"The challenges are real."
With all his achievements since his election, Pasig Mayor Vico Sotto shows that it is quite possible for corruption in city halls to be eradicated—all it takes is political will and a sterling character committed to the highest standards of good governance.
Add to his laurels his recent recognition by no less than the U.S. State Department as an “international anti-corruption champion,” one of twelve such honorees worldwide.
In a statement on Monday (Feb. 23), U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said the award recognizes “individuals who have worked tirelessly, often in the face of adversity, to defend transparency, combat corruption, and ensure accountability in their own countries.”
Sotto was described as a “a standard-bearer for a new generation of Philippine politicians who prioritize anticorruption and transparency initiatives in their election campaigns and in office.”
The young mayor humbly wrote of the honor, on Twitter: “Thank you to the U.S. Department of State for this recognition. But more than the recognition, I hope this helps raise awareness. If we want better long-term governance, we need to fight corruption. We have to denormalize it, get it out of our culture.”
Sotto has put a precise finger on the problem when he says we need to “denormalize” corruption. Practices such as “SOP,” or standard operating procedures, meaning kickbacks, are seen in Philippine society to be “normal” —“conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected,” as the dictionary defines it.
But corruption “threatens security and stability, hinders economic growth, undermines democracy and human rights, destroys trust in public institutions, facilitates transnational crime, and siphons away public and private resources,” as Blinken said.
Why should we as a society continue to accept it as normal, as the ordinary and regular way of doing things? Instead, when a public official takes the high road, as Sotto has done, it is seen as something extraordinary, unusual, atypical, short of saying “abnormal.”
I’ve heard many say that it is impossible to eradicate corruption. “Ganyan na talaga ‘yan, mula’t sapul, wala pa tayo,” they say.
According to Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perception Index, the Philippines scored 34 in 2020, where zero is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean. This is the same score as Moldova. For comparison, top scorers Denmark and New Zealand scored 88, while Somalia and South Sudan were at the bottom of the list with 12.
Between the PH and Somalia is just 22 points, while between PH and New Zealand is a yawning gap of 54 points, just to show how much we still have to improve.
As a cultural norm, corruption is so much a part of life that has become part of the voter’s calculations when choosing a candidate for public office. Often faced with dynastic candidates, or those who have more celebrity than qualifications for the job, we often settle for those whom we hope will abuse their powers the least when seated in City Hall.
“This candidate comes from a rich family, so they will take a lesser percentage from contracts than the other guy,” the reasoning goes. We pick the lesser evil than electing the best person for the job.
Sotto’s achievements are then all the more impressive. He might have made it look easy, but it’s not. The challenges are real. On Wednesday he tweeted: “Sa, Pasig marami na rin tayong napagtagumpayang mga reporma. [In Pasig, we’ve achieved a lot of reforms.] Ngunit hindi ganun kadaling basagin ang mga kalakarang deka-dekada na. [But it hasn’t been easy to shatter the practices of decades.] We’ve made mistakes, had failures along the way. May nagalit, may nanabotahe, atbp. [There have been anger, sabotage, etc.]”
This is alarming. I fear for his safety. But he ended his tweet with this: “Ang mahalaga, hindi tayo nagpapatinag.” [What’s important is that we do not waver.]
I hope this is not the first such honor for Sotto, and may his example shine bright for others who wish to be genuine public servants, working for the greater good rather than for their own selfish interests.
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Hello, Philhealth? So what happened exactly to the P15 billion? FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO