Overseas Filipinos push for stronger fight against corruption

Published November 15, 2021, 12:12 AM

by Jun Concepcion

OFW Forum

Jun Concepcion

Filipinos who live and work overseas often find themselves in a great quandary whenever the subject of public governance crops up in discussions with compatriots and with nationals of different countries.

In Hong Kong, a small China city with a population of less than eight million that is significantly smaller than Metro Manila’s population of 13.48 million as of 2020, members of the 300,000-odd Filipino community generally take pride in their heritage, culture and race — but not necessarily public governance.

Inevitably, talk of the quality of governance shifts to the incidence of graft and corruption and the extent to which they affect delivery of public services. Quite understandably, overseas Filipinos get embarrassed whenever the state of affairs in the country is discussed.

“Unfortunately, systemic and endemic graft and corruption in our country has hardly changed even under the current government despite bold promises of sweeping positive changes” is sheepishly uttered whenever a Filipino national gets asked about the state of affairs in the Philippines. With the massive Pharmally Pharmaceutical COVID-related funds scandal, following the recent Commission on Audit’s report of funds misuse by numerous government agencies, there is hardly any denying rampant and pervasive misappropriation and even abuse of public funds.

In sharp contrast, public governance in Hong Kong and in many other countries around the world hardly seems problematic as they consistently meet global proper standards of governance.

The Germany-based Transparency International is the independent, non-partisan global civil society organization that is widely recognized around the world for tracking and leading the fight against corruption. Its annual Corruption Perception Index (CPI), based on perceived levels of public sector corruption according to governance experts and business leaders, serves as a leading and universally accepted yardstick for measuring and tracking the level of graft and corruption in 180 countries and territories around the world.

Every year, it releases its rankings which shows the most corrupt countries and territories and those with the best governance and minimal corruption.

How does the Philippines and select Asia Pacific countries and territories figure in its latest rankings that can serve as barometer of the corruption problem? Since the Philippines was not covered by Transparency International in its 2021 rankings, the preceding year in 2020 is worthwhile citing. The country was on the 113th spot in 2019 out of 180 countries and territories that were monitored by Transparency International.

Did the country achieve significant gains following President Rodrigo Duterte’s vow in 2016 to fight vigorously graft and corruption during the 2016 presidential campaign? Going by the empirical data compiled by Transparency International, the country appears to have have retrogressed in its fight against graft. On the 101st spot in 2016, the country’s ranking fell significantly to 111 in 2017, recovered to 99th in 2018 and slipped even lower to 113 in 2019. In sharp contrast, select countries and territories in the Asia Pacific, notably Singapore, New Zealand and Hong Kong have consistently figured in the Top 10 or 20 jurisdictions with the least problems with graft.

What factors account for the sterling quality of public governance in jurisdictions that consistently rank high in Transparency International’s annual index of corruption incidence? In the case of Hong Kong, several elements can serve as essential blueprint that can also serve as template or future guide posts for the Philippines.

1) The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), a powerful anti-graft body that is genuinely independent of the civil service and even the most senior political leaders in the country. After three years of exhaustive investigation, the ICAC charged late in 2015 ex-Chief Executive Donald Tsang for misconduct in public office that led to the latter being sentenced to a 20-month prison term. Though the Philippines has sought the consultancy services of certain ex-ICAC officials, those moves have yet to produce concrete results.

2) Non-interference of political leaders in the investigative and prosecution work of the ICAC.

3) A highly-professional legal department and other government agencies that work hand in hand with the ICAC without regard for political influence or pressures as they uphold the rule of law.

Hong Kong now hosts about 240,000 Filipino domestic helpers, most of them women, and scores say there needs to be a government-led stronger push and fight against graft and corruption in the country.

Aaromie Morillo said that in the run-up to the 2022 national elections, qualified voters should refrain from voting candidates with tarnished reputation of public funds misuse and alleged involvement in receiving bribes and other corrupt malpractices. Apparently exasperated and frustrated with rampant graft in the country, she suggested partly in jest “capital punishment and feeding to sharks politicians who are proven guilty in court.”

Contact writer at [email protected]