Can public servants be immune to corruption?

Published October 20, 2020, 5:12 AM

by Former Senator Atty. Joey D. Lina


Former Senator Atty. Joey Lina

It’s understandable why an exasperated President Duterte has often thought of simply giving up and resigning over rampant corruption in the country.

Despite all the laws and severe penalties against dishonest public officials and employees, endemic corruption has continued to defy solution all these years, costing an average of P700 billion in public funds annually, as gleaned from recent United Nations Development Programme estimates.

Not only is massive corruption defying solutions, it is getting worse in the Philippines. And it appears our country now ranks among the most corrupt in the world, according to the 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) of Transparency International, a global movement aiming “to stop corruption and promote transparency, accountability and integrity at all levels and across all sectors of society.”

The CPI showed that in a survey of 180 countries, the Philippines is now at number 113, several notches below its previous ranking – 14 slots down from that in 2018, 18 slots down from its 2015 ranking, and its lowest since 2012.

With seemingly unabated corruption going on a rampage, many questions are begging for answers: What can be done to really curb corruption? Is there a way to bring about an environment wherein those entering public service are somehow immune to corruption?

I had an insightful discussion in my Teleradyo program Sagot Ko ‘Yan with former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales two Sundays ago, and we were in agreement that the country needs to embark on two essential thrusts: a “cultural revolution” and strict implementation of current laws.

We have so many laws against corruption. These are RA 9l84, an act providing for the modernization, standardization, and regulation of the procurement activities of the Philippines; RA 30l9, the Anti-graft and Corrupt Practices Act; RA 6713, an act establishing a code of conduct and ethical standards for public officials and employees; the Revised Penal Code provisions on malversation and bribery; and the special law on plunder.

Legal minds are satisfied that all these laws to curb graft and corruption are more than sufficient. But it would be naive for one to expect that these laws can stop or substantially reduce corruption if these are not strictly enforced.  Certainty of arrest, prosecution and conviction, or a swift and impartial justice system can be a very powerful deterrent to corruption.

Another way to discourage corruption is leadership by example. If quality of leadership in public offices is beyond reproach, it inspires cooperation and support of all subordinates, as well as the general public, in putting a stop to corruption.

Also, a more effective and efficient selection process must be in place to remove chaff from the grain or to prevent the appointment of people who have a tendency to be corrupt. Justice Carpio-Morales lamented the current practice whereby those with the right connections are hired regardless of their integrity.

But what could also bring about an end to pervasive corruption is a “cultural revolution” or a drastic change in our culture or mindset.

It is a widespread belief or expectation that one inevitably gets rich by joining government service. Such “cultural belief” is so deeply engrained that it comes as a great surprise that a poor fellow who gets appointed to a “juicy” post remains poor after a while. Many think that something must be terribly wrong with the poor guy.

Thus, a cultural revolution is essential. A national movement of enlightened Filipinos, consisting of parents committed to inculcate in their children good values like honesty, integrity, and trustworthiness could bring about much-needed change to a mindset that foments corruption.

Significant change is needed indeed to stop corruption that siphons staggering amounts of public funds from schools, hospitals, and other essential expenditures, leading to further erosion of public trust in government officials and employees, and corrodes the capacity of government to develop an economy that benefits the entire population.

With the help of various stakeholders – the Church, media, business groups, non-government organizations, civic associations and the like – it is possible for a new breed of public servants who are immune to corruption to rise and bring about significant change and end massive corruption that has defied solution all these time.

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