Will the 2016 candidates commit plunder?

Let us examine the personalities of certain people who this early are already mentioned as potential candidates for president, vice-president, senator, or local government officials

Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago

11:57:12am November 27, 2014

8:39:59am May 11, 2015

By the end of this year, we shall enter into the campaign period for the 2016 elections. With so many pending cases for plunder and corruption against high-profile political leaders, common sense dictates that as scholars, we need to examine the culture of corruption: its sources, its mindsets, and whether the candidates we vote for might present a profile of corruption as a work in progress. 

It will surprise you to know that in the entire Asia, one country has the highest number of anti-corruption measures – this country is the Philippines. And yet, according to the 2013 Corruption Perception Index, among 177 countries, the Philippines is ranked No. 94. The Philippines was among the first countries to ratify the United Nations Convention Against Corruption in 2006. Yet, it has been estimated that the Philippine economy losses at least 20 percent of our annual national budget to corruption. Naturally, corruption limits the ability of public officials to improve the economy with the use of foreign aid. 

According to one expert, there are at least four sources of corruption.

The first source of corruption is vicarious learning, during which people follow the examples of their leaders. The second source is what psychiatrists call the principle of desensitization, meaning that plunder starts with small cases of graft. Once you begin to accept petty corruption, you become desensitized to it. This source should make us reflect and strive to show integrity even in the most simple things.

The third source of corruption is rationalization, meaning that people justify their behavior in ways such as the following:

Depersonalization, by saying that “victims deserve corruption."

Selective weighting, by saying “I am not so bad.”

Dire need, by saying “the end justifies the means.”  

The metaphor of the ledger, by saying “my good works offset corrupt acts.” 

The fourth source of corruption is learned helplessness, which happens when an honest person enters government but becomes socialized to perform and accept the corrupt practices. For example, members of Congress will eventually discover that they can gather more power for themselves by cutting illegal deals. This learned helplessness is aggravated by the lack of reinforcement. 

Public officials in our country, both at the national and the local levels, engage in corruption because our anti-corruption laws so far in most cases are not actually implemented, and those who are guilty are not punished as they deserve. A study made by an expert showed that Filipinos believe corruption is difficult to eradicate, precisely because it is those in power who engage in it, or because the problem is too deeply rooted to change.

Corrupt personality traits

Let us examine the personalities of certain people who this early are already mentioned as potential candidates for president, vice-president, senator, or local government officials. How can we tell whether the candidate will likely commit plunder and corruption if elected to office?  We should watch out for the following personality traits:

Watch out for the trait of Machiavellianism. This refers to a mindset characterized by manipulation and the need for power.

Watch out for the trait of narcissism, which refers to an inflated sense of self-importance and grandiosity.

Watch out for subclinical psychopathy, which results from an aggregate of maladaptive trait deficits linked to antisocial deviance.

Watch out for weak moral identity and primitive moral thinking as exhibited by the candidate who values personal loyalty over formal rules and does not distinguish between organizational and personal goals. 

In short, let me summarize the character traits of candidates prone to plunder:

Highly neurotic individuals

Future orientation

Power distance

Masculinity

Uncertainty avoidance

Social dominance orientation

Moral disengagement, which is defined as the propensity of the individual to evoke cognitions which restructure one’s actions to appear less harmful, minimize one’s understanding or responsibility for one’s action, or attenuate the perception of the distress one causes others. Sometimes this person commits an act of corruption by morally disengaging himself from the corruption by justifying the act using palliative comparisons. For example, the person linked to plunder will continue to receive kickbacks, on the reasoning that the kickback is very little compared with earnings of a convicted plunderer. Another method to assuage the conscience is to avoid using the word “bribe” and using euphemistic labels such as padulas or pameryenda.

The most notorious act of plunder in our country is the abuse of the pork barrel system. If you hear a candidate saying certain things, you can be sure he will commit plunder if given the opportunity. The potential plunderer will likely say things such as: 

This is a legitimate government process of long-standing.

The consequences are minimal and my practice will speed up and directly deliver services to my constituents.

I am not abusing the people’s money but I am using what is due to me and intended to be distributed among my constituents.

These examples show that the corrupt public official negates the shared rules and norms of the social culture.

How to choose the President

It is unfair to generalize by saying that people in developing countries like the Philippines are more likely prone to corruption than in developed countries. The truth of the matter is that corruption is more widespread in developing economies simply because of poverty, low public sector salaries, little accountability, and poorly enacted laws and principles of ethics. Notwithstanding the plethora of laws passed by the Philippines against corruption, it has become institutionalized and accepted. 

Corruption in our country is not necessarily associated with the conscious intent to be unethical or immoral. Rather, corruption is schematic, because it has become a routine practice in the conduct of daily business. This is why it is of the utmost importance to choose the best possible president and other national officials in the 2016 elections. Many studies show that one of the most critical aspects of culture is the moral tone and examples set by leadership. Unfortunately, unethical leaders tend to attract more attention than an ethical one, and unethical leaders tend to influence employee behavior.

As members of the educated sector of society, it is your duty to examine with logic and reason the various candidates who will present themselves. Authorities say that when we give power to good people, they are more able than others to enact moral identity, meaning do what is right. The best way to identify the best president is to develop a sense of moral identity – meaning the degree to which you think it is important to your sense of self to be caring, compassionate, fair, generous, etc., shaped by your response to feelings of power. 

It is an axiom that power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  But this is not the entirely correct. Power does not corrupt; it heightens pre-existing ethical tendencies. Therefore, you must examine every candidate and ensure that he or she is equipped with a record of academic excellence, professional excellence, and achievements recognized on the national level or even international level. It is the character and political will of the next president that will determine whether we can rise to the challenge of the day, and take the following action:

We should provide more protection for whistleblowers.

We should grant more transparency and access to information.

We should strengthen our weak political party systems.

We should reduce the involvement of politicians in appointment systems.

We should reduce the excessive power of the executive branch.

We need to rationalize government bureaucracy.

We need to raise wages of those in government.

We need to improve enforcement, investigatory, and prosecution ability of law-enforcement agencies.

Is there something that you can do as an individual? Definitely, yes. Here are the ways by which you can shape popular communication to help combat the culture of corruption:

Highlight role models and those who fight against corruption in order to counteract stereotypes, instead of simply managing the public images of politicians;

Help educate the Filipino voter on the character of candidates and ensure they select those with integrity and political will;

Advocate for reform in our systems and structures through media in general, and in social media in particular. 

At the same time that we have to prepare ourselves for the great battle for good government that looms with the 2016 elections, in the end it is always good to call on God’s protection. - Rappler.com

These are excerpts from Senator Santiago's speech at the PILLARS Lecture Series Year 3 sponsored by the Junior Public Relations Practitioners of the Philippines of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila on November 27, 2014.