Who You Know Not What You Know: Political Corruption in the Philippines


“In too many countries, people are deprived of their most basic needs and go to bed hungry every night because of corruption while the powerful and corrupt enjoy lavish lifestyles with impunity”- Jose Ugaz, Chair of Transparency International

Political corruption is an issue marring many developing nations across the world, especially in states across Asia and Africa. Ranking one hundred and first on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index the Republic of the Philippines serves as a prime example of modern widespread corruption. Two years ago, many hailed the end of corruption in the Philippines with the investigation commissioned by former President Benigno Aquino, which was part of wider campaign against corruption. The aforementioned campaign was initially successful, leading to the arrest of two Filipino senators and a sinking in the rankings of the Corruption Perception Index, ranking 84th in 2014. However, it appears that such a campaign has failed, given the re-emergence of the Philippines at the very top end of the Corruption Perception Index. With the election of President Duterte, violence and corruption runs rife throughout Filipino society.

Gaining independence in the aftermath of the Second World War the Republic of the Philippines has had a troubled record with democracy, including a notable non-violent revolution. Although the Republic of the Philippines theoretically has a constitutional republic with a presidential system, critics have suggest rampant nepotism dramatically undermines the legitimacy of the Filipino electoral process.  A member of many international institutions such as the United Nations and the World Trade Organisation, the Republic of the Philippines is generally considered to be both an “emerging market and a newly industrialised country. Internationally recognised as the 36th largest economy in the world, the Republic of Philippines is predicted (by banks such as Goldman Sachs and HSBC) to grow to be the 20th largest economy in the world by 2050. However, if the long standing issue of corruption cannot be resolved, it is unlikely all members of Filipino society will benefit from this prosperity.

Political nepotism is not only a major thorn in the side of economic development in the Republic of the Philippines, but also appears to be halting the long-term of development of democracy. The Philippine political arena is largely dominated by a number of dynastic political families who demand political or financial patronage. Known as the Padrino system, aspiring political actors rely not on their merits but rather on ‘knowing the right people’. This is perfectly demonstrated by the system of patronage within the Armed Forces of the Philippines. It is near impossible for an individual to progress as a commissioned officer without befriending or being related to a high-ranking official. This system has been harshly criticised by multiple Filipino senators, most notably when Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago passed the “Anti-Political Recommendation Act” in 2008. However as many would predict, such a piece of legislation was predictably side-lined.

The recent, violent crackdown on drug dealers featuring extrajudicial executions and imprisonment in the Republic of the Philippines already demonstrates the illegitimacy of the Duterte government. However, corruption may be essential in propping up the current regime. The Padrino system may prevent social reformers from entering the system as a result of them not having the correct connections.It is obvious to see that the corruption in the political system of the Republic of the Philippines can not be changed by the work of the current generation of political leaders. Key structural and legal reforms will be vital, but unfortunately we are unlikely to see these in the near future.

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