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A TALE OF TWO COUNTRIES: Philippines and Myanmar

October 1, 2007

I refuse to believe that we are a nation of idiots. I’m saying this because I still believe in the Filipino spirit no matter what. Well, one of the reasons that rebuts this painful denunciation is the recent Sandiganbayan verdict convicting former President Erap Estrada of the high crime of plunder. That is one proof that the Filipino nation still has hope and no reason to lose faith.

But the annual Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International released last month negates the Erap verdict as the Philippines ranks 131st out of 180 nations studied, with a 2.5 rating, along with Iran, Hunduras, Iran, Libya, Yemen and Nepal.

The survey is based on the perception of the degree of corruption as seen by corporate people and country analysts and ranges between zero, which is very corrupt, and ten, which is very clean.

Based on the survey, the top 10 least corrupt countries are: Denmark, Finland, and New Zealand, with a 9.4 rating, at no. 1; Singapore and Sweden, 9.3, no. 4; Iceland, 9.2, no. 6; The Netherland and Switzerland, 9.0, no. 7; Canada and Norway, 8.7, no. 9.

The most corrupt award went to Myanmar and Somalia that both obtained a score of 1.4.

Myanmar is currently under a national turmoil because of the ongoing mass protests that continue to challenge the ruthless and despotic military junta which has been ruling the totalitarian state for over four decades.

The survey was just based on the general perception of business people and analysts who are experts in international affairs.

Foreign investors are generally reluctant to invest in a known corrupt country for fear of losing money. Now businesses are pulling out of Myanmar not only because of the corrupt military regime and the ongoing instability there, but also because of the growing international pressure on companies and corporation not to support the regime.

In the Philippines, business people say that the main obstacle to economic progress are the ongoing legislative inquiries into some controversial transactions entered into and actions made by the Arroyo administration like the NBN (National Broadband Network) deal and the Hello Garci controversy. They believe in the “economy first before NBN hearing” policy.

I see a very disturbing problem in the way some people think in these parts. What they mean to say is that the lawmakers and the court should just drop all these issues that obstruct economic development and just focus on endeavors that produce immediate result. I don’t see the logic in that so absurd political or economic rhetoric.

No, I do set aside the nefarious fact that some legislators use these issues (NBN deal and Hello Garci) to advance their political interests and to get back at the Arroyo regime. But the problem is we all see these issues as politically motivated. I believe they have both political and economic value.

So what is the political value of the ongoing NBN deal? Well, simple. It threatens the Arroyo administration, and proof of it is the clash among the President’s men and its corollary effect – the resignation of former Comelec Chair Benjamin Abalos. This situation is politically beneficial to the opposition, which is now impatient in its obvious pursuit of power.

How about its economic value? The answer depends on how we deal with these issues. If we just let them pass and consider that nothing happened, perhaps, the economic spur they’re talking about is possible but not probable. But if we look into these controversies once and for all, the opposite might take place.

But I see a more devastating and chaotic ramification of the first (if we just ignore these issues.) If we adopt that attitude “forgive and forget,” there’s a possibility that we attain a fleeting economic progress, or rather artificial economic spur, but the downside is that corruption would still go on because the corrupt and the crooked are still at large.

To me, the disturbing posture of “forgive and forget” only breeds corruption, condones the thieves, and tolerates the abhorent culture of impunity of crimes. Worse, the money that was earned from what they call “economic progress” would just go to the bottomless pockets of some insatiable political crooks.

Some people claimed that the ongoing inquiry into the NBN deal which could rob the Filipino taxpayers of $327 million will just halt the economic gain the country has attained this year. But we cannot use economy to cover up for the blatant graft and corrupt practices of shameless people in the government.

If this generation fails in at least curbing corruption, the next generation will suffer. History will be our sole judge whether the “forgive and forget” stance did good to our country, or whether it contributed to national development or not.

The present Myanmar should serve as warning to all countries claiming to be democratic. Myanmar, adjudged as the most corrupt country in the world, is currently in economic and political nadir due to its power-hungry citizens in the military. Now it took about two decades for the Burmese to try to solve Myanmar’s main problem – its despotic government.

And it took an extreme and unbearable oil crisis before the Burmese decided to fight a ruthless tyranny. If not for the prevailing oil crisis in Myanmar, its people wouldn’t have thought of fighting for their freedom.

What about us? Will it take more than a decade before we think of totally crushing pinoy’s culture of corruption? Or, we would just stick to that “forgive and forget” attitude that continuously makes us a nation of idiots?

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