Right now – given the public outrage over corruption concerns at the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) and the Bureau of Customs (BOC) – perceptions of government integrity in the Philippines have come under scrutiny once more.
COMELEC chairman, Andres Bautista, is the subject of an impeachment complaint that alleges he’s amassed unexplained wealth and violated the Constitution. Nicanor Faeldon, has stepped down as BOC commissioner following revelations that a PHP6.4 billion haul of crystal meth, described as “kitchenware”, was allowed to pass through Manila Port’s ‘Green Lane’ unhindered.
Certainly concern is justified; as Lloyd L. Weinreb, Dane Professor at Harvard’s Law School, has pointed out. “The least that integrity requires of a public official is that he or she not be corrupt in obvious ways: soliciting or accepting a bribe, or accepting a gift or favor in return for official action”.
Ultimately, criminal investigations and judicial enquiries will determine whether Bautista and Faeldon are guilty of anything like that. In the meantime though, there’s no doubt that the integrity of these two institutions has been thrown into considerable doubt.
A government’s integrity has far-ranging ramifications; it affects global perceptions of the country and, among other things, often determines the investment and trade views of other countries. Perhaps even more crucially, it’s also a measure of the quality of a country’s democracy. Governments that pay little more than lip service to integrity are shamming their commitment to democracy. Banana-republic behaviour will always be banana-republic behaviour no matter how it’s disguised; the fact is, the trappings of democracy are of no more value than the clerical robes of a corrupt priest.
The 2017 Economic Freedom Index (EFI) – produced by the prestigious Washington-based think tank, The Heritage Foundation – makes ‘Government Integrity’ an important component of a country’s overall economic freedom. It’s one of three areas by which the EFI evaluates the rule-of-law effectiveness of 186 countries world wide.
So how does the Philippines do in this area? In other words, where is it placed in the global league and, particularly, how does it stand up against its regional peers, the 10 states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean)?
Here are the 2017 EFI global rankings for each of the Asean states: Singapore, 4th; Malaysia, 44th; Indonesia, 56th; Brunei, 73rd; Thailand, 77th; Philippines, 86th; Laos, 124th; Myanmar, 145th; Vietnam, 170th; Cambodia, 181st.
In other words, while the Philippines comes 6th in Asean, it comes last among the region’s established democracies. And why is that important? To quote Prof. Weinreb once more: “For all the same reasons that recommend democracy, integrity ranks among a democratic government’s primary virtues”. The shorthand for that is: it’s not true democracy without integrity.
Moreover, rule of law – which government integrity helps describe – is a key pillar of democracy, and weakness in that pillar places the entire edifice in danger. Mahmoud Abbas, President of the troubled State of Palestine, puts it even more starkly: “We cannot build foundations of a state without rule of law”. That should be reason enough for the Philippines to strive for greater integrity in its public institutions.