By Jenina P. Ibañez, Reporter

THE PHILIPPINES slipped two spots in a global corruption index released on Thursday by Transparency International, which noted widespread corruption has weakened many countries’ response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

In the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2020, the Philippines was tied with Moldova at 115th place out of 180 countries or territories.

The Philippines retained its score of 34 out of 100 in a scale that measures perceived levels of public sector corruption according to experts and businesspeople. The scale indicates 100 as “very clean” and 0 as “highly corrupt.”

“Efforts to control corruption in the Philippines appear mostly stagnant since 2012,” Transparency International said.

The Philippine government’s response to the pandemic was characterized by abusive enforcement and major violations on human rights and media freedom, Transparency International said.

Human rights organizations last year criticized the Philippine government for its treatment of Filipinos found violating public health regulations, forcing them to sit under the heat of the sun or locking them in dog cages.

Topping the 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index were Denmark and New Zealand, which both had 88 points. Finland, Switzerland, Singapore and Sweden ranked 3rd, with the same score of 85.

Malaysia took the 57th spot, while Indonesia ranked 102nd spot. Thailand and Vietnam shared 104th place.

The Philippine score is below the global average of 43.

Transparency International said the global response to the pandemic revealed “enormous” flaws in health and democratic institutions. Healthcare systems are burdened with bribery, embezzlement, overpricing, and favoritism.

“COVID-19 is not just a health and economic crisis. It is a corruption crisis. And one that we are currently failing to manage,” Delia Ferreira Rubio, chair of Transparency International, said in a statement.

Ms. Rubio noted that countries with higher levels of corruption “have been less able to meet the challenge.”

“Those in power or who hold government purse strings often serve their own interests instead of those most vulnerable.”

University of Santo Tomas political science professor Marlon M. Villarin said the Philippines’ drop in Corruption Perceptions Index was a result of the Duterte administration’s failure to be more transparent in responding to the pandemic.

“What is sensationalized in the eyes of the Filipino people is the blatant inability of the government to be more transparent particularly in how we contract our vaccine,” he said.

“I think the Duterte administration needs to improve on their transparency and accountability policy, particularly in government’s response to COVID-19 pandemic.”

Jocelyn M. Cabrera, political economy professor at the University of Asia and the Pacific, said there was a regression in the effort to reduce corruption in the government.

“We can associate this poor perception to the high level of uncertainty in government’s management of not only the fiscal and economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but also the inconsistency in implementing lockdown rules across regions and classes of society,” she said in a mobile message.

“People who are closer to the seats of power are given significant level of allowance in their lack of compliance to regulations, while ordinary folk — including unemployed jeepney drivers, workers, and even sick and infirm people wanting to access healthcare — are punished heftily and denied due process.”

She added that the rejection of the ABS-CBN franchise renewal application affects the assessment of investors on the government’s willingness to collaborate with civil society.

University of the Philippines political science professor Maria Ela L. Atienza said the pandemic prompted questions about the government’s medical procurement response as well as public healthcare spending and insurance.

“The current shortcomings in the pandemic response of the administration further exposes the lackluster efforts of the administration since it started in 2016. While anti-corruption programs are included in the priorities of the Duterte administration, it has not been very serious in its efforts,” she said in an e-mail.

European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines President Nabil Francis said that transparency is crucial in making the country attractive for trade and investment needed during the public health and economic crisis.

“We call for continued efforts to promote and improve anti-corruption, transparency, and overall good governance measures,” he said in a mobile message.

Recent investigations into alleged corrupt activities in various government agencies have not yet been included in recent data compiled by Transparency International, but the organization nevertheless said that short-term anti-corruption campaigns are not likely to affect the score.

Transparency International recommended that oversight institutions be strengthened through sufficient resources and independence. It added that there must be transparent government contracting, guaranteed access to data on spending, and good conditions for the media and civil society to hold the government accountable.

“Sadly, these are areas that the administration has failed to promote,” Ms. Atienza said.