Benigno Aquino

Philippine president's anti-corruption efforts receive mixed reviews

Several big names have been arrested for corruption, but some have evaded punishment

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 November, 2015, 8:12pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 November, 2015, 8:12pm

The anti-corruption campaign of Philippine President Benigno Aquino has led to the arrest of top officials, including three senators, a former national police chief and even his predecessor.

But a few prominent people who have been indicted have evaded jail time and are in no danger of imminent conviction. Some experts doubt Aquino's campaign has had wider impact and question his effectiveness in tackling the scourge of graft.

Although corruption remains entrenched, Aquino has made progress by several measures, improving the country's image among international investors.

The Philippines' ranking in the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report, which analyses various factors, including corruption, rose to 47th out of 140 economies from 87th among 133 before Aquino took office in 2010. Corruption, previously the top problem, dropped to third behind an inefficient government bureaucracy and inadequate supply of infrastructure, it said.

In Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index, a widely used yardstick, the Philippines rose to 85th out of 175 countries last year from 134th place out of 178 in 2010.

And corruption cases against "high-ranking officials and their cohorts" jumped from 189 in 2009 to 961 in 2013, the most in 18 years, according to Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, who prosecutes state employees and officials involved in graft. More than 400 more cases were filed last year.

"This president has walked his talk," said Peter Angelo Perfecto, executive director of the Makati Business Club, an influential business group.

Others say Aquino's efforts have been spotty and that he failed to target many others, leading them to conclude he only went after his rivals.

Ramon Casiple, a prominent political analyst, said Aquino's campaign "hardly made a dent" because it targeted mainly high-profile opponents.

Casiple praised the arrest of former Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile on plunder charges.

"That was really an accomplishment," he said. "But when [the arrests] stopped, that's when the questions came out."

Aquino's first executive order was to establish a "truth commission" to investigate his predecessor - and former economics professor - Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for corruption during her 2001-2010 administration, but this was aborted by the Supreme Court.

Politicians previously regarded as "sacrosanct, beyond the reach, above the law, and everybody, [have] been made to account and [are] still being made to account, including my immediate predecessor", Aquino told foreign correspondents last month.