MANILA, MARCH 12, 2008 (STAR) By Marvin Sy - “Let the chips fall where they may as investigations are concluded and friend and foe alike are brought to account for their actions in the proper courts.”

These were President Arroyo’s fighting words as she maintained that her administration is addressing corruption in government and would continue to increase efforts to totally eradicate this problem, in reaction to a recent survey rating the Philippines as the most corrupt economy in Asia.

Mrs. Arroyo emphasized the need to “clean up the culture of corruption that has plagued this nation for generations.”

“The final pillar of a strong economy is an open and transparent economy, free from corruption,” the President said in her speech during the signing of the 2008 national budget yesterday.

She urged Congress to work with Malacañang in passing a comprehensive anti-corruption reform act this year in order to fix the problem of corruption.

“On our part, we will hold officials accountable if they are found to be corrupt after due process,” she said.

The Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC) noted that the Philippines scored nine out of a possible 10 points in a grading system where zero is the best score and 10 the worst.

“This problem is being addressed by the government and the President. We can say that a lot more needs to be done,” Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye added.

PERC said the situation in the Philippines is probably no worse than in other Asian nations but unlike the other countries, corruption is widely reported in local media.

The Arroyo administration in particular has been hounded by numerous allegations of corruption, the latest of which involves the cancelled $329-million national broadband network (NBN) deal with Chinese firm ZTE Corp.

In response to the NBN-ZTE controversy, the President ordered the creation of a Procurement Transparency Group headed by Presidential Management Staff director general Cerge Remonde to ensure that the bidding and procurement process of all government projects is aboveboard.

The President directed all of the implementing agencies of proposed projects in the government to submit project and procurement information requested by the Procurement Transparency Group on the priority projects earmarked for monitoring.

Mrs. Arroyo also instructed all national government agencies, government-owned and controlled corporations and government financial institutions to provide their annual procurement plans as requested by the transparency group for monitoring of major bidding processes.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said that the President would remain focused on governance and not on surveys.

Meanwhile, the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission yesterday said the PERC survey would not affect the level of investment in the country as it was just “a perception resulting from political noise created by alleged corruption.”

“I don’t think the PERC findings will have a negative impact on the level of investments that the Philippines has been registering,” PAGC chairperson Constancia de Guzman told The STAR in an interview.

De Guzman said the Philippine economy has been growing despite the seemingly never-ending political noise hounding the administration.

“It (level of investments) never goes down despite the noise created by these recent events,” De Guzman said.

“Check with the DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) and (you will wonder) why our economy continues to grow due to direct investments of business groups that include foreign investors,” she said.

“Maybe they (investors) have gotten used to the political bickering locally that they now just observe but still continue to pour in investments,” she added.

De Guzman also hinted that the survey could not have represented the sentiments of all businessmen in the region who she said number in “hundreds of thousands.”

De Guzman also cited the statement from PERC that the issue of corruption has been politicized in the Philippines.

“The issue of corruption is being exploited and it affects the perception (on the Philippines) worldwide even if it (allegations of corruption) has not undergone the complete due process,” she said. – With Reinir Padua

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved