I came across Armando Doronila’s article on the Pulse Asia October 2009 Survey Results. He writes:
Whether or not Aquino will continue to hold his wide margin as the election approaches is a matter of conjecture. Villar and Aquino’s other rivals have mounted their attacks by raising the following issues:
- his lack of notable legislative achievements in Congress;
- the record of the Cojuangco family on agrarian reform in relation to their ownership of Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac;
- and even the insensitivity of the Aquino administration to social issues.
- Aquino’s mental qualities have also come under attack.
- Another criticism is that his credentials for the presidency rest mainly on the public service record of his
parents and that he would bring little into the presidency.
But all these attacks do not seem to have significantly dented the groundswell of public goodwill he enjoys in the surveys.
The Pulse Asia (October 2009) survey found that the reason most often cited in voting preference for a presidential candidate is his clean public record (“malinis”) or not being corrupt (“hindi kurakot”). The survey found that two out of every 10 Filipinos (21.2 percent) are voting for a particular candidate because he/she is not corrupt, a reason cited by fewer respondents in May and August 2009.
In May 2009, the leading reason for voting was a candidate’s being helpful to others (34 percent).
In August 2009, the top reasons cited were a candidate’s having many accomplishments (25.3 percent) and his/her being pro-poor (20.3 percent).
Currently (October 2009), 14 percent are motivated to vote for a presidential candidate because of his/her many accomplishments, 12.2 percent favor a candidate because he/she helps others, while 6.6 percent mention being helpful to overseas Filipino workers. Villar has built his campaign on the theme of being helpful to overseas Filipino workers for which project he has spent a considerable sum.
The survey also found that the less often mentioned reasons for electing a presidential candidate include the good reputation of his/her family (4.2 percent) and his/her being virtuous or “mabait” (3.7 percent).
These findings suggest a qualitative shift in the values sought by Filipinos in their leaders in this election. These values are highlighted and salient in the issues of integrity and honesty in public service. These values are embodied in the campaign theme: Filipinos crave for a leader whose integrity they can trust. That is the central issue in this election.
Is “Integrity” aka “Honesty” the Right Issue?
I agree with Armando Doronila’s statement that “Integrity is the central issue in this election”. Integrity is defined as “the quality of having high moral principles, being reliable and trustworthy”.
However, from a strategic perspective, given that integrity is the central issue, the following questions immediately came to mind:
- Is integrity the correct issue?
- Is integrity the only vital issue?
- Does Noynoy have a monopoly of Integrity?
- Does Noynoy actually have integrity? How was he proven reliable? To whom will he be more trustworthy – the oligarchs or the masses?
The issue of integrity is seen as a central issue because it is perceived to be an answer to the Aquino campaign’s central theme – corruption. Essentially, the poll participants are saying – Aquino’s integrity/honesty is the answer to the corruption question.
Transparency International’s Country Study Report on the Philippines in 2006, wrote:
Today, the Philippines is witnessing a flurry of anti-corruption activity. The government has been working hard hand-in-hand with international donor organisations focusing on both preventive and punitive efforts that, in turn, have been supported by substantial financial resources at both national and sub-national levels. These have intended to fast-track and implement a myriad of reform initiatives to rid the country of endemic and pervasive corruption.
Philippine anti-corruption efforts may be described in superlative terms. For instance, in relation to legislation, as early as the 1930s a Penal Code was enacted punishing corrupt acts, and in the 1960s a landmark law, the Anti–Graft and Corruption Practices Act, was passed to counter corruption. The 1987 Philippine constitution enshrines principles of accountability, constitutional independence, fiscal autonomy and disclosure of information. The government advocates zero tolerance for corruption and follows the world’s best practice in adopting a three-pronged anticorruption approach – promotion, prevention and enforcement. Civil society in the Philippines is among the most vibrant worldwide, with a strong anti-corruption ideology, and the country’s highly literate population produces independent thinkers and committed champions for reform. The Philippine press is Asia’s liveliest. Other constituencies, such as the business sector, civil society, community groups and religious organisations have all coalesced to support the anti-corruption agenda.
Yet corruption remains prevalent. Recent international and national surveys and reports show that the Philippines is still perceived as highly corrupt. In support of these findings, there is a plethora of newspaper reports on fertilizer scams, electoral fraud, jueteng payola (receiving illicit payments for an illegal numbers game), political financing scandals, pre-need (private funds which target educational investors) companies’ corporate governance problems and thievery in military procurement. A lack of compliance and implementation on the side of the public and a lack of prosecutions, convictions and enforcement on the side of the authorities persist. A bifurcation remains between catching ‘small fry’ and ‘big fish’; between rhetoric and reality and promise and performance.
An institutional assessment of the national integrity system helps to clarify the situation. Several solutions are suggested:
- under-regulation exists, for instance, in the area of whistleblower protection for whole-of-government and private sector coverage (although two bills are now pending in Congress and one in the Senate);
- efficient information retrieval systems are needed for increased transparency;
- the political party system and campaign financing need strengthening;
- and independence of oversight bodies should be enhanced.
On the other hand, over-regulation exists in rent-seeking areas, allowing politicians to become involved in the appointments system, promoting extortion and quota-fixing and serving to dilute efforts and resources in the war against corruption. A more empirical approach within research methodologies to inform and review legislation is lacking.
In a country with institutionalized corruption, integrity pillars themselves are compromised by systemic corruption compounded with difficulties to operate efficiently and effectively. Collusion, state capture, leadership incapable of crushing vested interests and a lack of a focal point are issues that still need to be addressed. These problems may be tackled by reviewing constitutional law, particularly in areas concerning:
- appointments and the excessive power of the executive
- strengthening institutional restraints against political interventions
- building capacity within institutions
- supporting demand for democratic principles in the public domain
- ensuring independence and fiscal autonomy of accountability bodies and
- promoting moral standards and ethical values.
Is corruption really the central theme? Consider the findings of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP)
- Unfortunately, corruption places severe constraints on a country’s capacity to undertake economic reforms. This is because reforms require greater transparency, accountability, free and fair competition, deregulation, and reliance on market forces and private initiative, as well as limiting discretionary powers, special privileges, and price distortions – all of which will reduce opportunities for economic rent on which corruption thrives. The rich and the powerful, the main gainers of a corrupt system, will therefore oppose reforms. (BongV: Quite consistent with the oligarch-owned media opposing charter change, watering down of land reform, etc)
- Although corruption exists in all countries it is more widespread in low income countries. This is not because people in poor countries are more corruptible than their counterparts in rich countries. It is simply because conditions in poor countries are more conducive for the growth of corruption. Bribery and graft are crimes of calculation and not of passion. Hence, when benefits are large, chances of getting caught are small, and penalties when caught are light, then many people will succumb. Low income countries usually have:
- highly regulated economies that give rise to large monopoly rents.
- Accountability in these countries is generally weak.
- Political competition and civil liberties are often restricted.
- Laws and principles of ethics in government are poorly developed
- Legal institutions charged with enforcing them are ill-prepared to address this complex task.
- Watchdog organizations that provide information on which detection and enforcement for anti-bribery action is based, such as investigators, accountants, the press, and other civil society organizations, are not well developed and are sometimes suppressed.
- On the other hand, the discretionary powers of administrators are large, with poorly defined, ever-changing and poorly disseminated rules and regulations making the situation worse. (BongV: Noynoy’s approach is to curb administrative discretionary powers, it does not address the large monopoly rents, nor the economy)
- Rise of the underground economy. Underground economic activities exist in all countries. They are of two types. First, there are those that are illegal such as engaging in the drug trade or the smuggling business. The second consists of those activities that are legal but are not officially recorded to evade taxes or for some other reason. Corruption gives rise to both these types of activities and contributes directly to the rise of the underground economy. Although underground economic activities exist in all countries, they become pervasive where corruption is widespread. When a large portion of an economy goes underground, official macroeconomic data which mostly cover only the formal sector, become unreliable to assess economic performance or to provide a basis for policy
making and analysis. (BongV: Philippines has huge underground economy!!!)
- Income distribution. Under a corrupt system, the privileged and the well-connected enjoy economic rent. Economic rent, by definition, represents abnormal or monopoly profits and can bestow large benefits. As such, there is a tendency for wealth to be concentrated in the hands of a tiny minority of the population. (BongV: Socio-economic segmentation shows wealth is concentrated in the hands of a tiny minority – also, a tiny and still shrinking middle class – http://www.nscb.gov.ph/ncs/10thNCS/papers/contributed%20papers/cps-12/cps12-01.pdf)
- Impact on Investment. Corruption’s adverse impact on private investment, both domestic and foreign,is considered to be particularly harmful for a developing economy. Bribes may have to be given before any investment takes place and upon entering into negotiations for the establishment of an enterprise. More payments usually follow in the process of setting up the business. Procurement of leases for land and buildings; permission to engage in activities such as production, transport, storage, marketing, distribution, import and export; obtaining connections for water, gas, electricity, and telephone; having access to telex, fax and e-mail facilities and so on; can involve payment of substantial bribes at various stages and may require the services of agents with specialized expertise on how to get around complex rules and procedures to acquire these things. Unfortunately, these agents and middlemen, instead of being part of the solution can often become a part of the problem. Their services do not come cheaply. (BongV: Consider what foreign investors have to do in order to get around the 60/40 provisions of the Cory constitution, plus those who opt out due to such provisions. Guess who are the only parties who can match a Tier 1 investor’s 40% – yup, oligarch-owned firms like Benpres Holdings)
- A useful conclusion that has emerged from the current discussion and ongoing debate on the corruption issue is that corruption is a symptom of deep-seated and fundamental economic, political and institutional weaknesses and shortcomings in a country. To be effective, measures against corruption must therefore address these underlying causes and not the symptoms. Emphasis must thus be placed on preventing corruption by tackling the root causes that give rise to it through undertaking economic, political and institutional reforms. Anti-corruption enforcement measures such as oversight bodies, a strengthened police force and more efficient law courts will not be effective in the absence of a serious effort to address the fundamental causes. Another observation that may be useful to bear in mind is that corruption is most prevalent where there are other forms of institutional weaknesses, such as political instability, bureaucratic red tape, and weak legislative and judicial systems. The important point is that corruption and such institutional weaknesses are linked together and that they feed upon each other. For example, red tape makes corruption possible and corrupt officials may increase the extent of red tape so that they can get more bribes. So, getting rid of corruption helps a country to overcome other institutional weaknesses, just as reducing other institutional weaknesses helps to curb corruption. (BongV: Noynoy’s anti-corruption platform addresses administrative issues, but does not respond to the fundamental causes which are economic, political, institutional, and cultural in nature)
One overlooked area of political corruption is “state capture,” or just “capture.” – a situation where powerful companies (or individuals) bend the regulatory, policy and legal institutions of the nation for their private benefit. This is typically done through high-level bribery, lobbying or influence peddling. Sounds familiar? Sure ZTE-NBN was bad, but so is keeping the protectionist policies so that only the domestic elite (who has the capital) can own real property needed for doing business at all levels. It’s even worse, because the effects of jobs lost when potential investors move elsewhere is of unquantifiable magnitude.
For more readings on corruption, check out Forbes magazine section on Corruption.
Also, check out a related reading on Foreign Direct Investments.