Fixing corruption in the Philippines: Views from two generations

Editorial cartoon: GMA News

Editorial cartoon: GMA News

By Ludy Astraquillo Ongkeko, Ph.D.

With so much spontaneity sparked by concern which is ongoing in the Philippines, a father (who resides in Northern California) begins his correspondence to Paula (who is based in Singapore), a risk manager, whose professional background has taken her to another continent.

“The flavor of the month right now in the Philippines is the latest corruption scandal,” wrote the California engineer to his daughter. “I’m curious about whether you took it up in detail in the School of Advanced Studies (SAIS) and whether you have any country models of countries that have been successful in reducing or eliminating it.”

The father continued: “My classmates from HS ‘68 (Ateneo in Manila) are about going into some kind of demonstration or rally. I’m somewhat skeptical about this because we already missed the boat during our post-college days and again after the 1986 EDSA mass action.

“Since it is obvious that our generation has failed, are there any signs that the next generation (yours) is moving forward on this issue? I’d like to know your thoughts.
I remember the days of EDSA when we went there fully aware of the danger to our lives and with one ear glued to the radio (DZRJ). I guess nowadays the Internet is the new medium for iPad/Facebook patriotism.”

Paula writes back.

“I actually took a class at SAIS on how multilateral development banks have tried to address corruption and bad governance in Asia, and part of my work at Control Risks now involves doing corruption risk assessments for companies that want to know about their exposures to corruption when doing business in the region.

“Essentially these rallies don’t necessarily do anything to solve the problem.
Expressing public sentiment is one thing; institutionalizing measures that mitigate corrupt practices is another, and no tangible change occurs, even with strong political will. Without this, political will may address high-level corruption, but what about the middlemen and those below them?

“Corruption in both Singapore and Hong Kong was high in the 1960s, but they turned this around through a comprehensive approach that included strong political will (with strong anti-corruption rhetoric from the executive), procedural reform (reducing opportunities for people to ask for bribes, etc.), stronger enforcement and public awareness campaigns. Automating many of the procedures in Customs and the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) is something that the current government is still working on; last I checked, almost 50 percent in Customs is done manually. The Aquino administration has implemented steps to make procurement and budget procedures more transparent.”

The author of this piece served as a mentor to Francisco Guevara, Paula’s father decades back.

Guevara sent a commentary on his former teacher’s piece on the ongoing corruption in the homeland that was ventilated in August, highlighted by strong protests that were considered ‘parallel’ to the people protest movements in the homeland in the late eighties and late nineties, all deemed distinctively as “People Power,” known the world over.

“From what I understand, the Philippine pork barrel issue is more complicated and has deep roots in the country’s politics. The budget allocations have always been used by every congressman for district projects that benefit him/her by preserving or expanding his/her voter base, not to mention other lucrative opportunities.

Knowing its value as a survival tool for congressmen, the President uses it as a bargaining chip to move his own legislative agenda, which may include anti-corruption legislation. The pork barrel issue forces President Aquino to walk the narrow line between pleasing the public and losing congressional support for reform legislation on his agenda. It’s a difficult spot that he’s in right now, and he doesn’t have much time to get things done before the country starts to choose a new president again.”

The aforementioned reflections stemming from different age groups, coming from two continents, are very inspiring because they encourage exchange of ideas in such an unrestricted manner stemming from the desire to communicate spontaneously.

Paula Guevara is based in Asia, working for a British company called Control Risks.
The firm does “country risk analysis” consultancy for outfits planning to establish business presence in any specific country of interest. Ms. Guevara completed her master’s degree in international relations at the Johns Hopkins University, Washington, D.C.

Francisco Guevara, Paula’s father, a licensed engineer in the State of California, is an alumnus of the College of Engineering, University of the Philippines. He belongs to class ’68 of the Ateneo de Manila High School (Quezon City), one alumni organization that has led other youth organizations in the Manila metropolis to pursue ‘clean government,’ a mission that class has worked for unceasingly.

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