Declining Culture of Corruption
Anyone who has visited or spent any time in this country knows very well that the Philippines is among some of the most corrupt countries on the planet. A poll taken late last year placed the Philippines in the same pack as countries like Burkina Faso, India, Jamaica, Peru, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago and Zambia.
As a foreigner, and a guest in this country, it is never a good practice to openly discuss politics. It is simply not our business and we are usually advised to stay out of these types of discussions. And I totally agree, it is not my business to openly and directly discuss issues, policies, and politics. Indirectly speaking though, and like any resident of this beautiful country, it is just as much my business as it is the entire population of the Philippines because it affects all who live or do business here.It affects my family as much as it does my neighbors family.
So mostly I stay away from political issues with other filipinos. Occasionally though, I might venture into an ongoing discussion with filipinos or family members, to test the waters so to speak, about the popularity of President Aquino. It is not uncommon for a filipino to ask me how I feel about our President Obama so why should I hesitate to ask the locals about their leader? It seems there is some mixed reactions with how the current president is tackling the problem of corruption in this country. Corruption has “decreased dramatically because of Aquino’s tighter rules on transparency and government transactions” says Benedict Uy, a Philippine trade representative based now in Taipei. The decline in dirty deals began after he took office, analysts in Manila say. The people who are playing close attention to these issues seem to acknowledge that things are getting better. Among many others, it is just another ordinary day.
What prompted me to write about this was the fact that some people I know that seem to be well-connected mostly agree that graft and corruption is slowly improving. And recently I happen across an article from the online news source Philstar.com that acknowledges a persistent improvement in the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) in a report published by Transparency International.
On a Much Lower Level
Let me provide you with a small but recent example of how corruption is being handled even at the lowest levels. My 9th grade niece recently told me of a teacher in her middle school that for several years, had been extorting from students who supplied construction materials and money for supposed “class projects” When the issue was finally identified and addressed within the school student body that many of these donated materials and funds were being funneled into the construction of this teachers “nice” home, some 40 students banded together and formally reported the teacher. The teacher has since been fired. 5 years ago, at least in this area, nobody would have said anything due to fear of repercussion. That “fear” has been the predominant force behind the bahala na (meaning: whatever will be) attitudes displayed in this country since, well…forever. Things ARE changing, albeit at different paces across the country, and this change is being better noticed and publicly welcomed.
Ralph Jennings with Forbes Magazine writes… Not to discredit Aquino, but more credit goes to social media. The democratic country is rich in competing interests and free speech. Now with the surge in smart phone cameras and mobile devices, an opponent who sees someone in office take money or drive a bling-y new car can send a tweet or post the dirt to Facebook. “Right now everyone in government and outside government is monitoring each other,” Manila-based Banco de Oro UniBank chief market strategist Jonathan Ravelas says. “Social media are there to ring the bells, so people try to be very careful in how they do things.” Graft remains, he says, but “it has gone down significantly.”
Just in the two years since we retired here to Samar, I can admit I have seen a surge in smart phone and mobile device use. When talking with the sales people at two of our local cell phone stores recently, they both admitted that smart phone sales have gone through the roof over the last year or two. As an uncle with plenty of nieces and nephews all tied to social media, I’m a first hand witness to a mini-explosion of across-the-board discussions that fill the social media pages. Could the recent surge in social media traffic also be the result of major telecom providers like Globe and Smart offering FREE facebook for mobile devices? I would be comfortable saying I think it has contributed to both phone sales and overall comfortability with social media free speech patterns. The “smart phone” generation here in the Philippines will eventually have a huge impact on stamping out corruption as they feel more free to speak out, post pictures, and share information.
Foreigners – in Part to Blame?
While foreigners and travellers alike have always been some easy targets for “redistribution” of wealth, they have also been some of the worst perpetrators and contributors to the continued practice of low-level corruption (wielding their money and “greasing the skids” to get things accomplished easier and more quickly). They are also some of the most adamant of complainants. It is not uncommon to see a foreigner’s comments or advice on a social media page about how he accomplished their goal with “peso-nality” or how they advise someone to simply throw some extra pesos at a problem. Then you have the opposing online respondents (like me) who adamantly oppose these views. Corruption here has been an accepted one size fits all modus operandi for almost forever. But it is changing. And to truly understand it in all of its complexities, one needs to peel back many layers of the onion to understand where this country came from and where it is going. And, it’s a very large onion.