Time was when June 19, the birth date of our National Hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, was widely remembered. The people in our small town congregated in our plaza and offered flowers to honor his memory. Then, we had a full morning full of “kundiman” (Filipino ballads) and “balagtasan” (poetry).
This year, the 160th birth date of Dr. Rizal passed with hardly a whimper. These are sad signs indeed of a nation forgetting the greatness of its history. I once asked a grade 3 class of who Jose Rizal was. To my great disappointment, nobody remembered who he was. But they all raised their hands to say that they knew Daniel Padilla, Sarah Geronimo, and Korean Pop Star, Sehun.
But I regained hope and rediscovered the idealism of Rizal from a group of young and bright patriots. Most of them had been schooled abroad, and could have stayed to enrich themselves with high paying jobs. But to our fortune, they chose to come back and serve their country. There are a number of them, thank God! We just need to discover them and nurture their courage and initiatives. My latest discovery is the team led by Ken Abante who painstakingly tracked the procurement that was funded by the first Bayanihan Act. These consisted mostly of medical goods, rice and food. I found their findings quite alarming.
- They discovered that around 71 percent of the items were procured at prices that were nine times higher than the external price, and three times higher than the median price (median + 10 percent market price) . I share their lament that government could have saved P319 – P550 million if the goods were bought at the best possible terms. Alternatively, government could have provided the poor with greater help and assistance.
- The team found that many transactions were done without complete transparency. Less than 10 percent of the procurement made by 2,000 government agencies were posted in the GPPB on- line portal (General Policy and Procurement Board). What a lame compliance to the Bayanihan Act that made it mandatory for all emergency procurement to be posted on line!
- More than 66 percent of the transactions have incomplete information that could enable the public to make cost comparisons.
- All transactions had inconsistent or missing data.
Ken’s team emphasized that their findings cannot be used to conclude incidences of fraud or corruption. But they point to us weak links where corruption may thrive. In the words of our National Hero, “The appetite is sharpened by the first bites.”
It is coincidental that the Philippines was ranked at the bottom of 180 countries in the 2020 Corruption Perception Index organized by Transparency International. Survey respondents were asked about their experiences and perceptions on corrupt practices in government. The Philippines had a composite score of 34 out of 100 points. The Philippines was among the countries in the bottom of the scale alongside with Moldova. It was below Bosnia, Panama, Mongolia, and North Macedonia. The Philippines slid in rank from 99 in 2018, 113 in 2019, and 115 in 2020.
Corruption assumes a face with estimates on how serious the problem is. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported that about 10 -25 percent of procurement funds of developing countries are lost due to corruption. The World Financial Review estimates that our country loses about P500 billion annually due to corruption. This amount is more than sufficient to vaccinate all our people, provide rural health units with medicine and equipment, and pay our nurses and doctors better. Although I have great respect for community pantries, we would need less of them.
Have we become so callous as a nation that we have become indifferent to corruption? We can only learn from the wisdom of Dr. Rizal:
“The people do not complain because they have no voice and you say that they do not suffer because you have not seen their hearts bleed.”