You probably already know this, but there is a degree of corruption in the Philippines. In fact, there is a lot of it. In Cebu, as in the rest of the Philippines, money talks.

People from the developed world may immediately jump to the conclusion that everyone here is corrupt, that bribery is necessary in order to get anything done, and that chaos reigns in our society. This is not so. The Philippines has a highly developed legal system and rules do exist in our society; corruption takes place when these rules are broken. However, for the most part, they do not need to be broken. By and large it is possible, if exhausting, to abide by rules and regulations and refrain from bribing anyone.

The vast majority of Cebuanos do not encounter corruption. This is because they cannot afford bribes. As a foreigner, you may expect that your wealth will permit you to get away with anything, and to a certain extent, that is true. But you will be playing a dangerous game; paying bribes is just as much a crime as accepting them.

Then again, not all under the counter payments fall within the domain of graft. When dealing with petty officials, you may find that greasing the wheels by inserting the equivalent of only a few dollars into your paperwork will make things go a lot more smoothly. Show a little consideration, get a little consideration in return. The danger, of course, is that you start sliding down a slippery slope, shelling out progressively larger amounts, to the extent that you end up giving BIR (Bureau of Internal Revenue) officials twenty thousand pesos to lower your taxes, or bribing customs officials with a million pesos to forego inspection of your vessel.

I've come up with a Wa'y Blima Law: anything less than 500 pesos is not a problem; it need not necessarily be considered a bribe, but a courtesy. Give more than that, and you'll be descending into the murky world of graft and corruption.


If you do need to pay a bribe, make sure the recipient is an organic employee of whatever government agency you are dealing with. Fixers abound, and most of them are out to screw you, not the system. For example, a corrupt lawyer may find out - from corrupt court clerks - that a judicial decision has been reached in your favor. He will then tell you that, for 40,000 pesos, the judge may rule in your favor. If you pay up, he'll pocket the 40,000 pesos, and give maybe 1,000 to the clerk. So make sure you always pay whoever is purported to be asking for the bribe. In this example, tell your lawyer, "Thanks, I'll call up the judge and arrange a meeting."

You may think that paying only the organic employee is unfair to the fixer who went to the trouble on your behalf to arrange the bribe, but whoever pockets the bribe is obliged to take care of those who helped facilitate the transaction, including the fixer.

Another thing to watch out for is overpaying. Sometimes the official will ask you how much you wish to offer. Insist that the official name his or her price. Then, if possible, go away and discuss the amount with friends or acquaintances. It will never hurt to bargain: say that your finances are a bit tight - you have a check due or just had to pay a hospital bill or whatever - and could he please make an exception this time and help you by accepting just X pesos?

It goes without saying that you should make sure your notes are never seen by anyone. If you have no private place and no papers to hand over, fold up the money until it's really tiny, and shake hands.


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