Historical and sociocultural origins of corruption in the Philippines

Historical and sociocultural origins of corruption in the Philippines

While corruption continues to pervade in several Asian countries, the situation in the Philippines remains unique. In his journal article, economist Robert H. Nelson said the country has fallen far behind other countries in Southeast Asia and East Asia in terms of economic development because of rampant corruption and political instability. Furthermore, he observed that the corruption in the Philippines has a close resemblance to countries in Latin America including Argentina, Mexico, and Peru.

Common between these Latin American countries and the Philippines is a shared history characterised by the colonisation of Spain and the introduction of Roman Catholicism. In considering this, Nelson provides a compelling argument: The corruption in the Philippines is a product of an acquired colonial identity that brought forth cultural attitudes or values that stood in the way of democratic principles.

The Spanish and Catholic roots of the Philippines are the culprits behind the pervasive corruption in the country. While this argument might be staggering for some, other scholars have expressed similar observations.

In their article, Munyae M. Mulinge and Gwen N. Lesetedi mentioned that in order to understand the groundwork of corruption in sub-Saharan Africa, it is very important to take into consideration the influence of its colonial past. Accordingly, during the colonial period, colonisers had forced locals to do things against their will. This exposure to domination and exploitation have subsequently created a mindset and behavioural disposition leaning toward competition for survival and self-preservation.

The same is true for several countries in Latin America. Carlyn Dobson and Rodriguez Andrés mentioned that in order to exert dominance and maintain control over their subjects, colonisers established institutions that restricted locals from accessing properties, education, and political power. This authoritarian form of leadership became a norm. Thus, people in power have maintained these restrictions even after these Latin American countries achieved independence.

European colonisation of newer territories undeniably created social and political structures that served as groundwork for sociopolitical behaviours leading toward corruption. However, apart from colonisation, another European import has been deemed instrumental for promoting behaviours and attitudes that speak of abuse of authority.

A cross-national study conducted by Daniel Treisman concluded that countries with Protestant traditions, including those former colonies of Britain are less corrupt and more democratic. The study cited religion as a crucial factor because when compared with Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, Protestantism is less hierarchical and more egalitarian and individualistic. In addition, this particular Christian religious denomination does not emphasise familial loyalty in its religious teachings. Remember that close familial ties are groundwork for nepotism.

The legacy of British colonial rule, on the other hand, led to the adoption of the common law system. According to scholars, this system differs from the civil law system found in continental Europe and its former colonies because it provides the public with a defense against a government that might exert power to regulate or takeover their properties. Furthermore, it is important to take note of the fact that the civil law system is more government-oriented because it provides authorities with necessary powers to control the economy.

Based from the argument of Nelson and coupled with related arguments and conclusions from other researchers, there is a strong reason to believe that there is a correlation between the corruption in the Philippines and its Spanish and Catholic heritage. The legacies of Spanish colonial rule and Catholicism have created cultural values and norms that created a society more predisposed toward corruption. These values and norms include self-preservation through power and abuse of authority, profound emphasis on hierarchy and social status, and familial values or close familial ties that promote nepotism.

Further details of the study of Nelson are in the article “The Philippine economic mystery” published in 2007 in the journal Philippine Review of Economics. Further details of the study of Mulinge and Lesetedi are in the article “Interrogating our past: Colonialism and corruption in sub-Saharan Africa” published in 1998 in the journal African Journal of Political Science and details of the study of Dobson and Andrés are in the article “Is corruption really bad for inequality? Evidence from Latin America published in 2011 in the Journal of Development Studies. Results of the cross-national study of Treisman are in the article “The causes of corruption: A cross-national survey” published in 2000 in the Journal of Public Economics.