Zero tolerance

Corruption has always been the lynchpin of our political system. The extractive nature of our politics has created so much wastage of taxpayers’ money that time and time again, people have asked for political reforms to be instituted at the local and national levels.

Note: This column originally appeared in The Manila Times on August 27, 2019.

When the Deputy Ombudsman Cyril Ramos makes a public statement that “government might have lost to corruption around P1.4 trillion in the past two years,” we are bleeding dry. And this is using the “2017 United Nations Development Program’s estimates, which said corruption loss in the Philippines equated to 20 percent of its annual government appropriation.” Are we winning the battle?

At P3.35 trillion in Fiscal Year 2017 and P3.76 trillion in FY 2018, that’s a staggering “P670 billion and P752 billion computed lost to corruption in those two years.” Ramos further pointed out that at 2018 levels, the money lost to corruption could have been used for the construction of 1.4 million housing units for the poor. The Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council pegged social housing cost at P500,000 per unit. It could have also been used to provide medical or educational assistance for at least 7 million Filipinos annually. The “what ifs” are “many for P700 billion annually: modern hospitals, airports, schools, irrigation facilities, better salaries, decent housing, armaments, etc.”

If Tokhang was questioned and a campaign against it has been elevated to the international level by the opponents of PRRD, imagine if we had a Tokhang effort against corruption, we would be better off by 2022, right? No Filipino would go against a Tokhang-like offensive on corruption. But would that be political suicide for any leader?

Corruption has always been the lynchpin of our political system. The extractive nature of our politics has created so much wastage of taxpayers’ money that time and time again, people have asked for political reforms to be instituted at the local and national levels. According to the 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index of Transparency International, the “Philippines is the 99 least corrupt nation out of 175 countries.”

Corruption Perceptions Index ranks countries and territories based on “how corrupt their public sector is perceived to be. A country or territory’s rank indicates its position relative to the other countries and territories in the index.” The higher the rank, the more corrupt a country is. The Top 5 least corrupt countries globally are: Denmark, New Zealand, Finland, Singapore and Sweden.

What has Singapore done correctly that we can’t seem to be able to initiate against corruption?

“Singapore became independent in 1965. It was a poor, small (about 700 sq km), tropical island with few natural resources, little fresh water, rapid population growth, substandard housing and recurring conflict among the ethnic and religious groups that made up its population. At that time there was no compulsory education and only a small number of high school and college graduates and skilled workers.” Fifty-four years later, “Singapore is a gleaming global hub of trade, finance and transportation. Its transformation ‘from third world to first’ in one generation is one of Asia’s great success stories.”

The Philippines, on the other hand, is 121 years old, an “archipelago of 7,641 islands with a total land area of 300,000 square kilometers (115,831 sq mi). It is the world’s fifth largest island country. The 11 largest islands contain 95 percent of the total land area.” It is rich in natural resources. It is the third largest English-speaking nation and its educational system was patterned after that of the US. So, why is Singapore a lot better than us? We have Western democracy and Singapore’s system is predictable, stable and sustainable. We have Western education and theirs is British in orientation with Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles establishing the Singapore Institution. Education and identity were the core of Singapore’s development. Where are we?

“From Singapore’s beginning, education has been seen as central to building both the economy and the nation. The objective was to serve as the engine of human capital to drive economic growth. The ability of the government to successfully match supply with demand of education and skills is a major source of Singapore’s competitive advantage. Other elements in its success include a clear vision and belief in the centrality of education for students and the nation; persistent political leadership and alignment between policy and practice; a focus on building teacher and leadership capacity to deliver reforms at the school level; ambitious standards and assessments; and a culture of continuous improvement and future orientation that benchmarks educational practices against the best in the world.”

But if education is the key, it should be shielded away from politics and corruption. Imagine free tertiary education and admission is gamed by the very politicians who established it. With individuals playing gods as to who should be accepted among residents, through admissions and preferences of programs? Imagine granting degrees for executive programs with no-show arrangements. When taxpayers shoulder the cost of education, it is not free because a wrong admission means one student is set aside because of politics. When one games an educational institution, the future is compromised. Imagine if comparative advantages of cities and provinces are integrated in local colleges and universities.

As PRRD wrestles with the monster of the illegal drug trade that was allowed unimpeded entry into the country due to our porous borders and unbelievable controls of Customs to BIR to BID; and then the PhilHealth fraudulent claims and regional directors who do not want to be rotated to PCSO’s small town lottery, among others, local governments can steer the growth approach as well as capacitate the future through education.

Reforms have been introduced early on with the creation of the Philippine Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) by Executive Order 43. PACC has a continuing mandate “to fight and eradicate graft and corruption in the different departments, bureaus, offices, and other government instrumentalities.” Then the Ease of Doing Business Act of 2018 (Republic Act 11032) was signed by PRRD to minimize bureaucratic red tape. In it, the Anti-Red Tape Authority, or ARTA, was created as well as the Business One Stop Shop. Still, the heavy sanctions and removal from office of individuals and their perpetual disqualification from public service remains loose. There are legislative measures now filed in the 18th Congress such as House Bill 9292, which seeks to “amend the election law to automatically disqualify anyone from seeking or holding any government post once convicted of crimes where the penalty imposed includes temporary or perpetual disqualification from holding public office, even if there are still options for appeal.” But the fight against corruption will have to be at both the national and the local levels. Taxpayers’ money after all is blood, sweat and tears. Let us think of the next generation and not the next election. Zero tolerance must be a way of life.

About the Author
Malou Tiqiua is the Founder/General Manager of PUBLiCUS Asia Inc. A noted political management expert in the Philippines and Asia, she brings over 20 years of professional experience in public, private and the academe combined. Author of the comprehensive book on electoral campaigns in the Philippines, "Campaign Politics", Malou is a graduate of the University of the Philippines with a Political Science degree and a Master of Public Administration. She completed her second master's degree (MA in Political Management) from the Graduate School of Political Management, George Washington University.
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