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Collective action levels playing field

Last Dec. 10, 200 chief executives and leaders from business, civil society, government and the United Nations gathered in New York to mark the 10th anniversary of the 10th Principle of the UN Global Compact, which states that “businesses should work against corruption in all its forms, including extortion and bribery.” It is part of the UN-led strategic policy initiative that commits businesses to align their operations and strategies with 10 universally accepted principles in the areas of human rights, labor, environment and anticorruption practices.

At the event, I had the privilege to share 10 lessons learned by Makati Business Club on collective action through the years. Collective action as defined by the World Bank “is a collaborative and sustained process of cooperation among stakeholders” that “increases the impact and credibility of individual action, brings vulnerable individual players into an alliance of like-minded organizations, and levels the playing field between competitors” and “can complement or temporarily substitute for and strengthen weak local laws and anticorruption practices.”

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I began with Lesson 1: Care enough, come together and speak up. When the space for doing clean business was getting tight under Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship, a group of businessmen decided in 1981 that it was time to come together to address the situation. These businessmen strongly felt that by coming together as heads of large corporations, the dictatorship would listen and be more reasonable.

That hope of engaging a dictatorship led to Lesson 2: Don’t make it just about business. Having exhausted all avenues for dialogue, MBC agreed with other sectors that it was time for change and supported the National Movement for Free Elections to protect the true will of the people in the 1986 snap election. As the Namfrel count showed that Marcos was once again attempting to steal the vote, the People Power Revolution erupted and catapulted Cory Aquino to the presidency, with MBC throwing its full support behind the new government.

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The new democratic space made possible Lesson 3: Ensure transparency in public service. Since 1990, MBC has helped ensure the free flow of information on the legislative agenda and priorities through our Congress Watch program. This has led to other programs like the Congress Pork Barrel Watch, informing the citizenry of how allocations for development, released through lawmakers, were actually used.

Noting that policy formulation should not be monopolized by Metro Manila and recognizing the need to give others a voice—Lesson 4—MBC launched its Regional Affiliates Program in 1995 so that concerns or ideas from the smaller regional business groups would be heard. We have since coorganized the National Business Conference of Independent Business Clubs that generates a letter of priorities for the national government to act upon.

Creating evidence- and research-based anticorruption programs such as Transparent Accountable Governance (TAG) helped MBC, in 1999, to push for data-driven governance. Today, the SWS enterprise survey on corruption, started by TAG, continues and is used to gauge the success of the integrity programs by government, business and civil society, as well as points the direction forward. This is Lesson 5: Less politics means better governance.

Lesson 6: MBC learned that we can be more effective with others. After a string of major natural disasters over many years, MBC merged its network with the Corporate Network for Disaster Response (CNDR), which was established to ensure that businesses are equipped and ready to assist during calamities through better coordination with the public sector. Rather than set up its own program, MBC began working with CNDR to maximize private-sector capability to mobilize resources during disasters.

The need to enable citizen participation is Lesson 7. In 2004, MBC helped form the Coalition Against Corruption, a group of anticorruption organizations that continue to be involved in citizen-monitoring activities. We monitor service delivery and procurement processes to identify and address corruption red flags.

In 2009, MBC, together with the European Chamber of Commerce, launched the Integrity Initiative. Convinced that business was also part of the corruption problem and, therefore, also critical to solving the issue, we spearheaded various private-sector initiatives, including the signing of an integrity pledge, integrity self-assessments and validation, and integrity certification. Through the project, it became more apparent that integrity has to become everyone’s business—Lesson 8—so we engaged over 42 government agencies, over 140 business organizations, the influential Catholic Church, the academe and the youth.

Lesson 9 on the need to empower the youth to get involved flowed from Lesson 8. MBC today supports projects like Bantay.ph to help the youth, who constitute 30 percent of the population, understand their role in good governance. The youth’s power is harnessed by monitoring anticorruption laws like the Anti-Red Tape Act through university-based educational modules and volunteer programs.

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Finally, Lesson 10: It can’t be left to government alone. Filipinos tend to blame the president for everything that goes wrong. We realized early on that this had to change and that we all needed to do our part and build trust between, among and across sectors, and help government successfully roll out its integrity initiatives that will translate to better public service and, for business, a truly level playing field.

That is precisely why we do all these, and more.

Peter Angelo V. Perfecto is executive director of Makati Business Club.

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TAGS: anticorruption reforms, collective action, Good Governance, Makati Business Club
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