Slush funds for elections? It's the Filipino way

An imposing building on a frenetic boulevard in Manila houses the Sandiganbayan, a court that tries cases of corruption. Inside, a notice politely requests visitors to "please deposit your firearms".

Outside, three women were sweeping the street yesterday, wearing baseball caps emblazoned with the words "Vote Gloria President".

The women are part of an army of workers given temporary jobs by Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who is seeking re-election in next Monday's presidential poll. Her rivals are furious about her blatant use of public funds to boost her campaign. But most ordinary people shrug their shoulders. "That's how we do things in the Philippines," an office worker said yesterday.

Mrs Arroyo is ahead in the polls after raiding the public coffers to pay for billboards and newspaper advertisements extolling her achievements. To woo poor voters who support her main challenger, Ferdinand Poe, a former film star, she has given free health insurance and spent £13m creating jobs.

While her actions are technically legal, more serious allegations have been levelled against her husband, Jose Miguel "Mike" Arroyo, known as the First Gentleman. Mr Arroyo is accused of shady dealings relating to contracts for infrastructure projects, including a five kilometre (three-mile) stretch of highway that cost £8m per kilometre. Mr Arroyo, whose official role is presidential photographer, has a finger in many pies. "He has the makings of a second Marcos," said John Villamur, a zoology student.

Eighteen years after the fall of Ferdinand Marcos, recently rated the world's second most corrupt leader (after Indonesia's President Suharto), the Philippines remains riddled with corruption.

A World Bank study estimated that 40 per cent of the national budget ends up in the pockets of officials. "Every administration since Marcos has been corrupt," Joel Rocamora, head of the Institute for Popular Democracy, said. "The only difference is the scale with which it hides the corruption." In a reference to Mrs Arroyo's predecessor, who was toppled by street protests fuelled by anger at wholesale plunder of the public purse, he said: "Joseph Estrada's mistake was that he didn't work very hard at hiding it."

The election campaign has been characterised by rampant vote-buying, particularly in the provinces, where local politicians are generously rewarded for delivering their constituents' votes. "We have the best electoral system that money can buy," Mr Rocamora said.

An anti-corruption watchdog, the Philippine Centre for Investigative Journalism, recently produced a do-it-yourself guide to investigating suspect public officials. Snoop around near their houses, it advises, and count their cars, boats and bodyguards. Follow their wives and mistresses to the shopping centre and check the price tags of items they buy.

Sheila Coronel, the centre's director, said she published the guide because of the volume of complaints. She added, wearily: "We can't possibly investigate them all ourselves."

None of the presidential candidates is regarded as whiter than white. Eddie Gil, who promised to use his personal fortune to eliminate the national debt, was caught trying to sneak out of a hotel via the kitchen to avoid paying for a banquet for his supporters.

Hopes of changing a system designed to keep political and economic power in the hands of a wealthy élite seem slim. A few hundred families are estimated to control 95 per cent of the wealth. The economy has become one of the worst in Asia.

Manila's new international airport is empty, its furnishings rotting, because of a scandal over contracts. "It's a nightmare doing business here," a British expatriate said. "In the Philippines, they've made corruption into a science."

Efforts by Mrs Arroyo to reform such institutions as the Bureau of Internal Revenue have been blocked by vested interests. "At least under Marcos there was only one person robbing us blind," said Mr Villamur. "Now it's everyone, from the top brass to the grass roots." One diplomat summed it up: "In Indonesia, corruption is under the table. In Malaysia, it's over the table. In the Philippines, it includes the table."

Suggested Topics
News
Shoppers at Selfridges department store in central London
news

News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleFormer Newsnight presenter is being touted for a brand new role
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Voices
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
News
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
News
i100(More than you think)
Sport
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
News
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Sport
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
FOOTBALL
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML, CSS, SQL

£39000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML,...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game