanction — Aquino’s last resort for KKKs he has to let go of.
The real corruption score
Turning to statistics, the way the President and his political and media allies have trumpeted Tuwid na Daan, one might expect dramatic falls in corruption indicators. Yet most data have shown little improvement and even some worsening.
In the 2013 Global Corruption Barometer survey by Transparency International, nearly one-fifth of GCB respondents in the country said corruption “increased a lot” since the TI poll in 2010. Another 12 percent said sleaze got a little worse, with nearly a third finding no improvement under Aquino. A further 35 percent thought graft “decreased a little.”
That’s almost nine out of ten Filipinos not greatly impressed with Tuwid na Daan.
Social Weather Stations polled businesses annually in 2000-09 and 2012-13 on actual and perceived corruption. The 2013 survey showed worsening corruption after improvements in 2008, 2009 and 2012.
Respondents with personal knowledge of corruption over the past twelve months dropped every year from the 2007 peak to a low of 55 percent in 2012. But in 2013, when the pork barrel scandal broke, those who personally know of graft rose to 59 percent. And bribery for government contracts in Metro Manila, where most national agencies bid out projects, rose from 42 percent in 2009 to 49 percent in 2012 and 50 percent in 2013.
Thankfully, positive media coverage helped improve public impressions despite actual deterioration on the ground. The World Bank Control of Corruption index measures perceptions of how well the government is able to limit or reduce graft. This improved from -0.8 in 2009 and 2010 to -0.7 in 2011 and -0.6 in 2012, with the ranking percentage rising from a low of 22.4 in 2010 to 33.5 in 2012. TI’s Corruption Perceptions Index also showed gains for the Philippines’ score steadily rising to 38 last year, from 34 and 36 in 2011 and 2012. Yet these numbers, already helped by the reformer narrative downplaying negative reports, hardly show a tremendous success.
A final test of governance and integrity is transparency: How willing is the government in providing truthful and relevant information on its actions? In the inaugural conference of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in New York in 2011, President Aquino presented a long list of planned measures for greater public access to state information.
How many of those plans have been realized? Will the passage of the Freedom of Information Act, which was NOT among the initiatives submitted to the OGP, also happen? And is Aquino showing transparency in his statements, say, on the Mamasapano massacre?
(The first part ran this past Tuesday; the last two parts will be published March 3 and 5.)