Why corruption persists

"Where there is human discretion, shady transactions cannot be far behind."


Government corruption has always been the bane of every administration. Today, it is the biggest headache of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Corruption is embedded within a system of government where human discretion is made possible.

Take, for example, the Bureau of Customs. There is discretion in the examination and valuation of imports. While there exists a handbook for valuation, examiners and bureau officials are free to make their own assessment. I was business editor of The Philippines Herald for many years so I know how Customs operates. Corrupt individuals can always find ways to make importers shell out money.

Smuggling is another thing. Smugglers know too well that their deed can be made possible with the “cooperation” of corrupt brokers and Customs personnel. Would you believe that one form of smuggling at Customs is the disappearance of containers in dockyards? This is why many Customs employees, even security guards, upon a lifestyle check, are discovered to have luxury cars, my gulay!

There was a time when the mayor of Manila and a Customs chief almost had a duel at Luneta. The mayor wanted to intercept smuggled containers from Customs.

Another method of smuggling is transshipment of goods from the Manila Port to other ports. Remember how several containers which were supposed to be transferred to the Port of Batangas simply vanished? They were never found. Much later, the highly dutiable goods were found at a duty-free shop in Subic. My gulay, I can go on and on about these miracles!

Yet another example of how human discretion contributes to corruption is in the bidding for government contracts. Santa Banana, this is where government people make a killing. The terms of reference are suited to the favored bidders. Note that whenever there are protests in connection with awards of government contracts, charges of graft and corruption are always leveled on the officials of the Bids and Awards Committee.

Government contracts are also from where mayors, governors and congressmen also make a killing.

The masses have the notion that local government officials have the obligation to “give back” to the people for supporting them during elections. This is why you can see long lines of people seeking favors every day—money for funeral, for transportation to go somewhere, or even funds for the uniforms of a basketball team!

A congressman living in Metro Manila once told me that with his constituents asking him favors, he had to build a tent covering tables because he also had to feed them. They are there as early as six in the morning, eat all meals there, and ask for many things. Sometimes, a relatives dies twice or thrice in their story.

“Where do you think I get all the money for the people who ask for help?” my lawmaker friend asked me. The answer is obvious—pork. But others are even more innovative.

These methods of corruption were found by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, in a report that said big and small contractors often collaborate in winning public works and highways projects with the congressmen or senators. With kickbacks, of course.

This was why the projects sometimes do not even get finished.

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At the Bureau of Immigration, human discretion is at its worst. I covered it for a time, too, and I know that it is so easy to make money there. This is from trafficking and the entry of undesirable aliens, like pedophiles and other criminals, into the country. All they must do is pay a fee to Immigration people working in connivance with airport officials. There was a time when I went to the international airport and saw hangers-on who did not have any business there. I later learned they worked as “escorts.”

The practice apparently continues to the day. Look at that Senate hearing chaired by Senator Risa Hontiveros, which exposed the so-called pastillas scheme. Money is wrapped in rolled-up white paper and mostly passes hands from undocumented Chinese to these corrupt government people. These “guests” account for many of the crimes we are seeing today.

Santa Banana, of course it is bribery that allows syndicates to get into our borders!

One time, a secretary of the Interior and Local Government told me that on his first day at work, he got a call from somebody who asked for his bank account number. When he asked why, the caller said “We want to give you P50 million.” The secretary dropped the phone. Later, he found out that the agency was procuring helicopters and police cars.

Will we ever eradicate corruption in our country? I wonder.

Topics: Rodrigo Duterte , Bureau of Customs , Smugglers , Bureau of Immigration , Manila Port
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