ISSN 2330-717X

Corruption As A Threat To Philippine National Security – Analysis

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In his speech during the 77th United Nations General Assembly in New York City on 20 September 2022, Philippine President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. discussed post-pandemic economic recovery, climate change, development of advanced techonologies, food security and key geopolitical concerns as priorities for global cooperation in order to maintain international peace and security.  He also urged UN members to support the Philippines’ candidature to become a member of the powerful UN Security Council covering the term 2027-2028 arguing that “My country’s experiences in building peace and forging new paths of cooperation can enrich the work of the Security Council”. (1) The UN Security Council has the primary responsibility to pursue international peace and security, which the Philippine government regards as vital to overcome current and emerging threats to its national security.

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It is conventional to view threats to national security as those emanating from foreign military invasions or domestic armed challenges that UN members intend to address. Thus, the Philippine government strengthens its diplomatic skills before members of the international community and develops its national defense capability in order to confront external security challenges to  state sovereignty and territorial integrity, particularly in the West Philippine Sea. Internally, the Philippine government commits to counter threats of insurgency, terrorism and crimes by primarily ending the local communist armed conflict and settling the Muslim rebellion through the appropriate application of soft and hard approaches. 

The concept of national security, however, has become so comprehensive that threats are no longer confined with the traditional notion of external military threats or internal armed conflicts.  National security includes panoply of issues that are non-military and non-traditional in nature.  National security is  now viewed predominantly in non-traditional sense being inherently political, economic, environmental, cultural, and social, among others. (2)  In fact, President Marcos Jr. and other leaders in the UN have fully recognized  in their speeches the broadening and the widening of issues affecting national security.

But one of the important issues that UN members often neglect as a threat to national security is corruption.  The  World Bank defines corruption as “the use of public power for private benefit”. (3) It argues that corruption “covers a wide range of behavior, from bribery to theft of public funds.”   The World Bank emphasizes that corruption, as a security threat,  exists worldwide.  But “it is usually present in countries with weak institutions, often affected by fragility and conflict” like the Philippines.(4)

In the 2007 survey, the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC) identified the Philippines as arguably “the most corrupt country in Asia”. (5) Though the Philippine government vehemently challenged this survey, the Transparency International  stressed that the Philippines ranked 117 out of 180 countries in the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) in 2021.  (6)  A high rank in the CPI means a high perception of corruption in the country’s public sector.  

Though there was a perceived declined of corruption in the Philippines in 2021 compared with previous years,  it is still imperative to exert more efforts to reduce corruption in the government as one of the national security priorities of Marcos Jr Administration.   Fighting corruption must be viewed as a continuing security mission,   particularly in the  defense, police, intelligence and other security sectors mandated to protect the society from crime, terrorism,  armed rebellion and other illegitimate uses of violence. 

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The National Security Policy (NSP) 2017-2022 of the administration of President Rodrigo R. Duterte already acknowledged that “stamping out corruption”  should be one of the institutional concerns to promote Philippine national security. (7) In the formulation of its own NSP to cover 2023-2028, it is, therefore,  necessary for President Marcos Jr. to strongly consider anti-corruption as part of its national security priorities as corruption inevitably weakens state’s capacity to effectively secure itself and its people.   

Based on the latest report of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), corruption “undermines institutions that are critical to administering states. It enables terrorist and criminal networks both by providing vehicles for these groups to finance their operations and by weakening the hand of the states that they oppose. Corruption forges links between political elites and organized criminal groups, some of which may be tied to terrorist groups engaged in drug, arms and human trafficking. Corruption weakens societies by undermining economic potential.”  (8)  Corruption also exacerbates poverty regarded as one of the root causes of armed conflicts and human insecurities. (9) Corruption, especially in the defense, police, intelligence and other security sectors,  “can fatally undermine and invalidate well thought-out security strategies, negating the investment made in them.”  (10)   

Thus, combatting corruption is as serious as countering terrorism, combatting insurgencies, fighting crimes and deterring external aggressions. It will be difficult to achieve post-pandemic economic recovery, food security, agricultural productivity and even infrastructure development without a coherent and doable national strategy to combat corruption.

There are existing exemplary practices on how to curb corruption, particularly in the security sector.. (11) The Marcos Jr Administration can learn enormous lessons from these exemplary practices as it begins to formulate its own NSP and National Security Strategy (NSS).  President Marcos Jr. can even mobilize all pertinent members of the National Security Council (NSC)  to develop a national anti-corruption strategy to make anti-corruption a national endeavor like the one initiated in South Africa and other developing countries. (12) 

As he stressed during one of his media interviews, President Marcos Jr.  candidly acknowledged the need to minimize, if not totally eradicate,  corruption.  (13) He unequivocally underscored the need to go after public officials involved in corrupt practices emphasizing that there should be no place for corruption in government. (14) 

It is, therefore, an urgent task of the NSC to develop a national strategy to combat corruption in the Philippines as an integral aspect of the country’s national security agenda.  As the World Bank contends, “Countries capable of confronting corruption use their human and financial resources more efficiently, attract more investment, and grow more rapidly” in advancing national security interests. (15)

Indeed, countering traditional and non-traditional threats to national security must incorporate a strategy  that decisively counters corruption.  Otherwise, corruption can undermine peoples’ trust on the government, which provides the needed social and political capital for effective governance.  Corruption can also weaken the existing Organization for National Security that should be more transparent, accountable and responsible to the Filipino people it has committed to secure.  

Dr. Rommel C. Banlaoi, a political scientist and international relations expert, is a National Security Reform Advocate.  He is the President of the Philippine Society for Intelligence and  Security Studies (PSISS) and Chairman of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research (PIPVTR).

Endnotes:

  1.  Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr., “Speech delivered during the 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly”, 20 September 2022 (New York Time), 21 September 2022 (Philippine Time).
  2.  Aspen Ministers Forum, “We Must Expand the Definition of National Security”, 28 August 2022 at  https://www.aspeninstitute.org/blog-posts/we-must-expand-the-definition-of-national-security/ <accessed on 16 September  2022>.  Also see Barry Buzan, Security: A New Framework for Analysis (New York: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1998).
  3. World Bank, “Anti-Corruption Fact Sheet”, 19 February 2020 at https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/factsheet/2020/02/19/anticorruption-fact-sheet <accessed on 16 September 2022>.   Also see Vito Tanzi, “Corruption Around the World:  Causes, Consequences, Scope and Cures”, IMF Working Paper, May 1998, p. 8.
  4. Ibid
  5. Ky D. Johnson, “The Philippines: The Most Corrupt Country in Asia”, The Asia Foundation Insights and Analysis, 28 March 2007 at https://asiafoundation.org/2007/03/28/in-the-philippines-is-it-the-most-corrupt-country-in-asi <accessed on 20 September 2022>.
  6.  Transparency International, “Corruption Perceptions Index”, 2021 at https://www.transparency.org/en/cpi/2021 <accessed on 16 September 2022>.
  7.  National Security Council, National Security Policy for Change and Well-Being of the Filipino People, 2017-2022 (Manila: Office of the President, 2017), p. 18.
  8.  Harriet Baldwin, Strategic and Economic Challenges Posed by Corruption (NATO Parliamentary Assembly, 11 March 2022).
  9.  Eric Chetwynd, Frances Chetwynd and Bertram Spector, Corruption and Poverty: A Review of Existing Literature (Washington DC: Management System International, 2003).
  10.  Transparency International, Building Integrity and Countering Corruption in Defense and Security (London:  Transparency International, 2011).
  11.  Geneva Center, Building Integrity and Reducing Corruption in Defense: A Compendium of Best Practices (Geneva:  Democratic Control of the Armed Forces, 2010).
  12. Republic of South Africa,  National Anti-Corruption Strategy 2020-2030 (Cape Town: Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, 2020).
  13.  Mark Ernest Famatigan, “Marcos: Corruption is a Human Condition”, Yahooo News, 27 January 2022 at https://ph.news.yahoo.com/marcos-corruption-is-a-human-condition-064335357.html <accessed on 16 September 2022>.
  14.  Anna Felicia Bajo, “Marcos on Corruption in BIR, Customs”, GMA News Online, 26 May 2022 at https://www.gmanetwork.com/news/topstories/nation/832935/marcos-on-corruption-in-bir-customs-let-s-forget-the-past/story/ <accessed on 20 Septembe 2022>.
  15.  The World Bank, “Combatting Corruption” at https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/governance/brief/anti-corruption <accessed on 20 September 2022>.

Rommel C. Banlaoi

Rommel C. Banlaoi, PhD is the Chairman of PIPVTR, President of the Philippine Society for Intelligence and Security Studies (PSISS) and Convenor of the Network for the Prevention of Violent Extremism in the Philippines (NPVEP). He sits as a member of the Board of Directors of the China-Southeast Asia Research Center on the South China Sea (CSARC) and has served as the President of the Philippine Association for Chinese Studies (PACS) and member of the Management Board of the World Association for Chinese Studies (WACS).

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