MEXICO, December 14, 2003  (BULLETIN) I REPRESENTED the country in a United Nations Convention in Merida, Mexico, Against Corruption. Given my long and continuing fight against corruption, I considered this international convention a most timely and important activity.

Corruption is a global reality. But it is our country’s high degree of sleaze that sets it apart from most other countries of the world.

During the Convention, I felt this sense of shame whenever I realized that Transparency International, the world’s watchdog against corruption, considers the Philippines as the 3rd most corrupt among 15 Asian countries and 11th out of the 133 countries in the world.

Do we deserve this distinction of infamy? Something must be done. As I had pointed out several times before, corruption is so endemic in our system that it has been accepted as a way of life. Most instances, both the giver and receiver benefit from it. A hundred peso grease money to get off a traffic violation is a lighter and more convenient penalty for the violator. On the other hand, it is additional fodder for the low-paid but corrupt enforcer.

At the UN Convention, I proposed that member-nations should build and agree on legal and regulatory infrastructures to fight corruption on a global scale.

As to the Philippines, I believe that we should strengthen our prosecutorial agencies in charge of corruption-related crimes. The judicial system must be beyond bribery itself. Offenders must be sternly punished as slap-in-the-wrist punishment only emboldens the crooks.

Congress should also use its oversight powers to ensure that anti-corruption laws are fully implemented. But as I emphasized in my UN speech, we can’t do it alone. We need assistance from the private sector and the developed economies. The private sector should stop bribing public servants, while bilateral and multilateral aid as well as official loans to developing countries should not be encumbered with so many conditions. Loan conditions, aside from being sources of corruption, are also major sources of waste for development funds.

Corruption not only destroys the moral fiber of our people. We remain an underdeveloped country because of it. The Department of Budget and Management says that about R22 billion is lost annually to corruption, mostly in the government’s procurement of goods and services. That yearly loss is enough to build 63,000 more classrooms or acquire millions of textbooks for our school children. It is twice the country’s annual health budget. And it can build a total of 1,500 kilometers of farm-to-market roads!

However, corruption is not limited to government offices. It also happens even in some private companies.

Some private companies also bribe public officials to get contracts. Reports show that about 30 percent of contracts between government and private companies are tainted.

In my own small way, I had tried to contribute my share in the fight against corruption by filing relevant legislation that will attack it at its roots.

Last year, I authored the Government Procurement Reform Law that Overhauled the rules from procurement of supplies, to hiring of consultants and bidding and awards for government infrastructure projects. This is to ensure transparency and promote genuine competition in public biddings for goods and services. It also seeks to avoid delays in the procurement process to prevent opportunities for graft and corruption. Electronic bidding is one of the law’s main features.

As elections draw near, I am sad that my Campaign Finance Reform and Political Party Act’s are still stalled in the legislature and am afraid it can no longer be passed and applied to the current political season. These measures seek to cleanse our politics and strengthen our political systems.

The first measure seeks to limit both individual and corporate contributions to political parties while the other seeks to transform political parties into public institutions and provide penalties against political turncoatism. I believe that state subsidy to political parties for electoral and partybuilding efforts will prevent sinister vested interests from controlling political parties and state power.

Reforms to curb corruption can no longer be postponed. Only a strong leadership with moral ascendancy can carry the much needed changes. Let us not squander the opportunity when we choose our next set leaders in the May 2004 elections.

E-mail: edgard_angara@hotmail.com.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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