The Trouble With the Philippines' 'Name and Shame' Campaign

 
 

With all the naming and shaming of alleged drug offenders now in the Philippines, one can fairly say that its one-month-old president, Rodrigo Duterte, is quite consistent.

No one should expect anything less — or more — from the former Davao mayor who vowed to “suppress” crime and drugs within six months in office. After all, Duterte, who won the presidency with only around 40 percent of Philippine votes, did not provide a benchmark on how to do that in the first place. There were no crime figures mentioned, percentage goals on how to gauge “suppression,” no performance indicators of police and other law enforcement agencies — no specific methods at all on how to fulfill Duterte’s promise. The only gauge of success (or failure) the Philippine drug campaign has now is the one supplied by media reports, and that includes both arrests and killings.

Concerns over violation of human rights have been consistently underscored. But from there, one could easily see the clear difference in the public policy approach being practiced now by the new Philippine government. Using his immunity from lawsuits, Duterte himself made public last week a list of more than 160 public officials— from mayors to court judges– supposedly involved in the illegal drug trade. This followed earlier pronouncements against so-called “big fish” on the drug cartel in the country.

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It turned out later on that one of the persons he mentioned had long since died, while one judge had been out of service for a long time as well. There were also a number of denials, which, like Duterte’s accusations, cannot be independently verified. The government, for its part, had stood pat on the list, with the presidential communications secretary even calling it a “master stroke” despite the mistakes. And it does not stop there. Duterte himself said there will be more naming and shaming and is now training his guns against supposed rich tax evaders.

It is worth noting that “name and shame” campaigns are not unique to the Philippines. A number of governments, including Hong Kong, China, and Zambia had their own campaigns, for different purposes and goals. In China, for instance, the Shanghai Railway Transportation Court decided to post photos of those who defaulted on their debts and were issued court orders. The one in Hong Kong was more innovative. It publishes photos generated from DNA strains of trash collected in the city in hopes it would deter people from littering. Called the “Face of Litter,” the project is said to provide close images of those who litter, minus their age. Finally, there was the project in Zambia to shame “convicted” traffic offenders in a bid to promote road safety.

The Philippines itself, under the previous administration, embarked on a name and shame campaign against alleged tax evaders and smugglers to raise more revenue. The goal of the Run After Tax Evaders and Run After The Smugglers programs was also one of deterrence. After filing cases before the Justice Department, revenue officials held press conferences on the matter. This was beside the Tax Watch campaign, which publishes list of personalities and firms whose duty and tax payments do not correspond to whatever transaction they made. Note however that the campaign did not accuse anyone of tax evasion; it merely reported the data available to them.

A key difference between these previous name and shame campaigns and that of the Duterte government now is information. In previous cases, information was made available to show why these companies or people were being shamed publicly. That way, the accused also get the chance to defend themselves. Along with the release of information, due process is observed. Cases or court orders were present in the case of China and the Philippines under the previous administration. In Zambia, they were more careful not to include those with pending cases, only focusing on those who were already convicted. Duterte, banking on his high trust rating at 91 percent of the population, decided to take the matter on his own hands. He did not only bare the names of alleged criminals, but even asked them to surrender or else, in the words of his police chief, put their lives in “jeopardy.”

The problem with naming and shaming, especially with Duterte’s methods, is the obvious trial by publicity these people are undergoing as a result. Philippine Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, in her letter to Duterte, said this perfectly with regards to the question of the accused judges’ dispensation of duties. Clearly, there will be public trust issues, something which is not new in the Philippines, especially given how it ended two presidencies over the past three decades. In a country where state institutions are weak, having a strongman take on the entire bureaucracy in a sort of purge does not, in Duterte’s own words, restore citizen’s trust in the government. It simply exposes one’s carelessness when proven wrong afterwards.

This begs the question why Duterte has not revealed any details on where he got the basis for his allegations. This is quite ironic considering his government’s landmark order to promote freedom of information on the Executive branch early in his term. For some reason, the police had apparently been standing pat on the information from the president, who also reiterated the veracity of his allegations — again without proof. It is also worth noting that the first five police generals lambasted publicly last month have yet to face any arrest warrant, court case, or even police charge.

Perhaps the biggest shortcoming of name and shame campaigns is the difficulty of measuring the effects. There was little to no proof or data to show the successes of the projects in China, Zambia, or Hong Kong. Even if there were concrete results, the name and shame campaigns were mixed with other initiatives to address the problem, making it hard to attribute success to only a single project. The former revenue chief of the Philippines, Kim Henares, for instance, admitted that it will be difficult to attribute double-digit revenue growth rates to her filing tax evasion cases weekly, especially given that she was not able to secure any convictions. The “deterrent” part will be too hard to gauge, she said. The success of the name and shame program is lumped up with other “tax administration” measures recommended by the International Monetary Fund. The multilateral lender has said improvements in tax administration can add revenues worth one percent of gross domestic product.

The good thing is that the president’s trust and satisfaction ratings are measurable. With more than nine in 10 Filipinos satisfied with him at the beginning of his term, Duterte’s numbers are worth watching. These approval rates will definitely provide the answer to one question his government is failing to show in numbers: whether his fight against illegal drugs and criminality, indeed, brings back public trust in the government. For now, even the media can do its part. Naming only becomes shaming when it is publicized and the press and its discipline of verification can act as a balancing factor on this drug war.

Prinz Magtulis is a journalist covering fiscal policy in the Philippines. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from the Catholic University of Korea.

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