The United States Embassy in Manila appeared ambivalent about the Arroyo administration’s fight against corruption, on the one hand citing its “seriousness” in fighting the scourge, and on the other enumerating the many ways corruption was prevalent in the country.
In a Nov. 15, 2007, cable to the Department on State in Washington, D.C., that was leaked by web whistle-blower WikiLeaks, the embassy said the Arroyo administration was “beginning to make strides” against corruption.
The embassy memo, titled “Corruption in the Philippines: Challenges and Progress,” was sent one month after then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had canceled the $329-million NBN-ZTE deal between the Philippines and China that was allegedly attended by massive corruption involving no less than her husband.
The memo, however, did not mention the NBN-ZTE controversy.
Instead, the embassy said “the recent conviction for plunder of former President Joseph Estrada has highlighted the corruption issue” in the country.
“The Office of the Ombudsman’s prosecution of Estrada for plunder and the Sandiganbayan antigraft court’s unprecedented conviction and 40-year sentence on the former president clearly indicate that the Philippine government is taking significant steps to address the problem…
“While Estrada was pardoned, he was required to forfeit bank accounts and property amassed illegally during his two-year tenure, as decreed by the graft court that found him guilty,” the cable noted.
It added, however, that “tackling corruption remains a central challenge to good governance in the Philippines and ensuring broad-based economic growth.”
“Corruption is also a deterrent to foreign investment, particularly in terms of providing a level playing field for investors and especially for US companies that must comply with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act,” it said.
The “good news is that there is a widening recognition of the problem in the Philippines and an increasing groundswell of support to address the issue.”
“Similarly, there are new efforts underway by the government to address key corruption issues and to strengthen those institutions most critical to anticorruption efforts, including the Office of the Ombudsman, Bureau of Internal Revenue, Bureau of Customs and the judiciary.
It noted that “corruption in the Philippines has had a long legacy. Most notably during the Marcos era, corruption has been an endemic problem that has contributed significantly to the weakening of many national institutions.”
According to the cable, “while Marcos’ brand of blatant corruption may be a thing of the past, corruption remains a pervasive challenge at all levels of government… The Philippines ranks 131st out of 180 nations in the perception of corruption by business and country analysts.”
According to the embassy, Washington was doing its part in helping fight corruption in the Philippines.