It has been almost a year since NoyNoy Aquino became our country’s 15th president but yet, I still don’t feel that the culture of corruption present in our government has changed that much under the Aquino administration.

Supporters of the present government would correctly argue that certain steps have been made in curbing corruption in the government: from the impeachment case against our current Ombudsman, the investigations in the retirement slush fund of military generals, and the filing of tax evasion cases by the BIR against citizens of the state who don’t pay the right amount of taxes. I agree that all of these things are helping our government in the fight against corruption but I feel that the Aquino administration has so far underachieved with his campaign promise of  “daang matuwid”.

So why exactly is corruption in our country so rampant? Other countries in the world also have corruption in their governments but it’s nowhere as near our government’s level of corruption.

The fact that there’s a big discrepancy between the levels of corruption made think of what really is the cause of corruption and why corruption is so rampant in our country. To this, I was able to think of five things that contribute to the culture of corruption that we have: excessive kinship, under compensation of people working in the government, lack of justice, an inefficient bureaucracy and tolerance of the system of corruption by the citizens.

The first reason, kinship, is easily understandable if you know how close Filipino families are. Asian families, in general, have tight-knit families. Filipinos are no exception. Our families are basically very close to each other and we do everything that we can in order to take care of our family members. Obviously, this is a good value to have. But this value can easily become a disvalue.

It becomes a disvalue when we start thinking only about the good of our families and disregard the needs of other people around us. This happens when we start taking advantage of other people in order for us to take care of our families. To government officials, taking care of their families sometimes means engaging in corrupt practices because the money they get from their salary is sometimes not enough to support their families. In doing so, they might have succeeded in taking care of their families but they also simultaneously harm other people in the process.

Take for example, the case of grossly overpriced hospital beds. I doubt that the government official responsible for the overpricing of the hospital beds is consciously aware of how many people they might have helped had they chosen to appropriate the entire budget to the purchase of hospital beds without kick backs. I’m willing to bet that most of the time, they think of what they’ll be able to buy for their families with the stolen money: a new car, a new piece of jewelry for the wife, a new toy for the kids, or what may have you. I’m also willing to bet that most government officials are not even consciously aware of the negative implications of their actions; they only think about what good the money they steal will bring to their families.

So how exactly do you solve this problem? I guess the most obvious solution would be to make the government officials aware of the negative implications of the act of stealing from the government. Make them realize that a new iPod for their money bought using public funds could have been used for the purchase of 20 new chairs for a public school or what may have you. Let them know that there must be a line drawn between family life and public service. This might help in solving the problem of kinship in the culture of corruption.

The second reason, under compensation, is closely related to the first reason. I think that most government officials are given very small salaries. If I’m not mistaken, the highest public official in our county, the president, makes around 60,000 a month. That’s peanuts compared to what CEOs in private companies make!

What this effectively does is it pushes public officials to resort to other means in order to provide a decent life for their families. A judge may sell his decision for a fee, tax collectors ask for bribes in order to lower the duties of citizens, policemen ask for kotong instead of issuing a ticket to violating motorists, congressmen get kickbacks from their pet projects, governors and mayors get payola from drug traffickers and jueteng operators for police protection, senators are given lavish gifts for them to endorse specific bills, and so on.

What’s more, when this cycle of under compensation and corruption runs the risk of letting government officials determine what just compensation is for them. This is dangerous because this basically gives them the power to compensate themselves with whatever amount they deem just—50k/month, 100k/month, or what amount. Having the means to compensate themselves also means that they don’t have to do their work well in order for them to earn money. All that they have to do is secretly engage in corrupt practices and voila!— they’re now financially okay.

But of course, we do have government institutions designed to prevent corruption in the government. Particularly, our constitution designates the Office of the Ombudsman to make sure that corrupt practices in the government are investigated and uncovered and that government officials guilty of corruption are punished accordingly.

However, the current Office of Ombudsman is probably one of the most corrupt government institutions that we have. We have an Ombudsman who turns a blind eye on shady government deals and focuses instead on using the powers of her office to attack the political allies of the president. This is precisely why Merceditas Gutierez should go immediately—her dismal track record as Ombudsman speaks for itself and she’s standing in the way of justice in the government.

What an inefficient and non-existent Office of the Ombudsman does to corrupt government officials is it gives them the power to engage in corrupt practices without fear of just prosecution. What’s more, if ever they do get caught, they know that they could always bribe their prosecutors. Case in point: the plea bargain of Maj. Garcia with the Ombudsman. It’s absolutely disgusting how corrupt government officials in our country can still manage to hold their heads high without any shame because they know that justice will never catch up with them thanks to an Ombudsman who refuses to do her job. And yes, right now I’m thinking about Mikey Arroyo.

The lack of justice is not limited to the Office of Ombudsman. Our courts decide on cases based on money instead of justice with amazing regularity. When our justice system is reduced to Ninoys and Libos, where do you turn to for justice? Most citizens, instead of looking for other legal avenues to provide them justice, just resort to being part of the corrupt system. This point is somehow related to my fifth reason, which is the tolerance of the corrupt system by the citizens.

Let’s face it, most of us have had personal experiences of corruption with our dealings in the government. My first personal experience of a corrupt transaction with the government happened about two years ago when I got my license. The LTO guy wanted 1,500 as under the table payment for the approval of my license without a driving test. Being too stunned with the offer and shocked with the amount, I refused and told him that I would just take the test. When I said that, he lowered the price to 600 but I still insisted on taking the test because I was confident with my driving skills. Thankfully, I was able to pass the test without having to illegally pay him.

The second experience that I had didn’t go as well. I was driving home with my Dad from Pasay and we used the Manila-Caloocan-Nlex route on our way home to Pampanga. Somewhere in Caloocan, I was flagged down by a traffic enforcer for allegedly beating the red light in an intersection. When he said that, I was immediately mad because I knew I was innocent. In the intersection that he mentioned, I was caught in the middle of the intersection when the street light turned red. But there was nothing I could do about it because traffic was heavy and the vehicle in front of me was not moving. So how exactly could I have beaten the red light if I was only caught in the middle of the intersection when the light turned red because the cars in front of me couldn’t move forward because of the traffic jam?

I pleaded my case to the cop to no avail. He said that I was guilty of reckless driving (for reasons I don’t understand) and that he was going to write me a ticket worth 2,400. I would also be required to attend a whole day of driving seminar in the LTO office. At this point, my dad took over and started talking to the cop saying that I didn’t mean what I did. He started asking the cop “Boss, baka pwede nalang natin pag-usapan to?”. The cop acted a little apprehensive at first but he eventually said that if we pay him 1,500, he’ll let us go with a warning. My dad continued dealing with him and we eventually paid him around 400 pesos to let us go.

This was my first illegal transaction with the government and it honestly didn’t feel good. It didn’t feel good primarily because I knew that I was innocent and that I was intentionally harassed by that cop on trumped-up charges in order for him to illegally solicit money from us.  It disgusted me. It officially made me a part of the culture of corruption in our country.

So what exactly is my point here? My point is that in most cases, being part of the corrupt system is more convenient for so we decide to just be part of the system rather than resisting against it. By doing this, we ourselves are nurturing this culture of corruption in our government. Doing the right thing is such an impractical thing to do that we let go of it in order to do the more convenient thing.

If we are to get rid of this culture of corruption in our government, we have to understand ourselves that doing the more convenient thing is not always best thing for us. It helps cultivate the culture of corruption in our government. We have to find it in us to steel ourselves to do the right thing when faced with a shady government deal. Because in doing the right thing, we’re already putting ourselves in the forefront of the fight against corruption.

Our responsibility as citizens does not stop here. Doing the right thing in these situations is still not enough. We also have to do our part in pointing out the government officials that we know of who are stealing from the government. Not only that, we must stop our current way of tolerating corrupt public officials. We Filipinos have a habit being forgiving and being non-confrontational. That has to change. We have to understand that crooks in the government are not fit to become the ninongs and ninangs of our kids. We have to understand that we must judge a person based on his character and what he does rather than the size of his bank account. We have to have that notion that the money that the corrupt government officials are stealing are our money. Our hard-earned money that was passed to the government with the knowledge that this would be used for the betterment of our country.

If we don’t understand these things, then we’re basically cuddling and egging the corrupt government officials to carry on stealing our money.

The last reason that I thought of, an inefficient bureaucracy, was something that I thought of because of something that I read in the papers a few days ago. The article that I found was about how teachers in remote islands in Visayas and Mindanao had to go to the mainland in order for them to get their salaries. This made me realize that because we live in an archipelago, it’s so hard to fully monitor all the government agencies in the whole country. LGUs in the south can get away with large-scale corruption because not much emphasis is given in monitoring their funds when compared to how funds are monitored in Manila. This is why I think the Ampatuans were able to illegally divert P1 Billion from public funds to their own bank accounts.

Just like any government, our bureaucracy is flawed. But even so, I wish our government puts more emphasis on checking and monitoring the use of government funds in the whole country.

These five things are just some reasons that I thought of that might have a hand in causing rampant corruption in our country. Of course, there are a ton of other things that cause corruption. I also understand that having a solution for each of the reasons that I stated might not solve our problem in corruption.

I’m not a political scientist. I’m not a lawyer. I’m an ordinary citizen who wants to get rid of this culture of corruption. Understanding a problem is the first step in solving it.  I think that the things that I mentioned are some things that are responsible for corruption in our country. I understand that changing this culture would take time but at least with the present administration, we’re being led to the right direction.

Just give it some time. Have faith in our president.

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