[PHOTO AT LEFT - President Aquino prepares to lay a wreath at the Monument of National Heroes in Hanoi, Vietnam, where he is on his first state visit and where he will attend the ASEAN summit. Walking with the President are Secretaries Alberto Romulo of foreign affairs, Voltaire Gazmin of defense, Cesar Purisima of finance, Gregory Domingo of trade, Julia Abad of the Presidential Management Staff, Ricky Carandang of the Presidential Communications Group and Philippine Ambassador to Hanoi Jerril Santos.]

MANILA, OCTOBER 29, 2010 (STAR) By Aurea Calica - Malacañang is optimistic of further improvement in the country’s ranking in global corruption surveys as the Aquino administration continues to pursue reforms.

Based on Transparency International (TI)’s latest survey, the Philippines’ ranking in global corruption has improved in the past three years, although the country has remained among the 178 “highly corrupt” nations.

In TI’s 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), the Philippines was ranked 134th with a score of 2.4, from 139th in 2009 and 141st with a score of 2.3 in 2008.

TI defines corruption as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain.

“We’re just four months old and the fact that we improved in the ranking says something about our determination to promote good governance. We’ll continue to do our part in the promotion of good governance,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.

Lacierda said it would be hard to give a specific timeline as to when the Philippines’ ranking would significantly go up but “it’s really a determined effort on the part of the national government to do so and we have that determination.”

“In our discussions with the President, that’s (improving ranking) always a concern,” Lacierda said.

Lacierda said the administration was determined to pursue good governance not just in terms of prosecuting erring officials.

“It does not mean only the creation of Truth Commission. It also involves proactive measures. Prosecution in itself (is not) the only means by which we will eradicate corruption. It’s more of the fact that President Aquino is leading by example; the fact that he is known as a man who is not tainted with corruption speaks for itself and we intend to do that in our ways to promote good governance,” Lacierda said.

“We are happy that we have improved and four months is a good indication that apparently, Transparency International is recognizing our efforts,” Lacierda said.

In TI’s survey, the Philippines is among the “highly corrupt” countries including Kenya, Laos, Papua New Guinea, Russia, Republic of Congo, Uganda, Timor Leste, Lebanon, Solomon Islands, Mali, Mongolia, Niger, Libya, Iran, Nepal, Yemen, Cambodia, Venezuela, Honduras, Syria, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Benin, Gabon, Indonesia, Kosovo, Kazakhstan and Moldova, among others.

It also continued to lag behind most of its neighbors in Southeast Asia, among them Malaysia, 56th; Thailand, 78th; Indonesia, 110th and Vietnam, 116th.

Denmark, New Zealand and Singapore tied for first place in the ranking with identical scores of 9.3.

The 2010 CPI measures the degree to which public-sector corruption is perceived to exist in 178 countries around the world. It scores countries on a scale from 10 (very clean) to 0 (highly corrupt). The 2010 results are drawn from 13 surveys and assessments published between January 2009 and September 2010.

This year’s index ranked 178 countries by their perceived levels of public-sector corruption, as determined by expert assessments and opinion surveys.

Media blamed

The media are to blame for the Philippines being tagged as a “highly corrupt” country in the TI survey.

In separate interviews, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) and the Federation of Philippine Industries (FPI) said the corruption rating is only based on perception and not on actual facts. The two groups said the rating was a result of all the negative stories that are being reported in the press.

“Even the coverage of the Philippines in the international media has not been favorable lately because of the recent hostage taking that involved Hong Kong nationals,” PCCI chairman Sergio Ortiz-Luis said in a telephone interview.

FPI chairman Jesus L. Arranza agreed with PCCI saying that the media in the Philippines are “too free to report all negative things.”

“For instance, the issue of jueteng was widely covered by the media but it turns out that there is no hard evidence to back the allegations. In this case, the damage has already been done. The perception is already bad,” Arranza explained. “There is too much freedom of the press,” he added.

“We even report the violence in the barangay elections. You think Malaysia will print something that negative about them,” he said.

Ortiz-Luis also said the continued inclusion of the Philippines in the corrupt list would send a negative signal to potential investors.

“For those who are thinking of going here, they will think twice because they might think that something is very wrong in the Philippines,” he said.

But Arranza was optimistic the latest survey result would not have much negative impact.

“This is already a common perception. The serious investors will be looking at more substantial data than this study,” he said.

He also branded the study as “superficial” considering the high trust rating of President Aquino. - With Elisa Osorio and Pia Lee-Brago

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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