MANILA, Philippines - From 111th in the Corruption Perception Index, the Philippines now ranks 139th out of 180 countries in terms of corruption, 28 places behind Indonesia and the lowest of the major Southeast Asian nations.
Speaking on Dateline Philippines Sunday, Michael Hershman, co-founder of Transparency International, says the perception of corruption in this Philippines has grown dramatically worse, adding the perception is not isolated to government officials, but is also prevalent among business officials and academicians inside and outside the country.
Transparency International estimates 20% of the country's budget is lost to corruption. But the group is optimistic the incoming Aquino administration can move the Philippines up the Corruption Perception ranking within the next 6 years, if it takes serious steps early on to fight corruption.
Role of education
Hershman says this depends on having a multi-tiered strategy, one that includes rebuilding institutions, removing a pervading culture of impunity and cynicism, and reintroducing principles of honesty, integrity and accountability into the education system.
"You need a strong educational program starting with primary school level so children are taught about ethics," Hershman says. "You have to get over the cynicism to say this is the way business is done here. The Filipino people are a people of high integrity, but they have this defeatist attitude from time to time about the system being so corrupt that you can't do anything about it. We've got to change that, and that includes the new administration getting serious about protecting whistleblowers and witnesses and journalists. If you don't have a free and open media that can look into allegations of corruption, you're not going to make any progress."
"If you want to attract more foreign investments to this country, you have to spend a lot of money advising the public on how to avoid corruption and what the evils or corruption are."
Hershman adds the incoming leadership should focus on promoting good governance and, in the first 100 days, create anti-corruption programs and tap an independent commission to investigate past misdeeds.
"The new president has a tall order in front of him," Hershman says. "He's got to set the tone from day one when he takes office this week. And he needs the help of everyone, civil society as well as the business community. But he has to go down two paths: one to appoint an independent commission to investigate wrong doing in the past, and where people are found guilty of having engaged in corruption, the assets that they stole from this country must be returned to the public treasury. On the second path, he must put in place new programs dealing with corruption going forward and that include improving the judiciary and reforming the federal procurement process."
Hershman says the group that Aquino will put together will need resources, and will need more of it the farther back in the past the effort needs to go. He, however, admits this will also mean greater difficulty in tracing stolen assets.
"I don't think the President should not obsess with what happened in the past," Hershman says. "He should leave it up to the professionals of this new organization to deal with, whether it goes 10, 15 or 20 years. But he needs to concentrate on promoting good governance, on making sure the people of the Philippines just say no to corruption."
Disclosures, integrity pacts
Hershman adds the incoming Aquino government could require Cabinet officials to make a financial disclosure and look into using integrity pacts in the procurement process, to reduce the potential for corruption while engaging all stakeholders in the anti-corruption effort.
"Corruption cannot be eliminated. We have corruption in the U.S. It is within the governments of Western Europe. In the Philippines, it's not unrealistic over the next 6 years to see yourself progress from 139 to 90th rank in this survey but you have to work hard at it. Everyone has to be involved. If Aquino brings together the business community, civil society and they all work collectively to defeat corruption, you will begin to see yourselves rising on the list to be recognized as a more transparent and accountable society," Hershman says.
By taking positive steps in the anti-corruption drive, Hershman says, the Philippines stands to gain financial support from multinational organizations and bilateral aid agencies.