“The citizen can bring our political and governmental institutions back to life, make them responsive and accountable, and keep them honest. No one else can.” John W. Gardner, US Secretary of Health and Education, 1965-68
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Prof. Boncodin, in one of the forums she had appeared in to help people understand the the national budget and what people could do to protect it from corruption and wastage.
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The Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project and the Pera Natin ‘To! website are made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this website and the views expressed herein are solely the responsibility of the Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project and the individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government or the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative.
Start here with some frequently asked questions and their answers.
Q: What is corruption?
A: Corruption is typically defined as being the abuse of power or position for private gain.
Q: Why does corruption happen?
A: It happens because the likely benefit of using public money for private gain outweighs the likely cost of doing so. Simply, the potential rewards in being corrupt are greater than the potential risks of being caught and punished.
Q: Isn’t corruption in the Philippines linked to history, traditions, culture and religion and so something we can never change?
A: No. These arguments are simply excuses for inaction. They may even be cited as reasons for not doing anything about corruption by those benefiting from it. Bribery is as old as government itself the world over and there is not a country in the world that does not treat corruption as a crime. Nobody is ever celebrated for being crooked. Many leading democracies including the United States have successfully battled their own serious problems with public sector corruption. Corruption has therefore nothing to do with culture but everything to do with poor systems, poor accountability and a lack of political will and/or authority.
Q: Is it true there is less corruption in the Philippine business sector than in the public sector? If so, why?
A: Yes. This is mainly because market places and market forces and shareholders all demand businesses to be transparent and accountable. Ultimately, the business sector in the Philippines is increasingly shaped and determined by the global market. Markets demand accountability and efficiency otherwise money and investment moves elsewhere. In business, monopolies are very few and far between. By contrast, the government does not have to worry about competition or efficiencies in the public sector. The only shareholders in the public sector are the general public which only gets to register its support or opposition to the government at every general election. The government’s primary interest is thus the elections and transparency and accountability are therefore only important in so far as they may or may not affect the result at the ballot box.
Q: What actually is the public sector?
A: The public sector is that part of society run by government for the common good. In some countries it is small and in others big. Its size is determined by political ideology. The more social services provided by governments, the bigger the public sector - and the greater the level of taxes needed to pay for the services provided. The more capitalist-orientated the government, the small the sector and the lower the level of taxation required.
Q: How is the public sector funded?
A: Mostly, but not exclusively from taxation. Taxation itself can come in many forms. Direct taxation is taxation applied against declared income. Taxation may also be indirect – that is taxation put on goods and services. This includes sales tax and taxation put on things like fuel such as gasoline or liquid petroleum gas. Indirect taxation is often called a ‘regressive tax’ given that it hurts poor consumers more – proportionality – than richer consumers. Direct/income tax is said meanwhile to be ‘progressive’ in that it is said to be fairer given it is based on a percentage of income.
Taxes are also imposed on many imported goods – and on particular business transactions and services. But taxes are also imposed elsewhere – for example on every airline passenger. Alongside the Bureau of Internal Revenue , the Bureau of Customs is the most important department engaged in collecting government revenue. Some people have previously argued that the BIR and the BOC should be united into a single government department. There are good arguments both for and against this. Either way, the more effective and transparent these are, the greater the level of public funding available. It is no secret that there are serious problems with corruption in both departments.
The public sector is also funded by profits made by public sector companies, like the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation and like any individual, or family, the government can make money from investments it makes. Of course, it can also lose money from bad investments.
Q: Is public service and the public sector the same thing?
A: In theory, public service and the public sector are supposed to be governed by the same basic principle – serving the common good. People in public service are supposed to work diligently in a sector that is committed to advancing the collective interests of the State, i.e. the people. In practice, how people in public service will behave will depend upon their ethics and on the systems and checks designed to ensure proper transparency and accountability. People working in the public sector, with access to public funds but without a sense of morality, without proper systems designed to monitor and ensure effectiveness and accountability, and without a fear of penalties will end up seeking private gain. They will become corrupt.
Q: How does corruption happen and are there different kinds?
A: Opportunities for corruption exist wherever exchanges occur –this is why corruption is sometimes referred to as a ‘transactional act.’ As we have seen, government or public money is money raised, managed and spent for the public good. Corruption in the public sector takes place whenever that principle is violated. For government or public money, we can also include services since these are also provided by government. While services may be free, they will still have costs involved. For example, just as a social security payment is a government service, so effectively is a bridge that it built across a river. Both have associated costs and will have required public fund investment of one kind or another.
We often talk of grand and petty corruption. As the term suggests, grand corruption is theft of money on a large scale and tends to be highly organized. Petty corruption is something ordinary people may face in their daily life. Lagay – speed money payable for something that is supposed to be free, is a key example of petty corruption. Statistics show that low level officials have a far greater chance of being caught and punished in the Philippines than senior political figures or bureaucrats engaged in grand corruption. This indicates a serious problem at the political and law enforcement level.
Q: Is corruption linked to political patronage?
A: Yes. In the Philippines many politicians act as if public funds belong to them. You can see clear examples of this throughout the country and you can see it in the use of so-called pork barrel. The widespread use of banners, posters and signs to suggest publicly-funded projects or scholarships are gifts from a senator, congressman, mayor, governor or president is wrong. It is not their money to give and it is dishonest to act as if it is. Pera natin ‘to! (It’s our money!)
Unless the cost of a bridge, gymnasium, road, scholarship or bus stop was actually paid from the person’s own private income, these people are misappropriating public funds (i.e. acting as if they belong to them personally), for private gain (i.e. to gain votes at the next election). The Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project is campaigning to try and end this practice. We are writing to all presidential candidates to ask if they agree with our belief that it is a dishonest practice and symptomatic of what is wrong with current Philippine political behavior. Elected representatives who act as if public funds belong to them are not working in the public interest. This is an unacceptable practice and we should start loudly saying so.
Q: Does the weak party system in the Philippines help or hinder corruption?
A: Strong but competing parties mean more systems, more controls and more accountability in the form of internal reporting and adherence to party policies. Weak parties mean fewer controls and less management and more personal politics. The renowned US political scientist Samuel Huntington found corruption to be worse in countries like the Philippines where party structure is very weak. Strong parties tend to result in competing visions and platforms trumpeting personalities.
Q: The government says it is actively tackling corruption and things are improving. Is this true?
A: Look around and try to find clear examples in your life that proves this. In some way, it may be true – the establishment of the Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System is a step in the right direction. But in many other way it may not be. The government often says the media only ever focuses on the bad news and never the good – never the improvements. But real improvements in terms of combating public sector corruption are very hard to find.
A clear improvement would be the government substantially improving the quantity and quality of information on the nation’s finances and financial management that it makes public. A real improvement would be to start making the budget process a public process and breaking down the budget line by line and explain what the funds are actually for. A real improvement would be reducing and not increasing the amount of money going towards Special Purpose Funds and discretionary funds. A real improvement would be to stop re-enacting budgets so governments get to re-spend the previous year’s budget which will mean new money for some projects that have already been completed. A real improvement would be to publish the annual results of lifestyle checks of all public officials and administrators in the form of the Statements of Assets and Liabilities of Net Worth (SALNs). These are filed, but are currently difficult to access. A real improvement would be the authorities taking action against those public officials whose SALNs are very short of detail. A real improvement would be government departments and agencies collaborating fully with the Commission on Audit. A real improvement would be taking Commission on Audit staff out of the departments they are supposed to be independently monitoring.
Any of these issues mentioned would and will signal that things are really changing for the better and that the government is truly committed to combating corruption. Political leaders and top administrative officials must show political will. Members of the executive, the legislature and departmental and agency heads speak repeatedly about their commitment to combating corruption but fail to act on their words. Members of the judiciary meantime can act always according to an interpretation of the law that best meets the public interest. Corruption will not be defeated through more laws or better laws so much as it will be through proper implementation of existing laws.
Q: What else could the government do?
A: It could introduce serious performance monitoring of departments, agencies and their staff. It could incentivize performance through legitimate bonuses. It could increase budgetary allocations to the judiciary, to the Office of the Ombudsman and to the Commission on Audit. It could do so by reducing discretionary spending and the amount currently allocated to Special Purpose Funds. It could also ensure that serious claims about corruption made against senior political figures are properly and independently investigated. Ultimately, it could do so, by reducing the level of presidential and political appointees to top office and by ensuring that all public sector monitoring bodies are led and staffed by people on the basis of merit not connection – and that they are fully funded and fit for purpose.
Q: Everybody knows about corruption – but what can we actually do about it?
A: The first step is acknowledging the problem; the second is understanding what causes and drives it. The third is joining forces to discuss responses and the fourth is taking concrete and continual action. Everybody can and should be involved as public sector corruption affects us all and ultimately only happens because we continue to let it happen in the belief nothing can or will ever change.
Yet so long as we all want it enough, we can collectively force change by building our own monitoring and control systems and by ensuring real penalties to ensure real accountability. Working together, we can even develop effective legal penalties even when it is not possible to swiftly change the law or improve the judicial process.
Tackling corruption is not easy and it is sometimes dangerous as we know. But it can be done. We must begin by becoming more aware of public income and spending at all the local and national levels just as we are within our own families. The less that is unknown, secret or hidden and the more we can take the issue of corruption out of political infighting, the more we can act to reduce it.
Q: But what can I practically do about it?
A: Plenty. Change starts with information, education and awareness. Learn about how public funds are raised and spent where you live and who decides where and how. Monitor them, talk to them, ask questions and give them your thoughts and opinions. Never forget they are supposed to work for you and you have a right to know what they are doing with your money. You can get active at your local level by linking with family, friends and work colleagues to spread the word about bad (and good) public practices and reporting your allegations of corruption and undue secrecy to us. You can write and demand your local officials make public their Statements of Assets, Liabilities and New Worth. You can attend local council and town hall meetings; you can get in contact and get involved with your local media, civil society and religious groups. You can contact us always and tell us what is happening in your area.
We will be coming up with many more practical ideas and suggestions during the course of this project and posting them on this site. Some will come through dialogue and discussion between different individuals and groups. Some will come from four small pilot projects we are setting up to get local media, civil society and others working jointly to better monitor and engage with their local authorities and to participate in the procurement process. Some may come from stories we will be reporting on and some simple ideas such as setting up occasional watches on the car parks of government agencies to see who may be living a life-style beyond their means. And many ideas will come from you.
Write to us, help us, and join us. Get involved. Pera natin ‘to!
While the first of our two end-of project surveys has just been posted, the results coming in already make for some very interesting reading. This survey largely centers on which direction you think the fight for greater transparency and accountability is headed in the Philippines and what you think is currently present, necessary or missing in thinking, plans and action. READ MORE
The People’s Budget – It’s Up To us to Really Make It So
Thursday, 24 February 2011
Senate Bill 2186 or the People's Participation in Budget Deliberations Act is a very welcome move in the fight against corruption and graft and the Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project was lucky enough to see it first a few weeks ago and be tapped for our own opinions on it. READ MORE
Truth Telling as We Remember the Lessons from EDSA
Monday, 21 February 2011
Former state auditor Heidi Mendoza’s message to the public at the Valentine’s Day forum where she was key speaker was very timely given we are just days away from marking the 25th anniversary of the EDSA Revolution that toppled the Marcos dictatorship and ushered in democracy. READ MORE
The Public Watch
Saturday, 19 February 2011
It is encouraging to see the Senate Conference Room on February 18 filled with students, nuns, socialites, activists, CSO workers and other concerned citizens who are all wanting to follow the continuing Blue Ribbon Committee hearing on alleged corruption within the Armed Forces of the Philippines. READ MORE
Thursday, 03 February 2011
We have a true ‘soldier’ in the form of anti-corruption fighter Heidi Mendoza –we just need to encourage more people like her to step forward and join her army. READ MORE
In the National – Not Personal Interest
Wednesday, 02 February 2011
‘Basic fair play, decency, good manners and right conduct.’ These words appeared in a well-argued column yesterday by William M. Esposo, the self-styled Chair-wrecker from the Philippine Star. READ MORE
Poor Budgeting, Too Many Contingency, and Special Purpose Funds and ‘Savings’ – All A Recipe For Corruption
Tuesday, 01 February 2011
Without commenting on who is charging what about whom in the AFP right now, it is not difficult to see how pabaon (send-off money) scandals can so easily happen. Blue Ribbon Committee hearings and politicians talk incessantly about slush-funds - and they seem to feature in every high level case of alleged corruption: But as yet, we don’t seem to link the ubiquitous slush funds with the ubiquitous and hugely discretionary contingency and special purpose funds (and dare we say it again, the PDAF/Pork Barrel Allocations) which are written into national budgets and approved by legislative committees year after year.” READ MORE
Officials Ignoring DILG Orders to Stop Personalizing Public Projects
Friday, 21 January 2011
A public-spirited citizen from Samar has just sent us in a series of photos and a complaint that government officials there appear to be in clear breach of a circular from the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) banning the use of “names or initials and/or images or pictures of government officials in billboards and signages of government programs and projects.” READ MORE
The Good and Bad News from TI’s 2010 Global Corruption Barometer
Sadly the Supreme Court ruling on the legality of the Truth Commission comes as no surprise. We put ‘sadly’ not for the reasons that some might think – that many claim the Court to be biased against the Aquino government. It is ‘sad’ because it was perfectly clear back in May that any attempt to set up a commission which would only look at the alleged misdeeds of the Arroyo administration was a very poorly judged one. It suggested the move was much more about politics than it was about addressing the root of the problem of corruption in the Philippines. READ MORE
University Budget Cuts – Fact or Fiction and the Media’s Mission To Explain
29 November 2010
Opinion is critical and freedom of expression an inalienable (natural) right. Too is the right to information and often we assume they are the same thing. Yet information is essentially data and fact. Unfortunately, too much reporting the world over is poorly rooted in fact and too heavily in opinion and hearsay. READ MORE
Open Budget, Open Government
29 November 2010
Government officials, members of civil society organization workers, academic experts, business people and international development agencies met on Saturday November 20 in Pasig City to sign an agreement in a bid to make government budgets more open. READ MORE
Transparency in Government Contracts to Big Business and Consultancies
22 November 2010
“We are beginning to learn who works where, what departments spend and who are the big business recipients of taxpayers’ money,” journalists from the UK Guardian wrote last Friday in response to the latest release of financial details by the British Government. READ MORE
PPTRP holds 10th budget reporting training in Bohol June 30
The Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project (PPTRP) held its 10th training on advanced transparency and anti-corruption reporting called “Numeracy for Journalists, Civil Society Organizations and Citizens” on June 30 at the JJ’s Seafood Village in Tagbilaran City in Bohol. READ MORE
PPTRP holds 9th budget transparency reporting training in Kidapawan City June 6
The Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project (PPTRP) held its 9th training on advanced and anti-corruption reporting dubbed as “Numeracy for Journalists, Civil Society Organizations and Citizens” on June 6 at Boylyn Pension Plaza in Kidapawan City. The training was made possible with the financial assistance of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the technical assistance of the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI). READ MORE
PPTRP holds 8th budget reporting training in Pampanga June 3
The Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project (PPTRP) held its 8th training on advanced and anti-corruption reporting dubbed as “Numeracy for Journalists, Civil Society Organizations and Citizens” on June 3 at the Social Action Center of Pampanga in San Fernando City, Pampanga. READ MORE
PPTRP-supported Local Transparency Groups Share Experiences in Reporting, Fighting Corruption
Three local transparency reporting groups which the Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project (PPTRP) supported and helped establish gathered on June 3 in Bohol to share experiences in building transparency and accountability in their respective communities. READ MORE
PPTRP holds 7th budget reporting training in Davao City May 27
The Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project (PPTRP) held its seventh training on advanced transparency and anti-corruption reporting called “Numeracy for Journalists, Civil Society Organizations and Citizens” on May 27 at the Ateneo De Davao in Davao City. READ MORE
PPTRP holds 6th budget transparency reporting in Dipolog City May 23
The Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project (PPTRP) held its 6th training on advanced transparency and anti-corruption reporting called “Numeracy for Journalists, Civil Society Organizations and Citizens” on May 23 at the Top Plaza Hotel in Dipolog City. READ MORE
PPTRP meets with editors and columnists May 18 to discuss media coverage of public corruption
The Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project met with editors and columnists of selected national and international media organizations May 18 in Manila to discuss current media behavior and thinking in relation to public corruption and transparency. READ MORE
Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada, the former CEO of the Philippine Forest Corporation who later disclosed explosive information on the anomalous USD 329 million NBN-ZTE deal that nearly brought down the presidency of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, shared his views May 9 with the Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project on continuing the fight against corruption and for genuine transparency under the new administration. READ MORE
PPTRP holds 5th budget reporting training in Ozamiz City April 26
The Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project held its fifth training on advanced transparency and anti-corruption reporting called “Numeracy for Journalists, Civil Society Organizations and Citizens” on April 26 at the Naomi’s Botanical Gardens in Ozamiz City. READ MORE
PPTRP holds 4th training on budget reporting in CDO April 2
The Philippine Public Transparency Reporting Project (PPTRP) held its fourth training on advanced transparency and anti-corruption reporting called “Numeracy for Journalists, Civil Society Organizations and Citizens” on April 2 in Cagayan de Oro City. READ MORE
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