The notion and use of the term ‘corruption’ have gradually become second nature in Philippine politics. This dubious distinction has a long history in the country, starting from the Spanish period when public office was routinely used for private gain. And, despite the country having developed a slew of anti-corruption measures over several administrations, only a handful of high public or elected officials—if any at all—have been given stiff sanctions for corrupt activities.
In addition, while the Philippines has also acquired a reputation as one of the more ‘democratic’ countries in Asia, elections (typically seen as the main avenue for democratic change) have always been tainted with violence, vote-buying, voter intimidation, massive cheating, ballot tampering and other forms of electoral corruption. Indeed, national elections have even been described as having had ‘the birds and the bees’ voting, a reference to the common practice of padding the ballot boxes to the extent that more ‘voters’ turn out to vote than are actually registered.
This year's presidential election in May will likely be no exception, and one of the most compelling issues will surely be tied to the inevitability of corruption, or at least irregularities of one form or another.
At the moment, the presidential field is being led by four candidates: Sen. Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino of the Liberal Party; Sen. Manuel Villar of the Nacionalista Party; former President Joseph ‘Erap’ Estrada (who was under house arrest for six years); and current Defense Secretary Gilberto ‘Gibo’ Teodoro—the standard bearer of the ruling Lakas-CMD/Kampi ‘coalition’ headed by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Why a disgraced politician like Estrada, who was not only found guilty of corruption, but also ‘plunder,’ is still in the running is just one of the insidious vagaries of politics in the Philippines. He still has a formidable following and the presidential ‘pardon’ extended to him by Arroyo has allowed him to remain a viable candidate, although some have dismissed him as a mere spoiler candidate.
But the candidate likely to see the brunt of the attacks will be Villar, who has been at the receiving end of a long list of accusations of inordinately enriching himself—both as a congressman and senator.
Villar has the distinction of being the first postwar politician to become both Speaker of the House and President of the Senate, and he presided over the impeachment proceedings against Estrada in the House in 1999.