Despite opposition, President Duterte’s Anti-Corruption Commission is vital in light of Philippine history and international experience. To be effective, the anti-corruption agency must be independent.
On October 4, President Duterte signed Executive Order 4 creating the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC). The Commission is mandated “to directly assist the President in investigating and/or hearing administrative cases primarily involving graft and or corruption against all presidential appointees.”
Opposition has renounced the PACC as “unconstitutional”, “redundant” and “afflicted with congenital infirmity.” While some critics have expressed legitimate concerns, others may have a more self-interested agenda.
Yet, the fact remains that the Philippines ranks 101st in the current Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI); well behind China, India and Indonesia. Clearly, there is a reason for a strong and different anti-corruption initiative. The former is critical for effectiveness; the latter is vital because other efforts have failed.
In light of historical and international evidence, the effort to raise living standards in the Philippines is not viable without a broad and deep anti-corruption initiative.
When the Ramos era ended in the late 1990s, average Philippine per capita income was about $3,100, which meant 112th rank in the world. In the corruption index, its score (3.3) was one of the lowest worldwide.
During the Estrada rule, per capita income grew to $3,600 but, after a hopeful start, the country fell further in the Index. In the Arroyo era, per capita income climbed to more than $5,500 but corruption remained widespread and got worse in the subsequent political turmoil.
In 2010, President Aquino began his term with a stated anti-corruption campaign. Barely three years later, the Inquirer cited his speech at the World Economic Forum: “Anti-corruption program [is] now bearing fruits.” In May 2016 – at the eve of the presidential election – the Rappler headlined: “PH anti-corruption drive most improved,” relying on consultant experience of 16 countries.
Yet, in light of the global corruption index, Aquino’s mid-term showed only slight improvement as the Index initially climbed to the Estrada-era level, only to fall further back at Ramos-era figures. So after two decades and much talk about progress, the Philippines corruption score was where it had been in the late 1990s – as if nothing had happened (see Figure).
If anything, corruption moved to an entirely new level as drugs proliferated from shantytowns to chic clubs as the Philippines became a transshipment hub for drug syndicates operating in East Asia and cooperating with Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel. When Duterte warned about the coming of a “narco-state” during his campaign, that was bypassed as political propaganda until abundant evidence became available about the spread of narco-money.
Corruption, poverty, illicit finance and bribery tend to go hand in hand.
Figure: Corruption and Slow Progress in Per Capita Incomes
About the Author
Dr. Dan Steinbock is Guest Fellow of Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (SIIS), see http://en.siis.org.cn/. The commentary is part of his SIIS project “China in the Era of Economic Uncertainty and Geopolitical Risk”. For his global advisory activities and other affiliations in the US and Europe, see http://www.differencegroup.net/