Culture of Corruption: The Corruption of Culture*

Corruption benefits the political and economic elites as it facilitates their sell-out and exploitation of our country’s human and natural resources. The victims of corruption are the Filipino masses.

By the Concerned Artists of the Philippines
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The government pinpoints “culture of corruption” as the one that “breeds the vicious cycles of poverty and underdevelopment.”

Let us first define “culture of corruption” by its popular conception, which is: corruption persists and is so prevalent because most in the bureaucracy and the general public condones and/or tolerates it.

The culture of corruption in the general public is debatable. Empirical observation will show that no Filipino will say, and believe, that corruption is good for the country. However, this does not mean that these same people will not bribe their way out of the bureaucratic maze or out of trouble. Then again, this does not mean that they agree with or condone this system; in fact, it is common to hear these same people cursing it. Just that, it works because it is the rule.

It is the rule because investigations or complaints leading to conclusions are the exception. (Conviction rate at the OMB is a mere 16 percent.) Complaints follow the way of the maze. Litigation is expensive. The judicial system is slow (aside from being not so clean itself). And, chances are, the position of the accused is directly proportional to his or her influence with higher officials in the bureaucracy.

It is therefore not accurate to conclude that the culture of corruption exists in the general public. The people do not tolerate corruption. Corruption disempowers the people. Ordinary citizens are discouraged to file complaints or officially register their dissent because one needs financial and temporal resources to do this. (In more serious cases, one needs a private army.) The inability to contest or the regular fruitlessness of actions against those in power lead to apathy and passivity- culture traits that EO 314 wants to reverse.

Culture of corruption in the bureaucracy

In the lower echelons of the bureaucracy, corruption takes the form of encouraging and accepting bribes to facilitate transactions or to manipulate expenditures. The rank-and-file government employees who seek reforms in this kind of anomalous system are presented with the same dilemma as the general public.

With the elite government officials, corruption is in a more sophisticated style. These involve grandiose schemes and happen in luxurious venues. It takes the form of influence peddling, rent seeking, and/or lobbying. The transactions are then legalized as these are translated into MoAs, executive orders, administrative orders or republic acts. As the deals are legalized, charges of corruption take the defensive position.

For example, on May 7, 2004, Mike Velarde’s El Shaddai granted the “Shepherd’s Blessing” for Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s presidential candidacy. On Nov. 10, P221 million was released to the El Shaddai. About two months earlier, the President appointed Mel Robles, former El Shaddai spokesperson, as administrator of the Light Railway Transit Authority.

This is corruption by definition (the use of public office for personal gains), but it will be hard, even impossible, to prove that it is legally.

The culture of corruption exists and is nurtured by the political and economic elites of society. Their political and/or economic status is their passport and visa to power. Personal gains earned through the abuse of their political and economic status is their commonality. This is the reason why, even if they hate each other, they have to protect each other.

Not one high-ranking politician, not even the presidents who were ousted, has ever been convicted for corruption, much more for plunder.

Corruption of Culture

The “values formation approach” (EO314) of GMA’s anti-corruption campaign will not instill “patriotism or love of country” because it was designed for the wrong reason – to satisfy the requirements of APEC and other institutional proponents of globalization.

On Nov. 21, 2004, at the APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) conference in Santiago, Chile, the White House, Office of the Press Secretary, issued a fact sheet entitled, “U.S. Actions at the APEC Leaders’ Meeting:

Expanding Trade and Fighting Corruption.” The opening sentence reads:

“Today, President Bush and other APEC Leaders took action to increase global and Asia-Pacific trade, promote policies that spur economic growth, and fight corruption.”

GMA’s MTPDP 2004-2010 Chapter 21. Part II reads:

“To improve the country’s ability to attract foreign investments means building an effective government bereft of graft and corruption…”

We would like to believe that an anti-corruption drive is a positive step because it will improve and facilitate public service. Unfortunately, GMA’s anti-corruption campaign is grounded on the wrong foundation – attracting foreign investments; meaning, attracting capital or money. Values based on money corrupts.

The government’s anti-corruption drive seeks people to be honest, modest, and possess good work ethics to please foreign investors. It therefore places the standards of “good” and “positive” values as anything that satisfies the requirements of free trade or globalization, of corporate/capitalist private interests.

This is a corruption of culture for people whose values are founded on the preservation of national patrimony in the interest of the people. For people in this framework, what is “good” and “positive” are those that prioritizes national interests before self and foreign interests.


Any anti-corruption campaign by the government will result in merely superficial effects, because it is contradictory to the nature of its existence. With the present system, how political and economic power is gained and maintained is at the root of corruption. Pervasive corruption promotes the culture of corruption among the elites and reinforces the disempowerment of the masses. The cycle continues, as the culture of corruption and a disempowered people perpetuate elitist political and economic power.

Corruption benefits the political and economic elites as it facilitates their sell-out and exploitation of our country’s human and natural resources. The victims of corruption are the Filipino masses. This is the reason why we should persist in countering corruption.

However, it is of utmost importance to extend our efforts to actively resisting unequal treaties, foreign dictates, the exploitative political and economic system, and the corruption of culture. These actions nurture love of country, honesty, integrity, and other positive values based on pursuing the interest of the people and our nation. This is a concretization of a holistic anti-corruption drive.

*This is an edited version of the paper presented to the National Study Conference on Corruption. Jan. 14-15, 2005, UPCSWCD. Reference: Julie L.Po, secretary general, CAP, #65A 10th Ave., Cubao, Quezon City. Email:

Jan. 21, 2005

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