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Why our choice for president is so important

/ 01:31 AM September 12, 2015

Last week, our column on corruption made the following points:

One, that the Philippines, in 1960, had a per capita income (in US PPP$) of $1,314, higher than those of Thailand and Indonesia (from Southeast Asia), Sri Lanka and India (South Asia) and China (East Asia), but that by 2009, or 49 years later, our per capita income, at $2,838, was lower than the other five. Our average per capita growth rate for the 49-year period was 1.58 percent a year. The next lowest country, India, grew at 3.14 percent a year.

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Two, that the difference in growth rates between countries can be explained mostly (about 70-79 percent) by government policies and institutions, which is essentially controlled by our political leaders, who are, unfortunately, mostly corrupt. How corrupt are we, compared to the other countries? A 2003 survey conducted by the World Economic Forum showed that with respect to political corruption, the Philippines had the dubious distinction of being tagged in the “high political corruption” category—the only country in Asia to be so classified. The other countries mentioned earlier were in the “medium political corruption” category.

Three, that the cost of political corruption to the Philippines may be indicated by some counterfactuals: what the annual per capita level of the Philippines would have been had it grown as fast as each of the five comparator countries. This showed that the cost of corruption ranged from a low of $2,600 (representing the difference between what we would have earned if we had grown as fast as India, and what we actually earned) to a high of $22,000 (the comparator country is China). These were for the year 2009.

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The last paragraph of last week’s column was: “That’s what we have lost by coddling these buwayas, and allowing them to perpetuate themselves in power. That’s why the upcoming elections are so important. Because in the past five years, we have measurably gained in our war against corruption. And we have grown faster than we have ever done. Do we want to continue, or shall we allow ourselves to slip back?”

I would like now to dwell on the statement that, in the past five years, we have measurably gained in our war on corruption. What measure do I use? The Corruption Perception Index (CPI) of Transparency International.   And we are told that the CPI measures perceptions of public-sector corruption, that it is not intended to measure a country’s progress over time, that it is a snapshot of perceptions of corruption, using data published in the past two years, and that is a survey of surveys, of experts and business persons, based both in the country and abroad.

Here’s what our CPI has been since 1995, when it was started:

The methodology was changed in 2012, and we have been told that we should not compare a country’s CPI across the years. But I show it to you to give you a sense of how our country has been evaluated over the years.

At the very least, we can use it to see how our country compares to other countries in ranking. In 2009, where we left off, the Philippines was 139th out of 180 countries, where 180th would be the most corrupt, and 1st would be the most clean. All the comparator countries were higher than it in ranking. China was 79th, India and Thailand were tied at 84th, Sri Lanka was 97th, Indonesia was 111th.

Fast-forward to 2014, the latest year. Now, the Philippines ranks 85th out of 174 countries (from 139th out of 180, mind you). That’s a long way upward. We are on par with India, Sri Lanka and Thailand, who are also 85th, and we outrank Indonesia (107th) and China (100th). We have figuratively clawed ourselves out of the bottom half of the countries to get to the top half of.

I don’t know about you, but I think that is something we can be proud of. Never before in the history of the CPI have we risen so far (read my column of Aug. 15). And that is a path we have to continue. That is why our choice for president is so important, as well as our choice for our other political leaders. As the Church says in its campaign, “Bawal ang Magnanakaw!” Vote for a corrupt politician, and we will surely end up where we started, or worse.

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There is one other consideration which makes it doubly important to pick a president who is both competent and has integrity. And that is, that the next president will be choosing the next 11 members of the Supreme Court, between 2016 and 2022. We all know how important is the Supreme Court: It is considered a country’s “last bastion of democracy.” If a corrupt president packs that court with equally corrupt people (again to serve individual instead of societal interests), it will exacerbate an already bad situation, and leave us worse off than before our attempts to clean up corruption in the country.

So what can we do as a citizenry? Bawal ang Magnanakaw. Don’t vote for any member of a political dynasty. Blow whistles. Monitor the media. Join an anticorruption campaign. Vote for people with competence, integrity and a desire to empower the Filipino. Campaign for them. And above all, see to it that your vote is counted properly.

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TAGS: corruption, Elections, Philippines, political dynasty, politics, presidency
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