Corruption in the Philippines: demand or offer?

“Extortion by government officials would be a lot less of a problem if we stopped making it so easy for them.”

In a recent Rappler article about corruption at the Land Transportation Office (LTO), “Corruption at LTO, LTFRB: Unfit drivers, vehicles on the road”, we read the story of “Rica”, the fictitiously named liaison officer for a law firm, who secures franchises and related documents from LTO and LTFRB for one of the firm’s clients, a large trucking company. According to the story, Rica knows the ins and outs of corruption at these agencies.

Many Filipinos  felt angry, frustrated by the sheer level of corruption being described. If it’s that deeply ingrained in the government system, how can it ever be defeated?

Nowhere in this story does Rica ever say that anyone demanded an illicit payment. The closest she comes is a statement that “some employees would hint at the need for a bribe.” In truth, the whole need for payment seems to just be understood.

Rica complains that she pays P500-P1500 for speedy processing, plus P1000 per truck to the LTFRB lawyer assigned to the hearing, and P500-P1500 (plus food!) each time she follows up on a case. She says she always makes sure to bring P20,000 to P600,000 whenever she transacts with these offices.

There is never an actual demand for payment. It looks like Rica is just operating on auto-pilot, greasing palms as she goes, all on her own.  There is no doubt that the process might be made artificially slower to encourage payment, and it does actually happen, or if Rica is really just paying to be moved to the front of the line.

In Rica’s story, other than the above-mentioned “hint at the need for a bribe”, the whole practice of under-the-table payment seems to be driven entirely by her, the customer.

We know that corruption is rampant in these agencies, as it is throughout the Philippine government bureaucracy, and that clear, unambiguous demands for under-the-table payment are made all the time. But how much of the extortion we read about every day is actually demanded, and how much is just given blindly and automatically? And what would really happen if we just stopped doing that?

The original Oakwood [Hotel] in Makati goes through an annual inspection from government offices, including the Bureau of Fire Protection. Every year, their accounting office would prepare a small envelope of cash, which was to be given discreetly to the lead inspector. Not to cover up any violations, because they were always in compliance with safety laws, but rather “because it’s expected.” This payment was never demanded but  was always “necessary.”

Payment is always expected in these situations. But is it possible that it’s always expected because we always give? When a policeman stops you for a traffic violation, and you automatically offer a bribe (or just hand him your little green license wallet with a little cash tucked inside), can you really say that the policeman demanded payment, or that payment was the only option?

Take the case of a man who was stopped for beating the red light. The conversation with the police officer went something like this:

Cop: “I have to write you a ticket and confiscate your license.”

Driver: “Ok, go ahead. If I broke the law, I should get a ticket.”

Cop: “But it will be very inconvenient for you. You’ll waste a whole day reclaiming your license.”

Driver: “That’s ok. I prefer to do it the right way.”

Cop: “I really don’t want to cause you trouble.”

Deriver: “Then just let me go on my way.”

Cop: “I can’t do that. I have to write a ticket.”

Driver: “Then write me a ticket.”

Cop: “But it will be a problem for you.”

Driver: “Either write me a ticket or let me go. My takeout food is getting cold.”

They went back and forth like that for a while. In the end, the cop let the man go without a ticket and the driver didn’t pay a thing. But he would have been perfectly willing to go through the inconvenience of having to reclaim his license and pay the proper fine.

Extortion and bribery

This brings up another issue in the corruption paradigm. We rant and rave about how crooked the cops are for extorting money from us, but in many cases, it’s not actually extortion; it’s bribery. There’s a difference — Extortion is demanded, bribery is offered. In many cases of government corruption, especially at the lower levels, it’s actually we who offer payment (in other words, a bribe) to allow us to get away with breaking a law, rule, or procedure, or simply for our convenience. Who is the real bad guy there?

This brings us back to Rica and LTO. Right after Rica talks about some government employees “hinting at the need for a bribe”, she says “That’s why there are many buses, vans, and other PUVs that get franchises even if they have dilapidated and unserviceable units.”

Rica is clearly not talking about a demand for payment (extortion) to secure a franchise for a qualified vehicle. She’s talking about paying a bribe to register a vehicle that should not be registered. And she’s saying this while, in the same breath, complaining about how corruption at the agency “bleeds you dry”.

So what would happen if Rica didn’t automatically pay her bribes? If everyone stopped giving money whenever they followed up on the progress of their cases, would government clerks suddenly lose the paperwork of every single customer?

And what would happen if every driver suddenly started demanding a ticket whenever a policemen stopped them? Just accept the inconvenience and refuse to pay a bribe. Would cops keep making up bogus violations if there was no money to be made?

No one can really be sure, but one thing is guaranteed: Extortion by government officials would be a lot less of a problem if people stopped making it so easy for them. — (Source:

Updated: 2015-09-03 — 15:53:49