Corrupt Philippines? Look at America

Patricio N. Abinales
Corrupt Philippines? Look at America
Justifying moving to the United States or refusing to go back home based on the argument that the Philippines is thoroughly corrupted does not work. This condition is equally endemic in the new home.

Thank God for the Internet and social media, public access to information has grown by leaps and bounds. In the past, one waited for the daily rag to be delivered at your doorstep or the monthly subscription to a newsmagazine sent by slow mail. These days, all one needs is a WiFi connection and a fast computer to download as much information  about anything.

This also means  that  with all these information on hand, you’d expect the curious to engage in the next step: to compare and contrast more substantively. However, as has often been the case, the more one knows about something else, the less one is interested in contrasting. The more information one acquires about issues other than what he and his society face, the less curious he is about inquiring into whether these have anything similar to his social settings.

Take the case of our elite’s corruption and their plutomania. This issue has taken off of late as a result of the Senate investigation into the alleged hidden wealth of Vice President Jejomar Binay. If you add the scandal involving the distribution of largesse by the Aquino administration to loyal allies, and the detention of 3 senators for helping Janet Napoles siphon off millions of pesos in development funds, the depth of the corruption appear unfathomable.

If you google “Philippine corruption” plus the specific issues mentioned above, you get the following figures: 


Hits on Google (November 7, 2014)

Philippine corruption    


Binay and corruption    


Aquino and PDAF    


Enrile, Estrada, Revilla, Napoles    


Early this year, the Global Financial Integrity, a Washington, DC-based think tank, reported that, from 1960 to 2011, the Philippine economy lost about $132.9 billion (P6 trillion-plus) to corruption. GFI broke down this total annually and came up with this amount: P357 billion ($7.9 billion dollars, based on current exchange rates).

The magnitude of the amount lost have shocked many a Filipino-American. The most notable response, among many, is to express anger but use this political filth to explain and justify why moving to the United States was the sanest decision they have made in their lives. 

Well and good. However, if corruption is the main indicator for migration, Fil-Am critics of Philippine politics and government might consider taking a look at their backyard. And be surprised.

Using the same “method” – a Google search of corruption and political personalities and institutions and the country in general – yields figures indicating that the Land of Gold and Opportunity is not as politically pristine as it is imagined to be. 


Hits in Google (November 7, 2014)

Political Corruption American Congress 


Political Corruption United States        


Political Corruption Pres. Barack Obama       


Political Corruption Pres. George W. Bush 


Granted that the United States has a larger body politic compared to the Philippines, the magnitude of corruption still suggests the same. In both countries, billions of public funds (active and potential) have ended up in the pocket of a small elite. 

One could also argue that this is the wrong comparison: the Philippines should be put alongside developing countries (like Indonesia and Burma), while the United States’ place would be with the developed world.

Not so, says Transparency International, whose 2012 survey of “money politics” and corruption shows that the United States “scores the worse than many of its partners in the development world.”

Like Filipinos, Americans are aware of all this. The Sunlight Foundation website quotes Transnational Institute as saying, “Americans believe there are continued transparency and corruption issues in local, state, and national government institutions and processes.” 

And like Filipino elites, many in the United States elude jail. There are exceptions, of course, but in general the corrupt and the rich get to keep the monies they tricked the public into giving. 

My point here is quite simple and straightforward: justifying moving here or refusing to go back home based on the argument that the homeland is thoroughly corrupted does not work. This condition is equally endemic in the new home. 

The problem is that Fil-Ams are less acutely knowledgeable about their domestic malaise. Going by what their foremost columnists write about, the tendency is to judge the Philippines as a failed state, which is like turning a blind eye to their host country’s venality.

For example, the opinion pieces of the recent issue of The Filipino Express are all reprints of columns back home. The ones that explore American issues are mostly about immigration-related issues . A similar pattern is evident in another editorial page of the Filipino Reporter, where commentaries on the Philippines and its ails outnumber trifling asides on the challenges of becoming American.

Put another way, one is quick to point out the waste of aid to the victims of Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) and blame it on our politicos, but one says very little of the same thievery that followed the blight Typhoon Katrina had brought down on Louisiana, led by their own mayor. And we are not even talking about the monies going to the pocket of corporations and individuals from the war in Iraq.  

There ought to be other variables by which the Philippines can be contrasted with the United States. Corruption will not do. –

Patricio N. Abinales is professor of Asian Studies at the University of Hawaii-Manoa. 



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