Corruption is found in all civilizations. It has different forms and effects on any society. Corruption in the Philippines dates back to the Spanish colonial period as penned by Jose Rizal in his novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo.
Carlos Bulosan, the Pangasinense who migrated to the United States in the 1930s and became a prolific writer, also wrote about corruption in some of his stories.
In the story, The Betrayal of Uncle Soyoc, Bulosan used the character of Uncle Soyoc to illustrate how the latter was willing to do the dirty job in a gambling scheme to get more gambling proceeds. As Uncle Soyoc basked in his crooked ways, Bulosan pointed out how, because of corruption, cheating has become a virtue. Wrote Bulosan: “It was very educational as well as inspiring to watch two men of the world outwit each other, and trying, of course, to take advantage of each other. In that bizarre world where I grew up, where cheating was a virtue, where lying was another virtue, and the play and interplay of chicaneries made me doubt the value of the other virtues, those that were preached in the schools and churches.”
Corruption, in general, is a form of dishonesty committed by a person entrusted with position of power or authority. The purpose is always to gain something of material benefit through bribery, graft, or backdoor deals.
In the Philippines, the kind of corruption that is pervasive is political corruption. When the leading politicians in government are corrupt, then corruption spreads at all levels, from the director of a department or an agency to the staff processing application permits. This is the reason why bribery is an accepted practice in almost all quarters of government because “everyone is doing it” and nobody trusts the rule of law or the politicians and the secretaries or directors running a particular department anymore.
Apropos to why corruption is endemic in Philippine society are the low salaries of government employees who want to “improve” their financial position by accepting bribes. Others, because of financial difficulties, allow themselves to be used by politicians for a fee to do the dirty job of bribing media personalities and judges – a form of corruption employed by politicians to influence people.
According to the 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) reported by Transparency International this month, the Philippines is getting more corrupt. The Philippines has fallen 14 notches below the 2018 ranking in the latest corruption index. We now rank 113th on par with Kazakhstan and Zambia. The Philippines has fallen 18 rungs in total on President Rodrigo Duterte’s watch. Simply put, the Philippines has become more corrupt under Duterte.
True, corruption is prevalent in the Philippines long before Duterte became president. It’s also true that Duterte has vowed not to tolerate corruption of any kind in government.
But how serious is Duterte in his campaign against corruption? There appears to be a pattern of firing corrupt officials, but reinstating them later. In 2018, Duterte fired Jose Gabriel La Vina as Social Security System Commissioner for “abuse of public funds”, but later on appointed him as agriculture undersecretary. In the same year, he sacked Melissa Aradanas as Presidential Commissioner for the Urban Poor (PCUP) for excessive travel, but just this week appointed her as the new Assistant Secretary of the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development (DHSUD). Aradanas is the cousin of Honeylet Avancena, Duterte’s partner. The president also promoted from Commodore to Rear Admiral Athelo Ybanez despite being investigated by the Office of the Ombudsman over P2.7M worth of cash advances.
So, again, the question remains: How serious is Duterte in his anti-corruption campaign?
Let me end with a quote that was directed by a Chinese to an American. But it may very well be addressed to every Filipino.
A Chinese Marxist economist, talking to an American, said, “In your past, most Americans attended a church or synagogue every week. These are institutions that people respected. When you were there, from your youngest years, you were taught that you should voluntarily obey the law; that you should respect other people’s property, and not steal it. You were taught never to lie. Americans followed these rules because they had come to believe that even if the police didn’t catch them when they broke a law, God would catch them.” Ouch!