News and Events

People power against corruption

Posted: 2011-04-09
Category: In the News

BUSINESS MATTERS, Philippine Daily Inquirer
By Ricardo Romulo
April 9, 2011


THE INQUIRER of March 29, 2011 carried the results of two, seemingly unrelated, surveys. On Page A1 were the findings of Pulse Asia survey conducted from Feb. 24 to March 6, covering 1,200 representative adults; the results indicate that in the eyes of the public the military was most corrupt, followed by the Philippine National Police. Other agencies perceived corrupt were the Department of Public Works and Highways, Bureau of Internal Revenue, Land Transportation Office, Commission on Audit, Bureau of Customs, Department of Education, National Food Authority, and Government Service Insurance System.

On Page B1 (the first page of the Business Section) were the results of the survey conducted by the Lee Kwan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, wherein the respondents saw the Asean region as having become a more attractive destination for foreign investments and trade because of its potential as a market for goods and services. In that survey, the Philippines ranked only ninth in the order of preference, below Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia, and ahead only of Brunei.

Although each of the two surveys were separate and ought to be considered on its own merits, I submit that the perception of corruption in the Philippines, as headlined on Page A1, had a significant impact on the low investment preference ranking of the country as pointed out on Page B1.

For this reason, I would like to recommend, the reading of an excellent paper written by Michael Johnston titled "Political and Social Foundations for Reform: Anti-Corruption Strategies for the Philippines." Johnston was here in Manila for this project twice, the first in July 2009 and again in February 2010 under the auspices of the Hills Program on Governance (founded by Roderick M. Hills) at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. Local support came from the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) and the Philippines Office of The Asia Foundation (TAF).

Johnston is no stranger to the subject of corruption. He is Charles A. Dana professor of Political Science at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York with more than 30 years of teaching, conducting research on corruption, and participating in reform efforts in various countries.

Professor Johnston proposes the fight against corruption to be conceived primarily as the fight of the people themselves for their own self-interest. "If citizens," Johnston suggests, "come to see reform as benefiting them in their daily lives, and see improved living conditions over time, the formidable energies of the Philippine people can become a steady force demanding better government." In short, people power. The people themselves must join in corruption struggle.

His suggestion proceeds from his basic insight that corruption in the Philippines falls under the category of what he calls the "Oligarchs and Clans" syndrome. This syndrome is one of four kinds identified by Johnston, the other three being (a) Influence Markets, as exemplified by the corruption in the United States, Germany and Japan; (b) Elite Cartels, as found in South Korea, Italy and Botswana; and (c) Official Moguls, of China, Indonesia and Kenya.

The particular character of the Oligarchs and Clans syndrome is that it is "a situation in which significant and growing political and economic opportunities abound in a setting of weak institutions. Corruption, under those circumstances, tends to be dominated by the dealings of a relatively small number of powerful figures and their personal followings." The oligarchs and clans, having as they do "deep roots in Philippine geography, history and society" have followings and adherents interested in maintaining their position in the status quo.

"Where oligarch-and-clan corruption is serious, people at many levels of society live in a setting of pervasive insecurity marked by economic uncertainties, weak property rights, shaky civil liberties and political rights, powerful but unaccountable elites in politics and the economy and, all too often, all-too-imminent threats of violence." Hence, it is resistant to reform.

Why does Johnston believe that a people-powered strategy in the fight against corruption just might succeed?

Let us give the floor to the professor himself: "The short answer to this question is, of course, that there is no guarantee of success. There is not even a defensible way to assess probabilities. But perhaps perversely, the hopes for this strategy flow from its very complexity and difficulty" it envisions a long-term and comprehensive effort to attack causes "rather than symptoms and to enhance the corruption-resisting potential of society by engaging real and lasting interests ... it encourages people to take a new look at things 'and to see the reform potential in long-term combinations of development and democratization activities' "

Indeed, people power, at least once in a brief and shining moment of our history, beat what was thought to be an unbeatable foe; it just might, once again, make real what for many is an impossible dream.


Ricardo J. Romulo is a senior partner of Romulo Mabanta Buenaventura Sayoc & De Los Angeles.



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