AS the keynote speaker during the First Integrity and Human Rights Conference in Manila on Jan. 28, I found the opportunity to update my July 6, 2008 column titled “Most corrupt.” Attended by about 300 delegates, including the diplomatic corps, the confab was sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme represented by Renaud Meyer, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) chaired by Leila M. de Lima, the Transparency International (TI) headed locally by retired Judge Dolores L. Español, and the Business for Integrity and Stability of Our Nation (Bisyon 2020) chaired by Fil-American tycoon Loida Nicolas-Lewis.

Worsening corruption. In that earlier piece, I cited a 2008 World Bank (WB) report ranking our country as the most corrupt in East Asia, with Singapore as the least corrupt, followed by Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, China, Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines. Since then, our corruption ratings have dived even lower.

Congress is now looking into another WB report blacklisting seven construction firms due to collusion in the bidding of WB-financed road projects. This report also allegedly swayed the US government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation to cut funds previously earmarked for the Philippines.

My July 6 column also noted that TI had downgraded the Philippines from being the 121st most corrupt country in 2006 to 131st in 2007. Lately, for 2008, the Philippines was demoted further to 141st place, well below that of Mongolia (102), Nigeria (115), and Ethiopia (126). Somalia was rated last at 180.

Most damning, the question “In your opinion, which president is the most corrupt in the history of the Philippines?” (which was asked in an Oct. 30-31, 2007 Pulse Asia face-to-face survey) had the following replies: Gloria Arroyo, 42 percent; Ferdinand Marcos, 35 percent; Joseph Estrada, 16 percent; Fidel Ramos, 5 percent; Corazon Aquino, 1 percent; and none/refused to answer/can’t say, 1 percent.

On Sept. 9 to Oct. 10, 2008, the Social Weather Stations interviewed managers from 402 companies in Metro Manila, Cebu City and Davao City. A staggering 71 percent said they were blatantly asked for bribes in their dealings with the government, like when they secured business permits, complied with import regulations, paid customs duties and income taxes, and supplied the government with goods and services.

In his sparkling inaugural address, US President Barack Obama warned, “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit, know that you are on the wrong side of history but we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fists.” What was the reply of our officials to these reports and the Obama offer?

I am afraid mostly rhetoric, evasiveness and finger-pointing, like calling TI biased and suggesting it has been influenced by the opposition; or ignoring the World Bank ratings and allowing the blacklisted firms to bid in government-funded projects; or proposing authoritarian rule and executing the corrupt by musketry; or condemning the presidential system and proposing the parliamentary form as the magic remedy; or dismissing the Obama warning and saying that all governments are corrupt anyway. (Susmariosep!)

Worsening rights abuses. How about in protecting and promoting human rights, what has been our government’s record?

According to CHR Chair De Lima, it has been “dismal.” She deplored the resurgence of extralegal killings and enforced disappearances “with the Armed Forces as the primary suspect.” Archbishop Angel N. Lagdameo lamented that last December’s observance of Human Rights Day gave him “a feeling of shame and embarrassment because of the innumerable human rights violations that have remained unexamined, unexplained and unsolved or covered up by events.”

The human rights group Karapatan documented 977 victims of extralegal killings, 1,010 victims of torture, and 1,464 victims of illegal arrest during the last eight years.

The harrowing tale narrated by Raymond Manalo of his, and his brother Reynaldo’s torture (as well as that of missing UP students Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan) at the hands of the Armed Forces of the Philippines should convince even the most jaded among us of the crying need to vindicate human rights. This was recently aired in ANC’s “Storyline.”

Role of the private sector. I do not have enough space to discuss my recommendations to combat these worsening corruption and human rights abuses. However, my full speech is in http://www.cjpanganiban.ph.; then click recent speeches. (Some news websites carry excerpts.)

But in brief, I urged the conferees to insist on the strict enforcement of the Ethical Standards Law—a return to “old fashioned” values like integrity, honor, prudence and patriotism. I also asked them to strengthen our democratic institutions by demanding from our officials the faithful performance of their duties, not to take over their functions and free them from accountability. The problem is that the cancer of incompetence, shoddiness and deference to the appointing authority, more than to the Constitution and to the people, have metastasized in many of our leaders.

We, the people, should stop this cancer from metastasizing any further. Our role is oversight and counterchecking, that is, to demand that officials perform their duties ethically, courageously and competently. Otherwise, if they neglect or fail to do so, we should ask for their resignation or dismissal and their replacement with the ethical, the courageous and the competent.


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