Things I learned in fighting corruption
I fight corruption for a living. And in a country like ours, that’s a long and very interesting job description to explain.
Most of those I’ve met are interested to know what it is exactly that I do. Some get surprised that I ended up doing this when I practically announced to the world after graduation that I wanted to be a journalist. And some people, as much as they try to hide it, pity me.
I can’t blame them.
Before I began doing anti-corruption work, I was very cynical about it, too. How can you even begin to fight corruption in a country that has already learned to live with it?
But after meeting a young, idealistic government employee (who could very well be a future President), and President Noynoy, I felt that maybe fighting corruption was not a lost cause after all.
I’ll be the first to say that the President has his faults, but at a time when young people like the one I met and became friends with are joining the government and putting their idealism to the test, I realized that perhaps there was something I could do, too.
So before 2012 ended, I left the newsroom, and moved to Bantay.ph, an anti-corruption startup, and the brainchild of childhood friends -- a Boston-based MBA student and a Manila-based assistant director in advertising. Being with Bantay.ph is a lot like being in school. Every day is a learning experience, and so far, it’s been quite a ride.
Monster with many hearts
Perception of corruption in the Philippines has always been high. Despite the change of leadership in the country in 2010 -- from a highly controversial and corrupt president to a new leader who maintains a decent approval rating -- the Philippines still scored 34 out of 100 in the Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index in 2012. A score of 0 means “highly corrupt” while 100 means “very clean.”
Corruption in the Philippines takes many forms: from fixers, to the use of government vehicles in personal trips, to vote-buying, to billions worth of fund scams. One of the most important things I learned is that you have to identify what form of corruption you want to fight.
We at Bantay.ph had to choose our battles, and we chose to fight the battles that we could win. Bantay.ph focuses on fighting corruption specifically in frontline government services. In the words of my boss, the corruption we want to fight is the one that stared at us in the face whenever we were asked to bribe.
Don’t be afraid to work with government
Part of our campaign is to educate people about the Anti-Red Tape Act (ARTA), a law that reduces bureaucratic steps in government applications to improve efficiency of their services. To do this campaign more effectively, we partnered with Contact Center ng Bayan, the government agency that has mandate over ARTA violations and has its own reporting system for these violations.
Before joining Bantay.ph, my only experience with government agencies was calling them up for interviews, and that was not a very nice memory. When I sent my first letter to a government agency for Bantay.ph, I was so afraid of being sucked into this black hole of excuses, late replies and never-ending referrals. I was both right and wrong.
Over the last couple months, I’ve had to deal with a few government agencies and it wasn’t all that bad. Sure, there was that one that didn’t reply despite the follow-ups and refused our invitation for a partnership outright.
But I also witnessed the good ones in government -- those who kept their word, were open to the idea of collaboration with ordinary citizens like myself, those who took calls after 5pm, and replied to emails over the weekend.
In the same way that we are fighting corruption because we deserve a clean government, I’ve come to realize that we are also fighting corruption for these honest government officials who go against the tide.
I used to be a full-time journalist so I was used to a fast pace at work, and it was difficult for me to move in this business where your patience will be stretched to capacity.
It can take months before you can set that meeting with a government official and much longer before you can change something in the system to make it more transparent.
My boss told me this on probably my most frustrating day at work. Not many will believe in what we do, and the worst thing that can happen is we’ll stop believing in it too.
There will be many instances when we’ll question if what we’re doing is actually working. And we know that corrupt people are still in power, but my boss taught me that these doubts should lead us back to the value of actually doing something, instead of just complaining. Talk is cheap.
There will be good days and bad days.
It’s a good day when I hear from people genuinely interested to help us simply because they believe in what we’re trying to achieve.
These days remind me that there are still a number of us who refuse to live with corruption.
And there are bad days of course when my former cynical self tells me that we’re a David fighting a Goliath. But I guess that’s good because David actually won. - Rappler.com
Angel Bombarda is a Psychology graduate from DLSU. She left her first job writing for a news website, and moved to the equally inspiring and frustrating business of fighting corruption. Find out more about Bantay.ph at www.bantay.ph.