In The News

In the Philippines: Setbacks in the Battle against Corruption

December 10, 2008

In the past few years, high-profile public sector corruption cases have played out in the Philippine media, and some international observers have rated the Philippines as the most corrupt country in Asia. Unfortunately, a recently conducted survey clearly shows that business managers in the Philippines believe that corruption increased in 2008.

Over the past eight years, the Annual Enterprise Survey on Corruption has provided a unique snapshot of the Filipino business sector’s perspectives on corruption and good governance.  Since 2000, The Asia Foundation has partnered with Social Weather Stations, the Philippines’ foremost nonprofit nongovernment data generation organization, to implement surveys that focus attention on corruption. By pointing out critical areas for reform, and encouraging private and public sector participation in the fight against corruption, these surveys have had a powerful impact on the conduct of business and economic growth in the Philippines.   They’ve proven to be an especially important tool in raising consciousness about the costs of corruption, in advocating for critical reforms, and in measuring the effectiveness of counter-corruption efforts. The survey results have also served as one of the key indicators used by development organizations, academic institutions, government agencies, and civil society in measuring progress in the fight against corruption.

The Enterprise Survey’s data sets also help the Filipino public track trends on perceptions of corruption, on attitudes of businesspeople towards corruption, their rating of the sincerity of government agencies in fighting corruption, and the business practices of the private sector in dealing with government agencies.  In contrast to most international corruption indices, which typically have expatriate managers as respondents — or surveys which look at the attitudes of the general public –the Annual Enterprise Survey focuses on the views of Filipino business managers operating in the Philippines. The survey is administered through face-to-face interviews with managers of businesses throughout the country.  Therefore, although it is a perception survey, the responses are based on personal experience, and therefore the data is a fairly accurate proxy for the actual levels of corruption.  Also, since many of the respondents are sampled from year to year, the responses allow for useful comparisons over time.

Over the years, there have been remarkable strides taken to address corruption in the Philippines. While some of these gains may point to measurable indicators– such as the lower cost of textbooks and medicines, lower incidence of bribery,  the success of specific anti-corruption programs — this year’s data shows significant stagnation and backsliding.

Among the notable findings for 2008 were:

  • 71% of businesses were asked last year for a bribe for a government transaction (this is worse than in previous years).
  • 20% of a contract is allotted as a bribe for public sector contracts in Metro Manila (this number has been lower in previous years).
  • The perception of government agencies’ sincerity in fighting or preventing public sector corruption has stagnated or worsened (only 8 of 30 agencies improved and many declined ” including most of the agencies tasked with fighting corruption).

The 2008 Enterprise Survey on Corruption was presented to the public on November 21, 2008 in Metro Manila and subsequently in Cebu (November 24) and Davao (December 9).  From the survey findings and from the reactions at the public presentation, it is clear that business managers believe that current efforts are not sufficient and they believe the situation clearly deteriorated in 2008.

Ky Johnson is The Asia Foundation’s Deputy Country Representative in the Philippines. He can be reached at kjohnson@asiafound.org.

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