Most corrupt

“WE WILL WORK TO FIX THE CORRUPTION that has, unfortunately, long plagued our nation. We have been working to take control of the situation. Our efforts will include passing a comprehensive anti-corruption reform act in 2008.”

Most corrupt in East Asia and the world. Media attributed this “work in progress” remark to President Macapagal-Arroyo during her New York visit last week to entice Americans to invest in the Philippines. This is probably also her soft response to a report released also last week by the US-dominated World Bank damning our country as the most corrupt in East Asia.

This 2008 WB study shows Singapore as the best in controlling corruption in our region, followed by Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, China, Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines. Our country’s corruption control ranking worsened from 45 percent in 1996 during the term of President Fidel V. Ramos to only 22 percent in 2007 during the incumbency of President Arroyo, edging out bottom-dweller Indonesia.

For many years, WB treated Indonesia as the corruption basket case in Asia. Three years ago, on Aug. 24, 2005, Anthony Gerald Toft, WB’s chief counsel for East Asia and the Pacific then, said—in a special lecture sponsored by our Supreme Court—that corruption had mutated the Indonesian judiciary from being an agency that held political authorities accountable for their excesses to “an instrument for the pro-forma validation of (their) actions.” I wonder what the WB will say of us now.

The WB report validates earlier studies showing that corruption in our country has worsened. The Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC) gave the Philippines a grade of 9.4 (with 10 as the worst possible grade) in 2007, down sharply from 7.8 in 2006.

Similarly, the German-based Transparency International (TI), represented here by retired Judge Dolores Espanol, downgraded the Philippines from No. 121 most corrupt country in 2006 to 131 (among 180 countries) in 2007. Otherwise stated, TI rated the Philippines as the 8th most corrupt country in the world, tied with Benin, Gambia, Guayana, Honduras, Nepal, Russia, Rwanda and Swaziland. Haiti was the No. 1 most corrupt.

Most corrupt in history. The Philippines is perceived as the most graft ridden in East Asia and among the worst in the world, and our people regard the Arroyo administration as the most corrupt in history. To the question: “In your opinion, under which administration has there been the most intense allegations of corruption?” a Pulse Asia face-to-face survey conducted on Oct. 30-31, 2007 revealed the following replies (in percentages): Arroyo administration-45; Marcos-31; Estrada-14; Ramos-7; Aquino-1; none/refused to answer/can’t say-1.

To the more specific question “In your opinion, which president is the most corrupt in the history of the Philippines?” the answers were more telling: Gloria Arroyo-42 percent; Ferdinand Marcos-35; Joseph Estrada-16; Fidel Ramos-5; Corazon Aquino-1; and none/refused/can’t say-2.

How did our policy-makers respond to all these jarring findings? They tried to legislate out corruption (!) by passing the Anti-Graft Law during Marcos’ time, the Code of Ethical Conduct for Public Officials and the Anti-Plunder Law during Aquino’s term and the Anti-Red-Tape Act during the present regime. Despite these laws and GMA’s vow “to take control of the situation,” the perception that corruption remains unabated persists. In fact, the general perception is it has worsened.

Former Vice President Teofisto Guingona, in his new book “Fight for the Filipino,” writes that four days after GMA took power on Jan. 20, 2001, she ordered then Justice Secretary Hernando Perez to approve the “Impsa” deal that even then was already reeking with a $2-million bribery charge.

This early corruption perception was aggravated by many later brouhahas like the allegedly overpriced P1.2 billion Diosdado Macapagal Boulevard, the Comelec’s P3 billion, three-phased poll modernization program, the P728 million fertilizer scam, the $503 million NorthRail project, and the stinking $329 million NBN-ZTE deal.

Redeeming the most corrupt. Neither will the New York-announced “anti-corruption reform act” abate this “most corrupt” perception. We already have enough laws; enough democratic institutions to fight graft like the constitutionally enshrined Ombudsman and Commission on Audit (not to mention the largely cosmetic Presidential Anti-Graft Commission). What are needed are GMA’s leadership by example to stamp out graft and her political will to implement these laws, the Ombudsman’s independence and diligence to prosecute the monster scalawags, and COA’s dogged insistence on accountability.

Madam President, you can still redeem our country and yourself. Please get rid of the horrible “most corrupt” tag immediately. Take the high road now. Prosecute and send to jail some big names involved in these nauseating deals, especially the NBN-ZTE. Allow the Senate an untrammeled investigation. Regardless of the final Supreme Court decision, let Romulo Neri testify. After all, you can waive executive privilege in the greater interest of restoring Philippine dignity before the world.

Unless you lead by example, unless the Senate investigations are put to a satisfactory closure, and unless some big names associated with the mess are penalized properly, the corruption perception will continue to worsen and may place us last not only in East Asia but also in the whole world, below Haiti!

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