Journalist awardee on corruption

Community News & Features Dec 16, 2004 at 2:36 pm

CORRUPTION in the Philippines is pervasive and has been deeply rooted; however, it can be eradicated provided the concerned Filipino citizens will persevere in implementing the necessary reforms. “It may be an uphill struggle to effectively pursue the anti-corruption program but it is never too late to do it,” explained Tess Bacalla during her talk on ‘Corruption in the Philippines’ held recently in Toronto. Philippine Consul General Alejandro Mosquerra, attended the interactive seminar along with several members of the Filipino community, the media and the business sector.

Bacalla is a well-noted journalist who has written several investigative stories for the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism that highlight the malpractices of several corrupt officials. She was tapped by the World Bank to speak on Media Disclosure Laws for the bank’s workshop entitled “Implementing Government Transparency Laws”.

According to Bacalla, fighting corruption is a risky business because it means going out after the powerful people. “My safety has always been in question since I wrote the story but someone has to go out there and expose these malpractices so the public will be informed. A well-informed public is one of the ways to fight corruption”.

Adding more significance to Bacalla’s expose was a video presentation indicating several anomalies in various sectors of the government brought about by corruption. The Ministry of Education has not been spared by such scandal. The video report revealed that a large chunk of its budget went to kickbacks and commissions. This is highly evident on the wide discrepancy of its budget allocation and the actual cost of textbooks and school supplies. A piece of pencil, for instance, has been reported in the account books as costing Pesos 99.00 while the actual cost in other stores is P5.00. The report further suggests a participation of other key players in corruption including custom officials. This brings to light the recent issue involving a Philippine Custom official.

‘Customs official has P60 million mansion’ runs the headline recently in one of the Philippine’s leading newspapers. The alleged official is reported to live at a posh Ayala Alabang village, sports an Omega watch with a wife who wears only a genuine Bulgari jewelery and Luis Vitton bags. Apparently, there is nothing wrong with owning luxurious things. However, continues the story, if the official is earning a salary of $25,000 to P 30,00 a month, then there is a problem.

Another, more subtle problem that has arisen although existed long time ago, is of concern to environmentalists in the Philippines. The recent flood disaster that has hit the Philippines pointed to deforestation as one of the causes. It may be recalled that a study was conducted years ago about the cause of massive flash floods that swept through the city of Ormoc on the West Coast of Leyte, killing more than 6,000 people. Triggered by Tropical Storm Thelma, the people (120,000 population) continued in their normal routine with no apprehensions of winds calculated at about 65 km per hour.

Although the winds were not considered very strong, it was accompanied by very heavy rains making the water level reach six inches in a matter of hours. It did not take time, denuded mountainsides were sent crashing into the Anilao River. The River burst its banks and washed homes, cars and thousands of people and livestock into the sea. It was the most devastating flooding to ever hit a populated area in the Philippines. Reports pointed finger on the illegal loggers as the culprit. A study of Herb Thompson of Australia explained that as forest resources have declined, just as dramatically, over the past four decades, it resulted in an increased incidence of flooding in lowland areas, along with adverse impacts on biodiversity in the uplands. Now the poor are actively cutting down and burning the remaining forest in order to survive.

In the Leyte issue, local officials, including Ormoc’s mayor, the local congressman, and the governor all agreed that illegal logging was rampant and carried out under the protection of local military and police officers, and with the co-operation of local Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) officers (as per report of Herb Thompson, reference, ADB: xiv; Philippine Issues: 45; New Scientist: 40). Congressman Manuel Horca Jr., representative from the second district of Leyte had been identified as one of the major illegal loggers in Leyte, along with top police officials and local government representatives.

The list of issues are endless, Bacalla pointed out. Guests during the seminar were left almost speechless with many heads shaking in disbelief. Norma Kehoe, a resident of Niagara Falls said, “I feel extremely sad and upset by what is happening. It is very depressing. I never thought that it has taken us a long time to know of these anomalies. We have to do something about this. I’ve been away from our country for quite sometime that I never thought that corruption has gone to that extent”.
Julie Asfur, a resident of Fort Erie echoed Kehoe and said, “we cannot simply just watch these corrupt officials or whoever is in power to drag us into poverty. Many of us are already educated and well informed. I think it is high time for us to establish an anti-corruption strategy and monitor its progress on a regular basis.”

Corruption has been a great concern among Filipinos. This may help explain why many civic oriented groups have volunteered to establish a program that would help fight corruption. The media is already steadfast in its policy of transparency. To support her investigation, Bacalla explained, “A vigorous and credible program to combat corruption is vital to sustain economic growth in the Philippines.”

The World Bank Office conducted an extensive study about the Philippine’s dilemma in fighting corruption. It cited 3 vital reasons why the country should fight corruption: First, a country known for corruption will discourage investors; hampering the country’s efforts to encourage investments. Based on media surveys, business and anti-corruption watchdogs, corruption is highly prevalent in the Philippines. Second, the government needs to instill confidence to the people that they are pro-poor and pro-growth. To do this, the people should have easy access to development programs. Unfortunately, these programs are the very ones that are marred by corruption scandals from infrastructure, health to education. Third and foremost, the absence of corruption is the major criterion in order for a country to receive aid form foreign donors. International donors judge the country in its efforts of fighting corruption.

With a call to fight corruption, several concerned citizens have pledged to support anti-corruption reforms including the adoption of accounting and auditing rules and standards to ensure transparency in business transactions.

The Emilio B. Javier Foundation Inc, for instance, is one of the prominent NGO’s (non government organization) that works closely with the Philippine Centre for Investigative Journalism that is committed to documenting cases of corruption. The foundation has become popular with their project entitled “Enhancing Integrity and Transparency in Local Governance” which aims to empower civil society to demand greater accountability and transparency in government.

Other dynamic organizations include the Concerned Citizens of Abra for Good Government, Kilosbayan, Gising Bayan Foundation Inc, The Fellowship of Christians in Government, Transparency International-Philippines and the Moral Recovery Program.

With the help of these non-government organizations and the media in exposing malpractices in the government, many believe that a well-informed citizenry would help create a general anti-corruption environment.