How long has the Philippines been corrupt?
You read of corruption in Rizal's works. That was one of his main complaints, along with classism reflected in the overbearing power of the Catholic Church and the land barons. History also records that the last half of Spanish rule was characterized by rotating governors who had no real interest in the well-being of the Philippines and a great deal of interest in self-enrichment. So add to the 150 years of corrupt Spanish rule to 115 years of Filipino-sanctioned corruption begun when Aguinaldo grabbed onto a huge pile of borrowed Mexican pesos for his nation and his personal estate, and you have at least 265 years of corruption.
Corruption has been rampant from the Palace to Jose's pig sty where the tin roof was extracted from some rich guy's construction project by a contractor who swapped it to Jose for a small piglet. Theft in the Philippines is not really a crime. It is business as usual. How many ways do Filipinos cheat the system? I was a math major and I can't count that high. Johnny Lin's abacus would probably sizzle and catch fire from the heat of the calculations. We have old math, new math and Filipino math, which is base 10 plus a markup of 35% for all the "gratuities" along the supply channel.
It will take 20 years to root corruption out of the Philippines IF we can find future presidents willing to dig it out all the way from the Palace to the pig sty. President Aquino has only gotten to the first circle of corruption. It is an important circle because it curtails much of the big ticket thieving. The first circle includes his cabinet officials, top generals, and maybe a governor or two. He might get to the second during his term, the junior lieutenants in each of the executive departments.
The legislature is supposed to be policing its own but seems rather to take pride in a kind of corruption of values, avoiding good ethical behavior like the plague, sitting on SALN's, jamming up the FOI Bill, plagiarizing away and threatening the very foundation of democracy, the freedom to speak, with a bizarre and harsh internet libel clause in the Cybercrime Bill. When the Legislature operates with hidden agendas, sits on laws aimed at transparency and women's rights, passes laws aimed at intimidating expression, and coddles its own ethically challenged members, it burden's the President's legacy with non-action and bad deeds.
Face it, the Legislature is not leading the charge for freedom and transparency and high ethical standards. It does not have the same sense of righteousness and purpose as the Executive Branch.
And what about the third co-equal branch of our government, the Judiciary? Sorry to report that the courts have not even gotten to the first circle because Chief Justice Sereno's bench is still being fumigated. We should check back with the Supreme Court in a year to see if anything has improved.
But I digress. I'm talking about President Aquino here.
To get past the first circle of corruption, President Aquino has to take three big steps and he appears reluctant to take two of them.
- Work the de-corruption effort through the cabinet posts into the top management layers across the nation. Then broader and deeper.
- Prosecute extra-judicial murders.
- Aggressively pursue transparency in government acts.
He is doing number 1, having given Corona the boot, jailed Arroyo, and being actively in the hunt for generals and governors who have been riding high on the taxpayer hog. Work is likely to become slow and hard because the corruption "out there" is smaller and sneakier and not always easy to spot. Take the matter of vote buying. Think we will see any in 2013? Ahahahahaha ROFLMAO. Decentralized corruption is business as usual, as we saw regarding the roof of Jose's pig sty. Customs officials dipping, DENR dipping, LTO dipping, PNP dipping, judges dipping. I certainly have no statistics because it is a sumbitch to count, but I bet thousands of officials are dipping a hand in some poor slob's wallet. And that slob's wallet was probably obtained in a tax free swap or five-finger discount.
The two biggest achievements of the Aquino government are financial stability and the hammer brought to bear on corruption. And his cabinet secretaries are actively engaged in building better processes and results. But the President has to deal more explicitly with extrajudicial murders and freedom of information.
There are also some clear "downs" that the President might choose to learn from. We had a little flare-up about Under-Secretary Puno a few weeks ago. That buried the Sotto plagiarism and it was in turn buried by the Enrile-Trillanes mud-wrestling match on the floor of the Senate.
The media hereabouts certainly are single-minded, eh? They mosey from one scandal to the next, forgetting to cure, tie off or otherwise wrap up the previous one.
Some people were critical of the President on Puno, but I don't see what the big deal is. Robredo died, things were up in the air, and follow-through got a little disjointed, much akin to the chaos of the battlefield. It will all work out fine. Puno will be dealt with by proper investigation, not blogger investigations, and, if the President is wise and able to separate personal friendships from job performance, Puno will be invited to leave government. He's what is known as a "stigma" now.
The Trillanes back channel eruption revealed another stigma. It displays the President's main weakness, a tendency to adhere to friendships even when they go counter to the grain of his own success. Just as he supported Puno, the President backs Senator Trillanes even though it is fairly evident Trillanes is a hot-head with a non-diplomatic mouth. The incident seems simple enough: Trillanes has a contact of some clout in China and asked if he could work it. President Aquino said "yes". Indeed, the contact was instrumental in getting ships to stand down from the face off over Scarborough Shoals, but it did not get all Chinese boats to leave. The President's mistake was not saying "yes" to Trillanes. The mistake was not putting him under the direction of Foreign Affairs Secretary Del Rosario. It is never wise to go around one of your trusted executives. Plus it is a mistake to keep coddling Trillanes when he is clearly a loose cannon.
But these are minor incidents. They don't reflect the progress of the nation or the steam the economy is gathering.
The President often walks into the slapdash of media sensationalism when he speaks off the cuff, before all the facts are known and pieced together. The press then digs up its own facts and puts the pieces together in generally unkind picture that suggests the President is not trustworthy. The President would benefit by adopting a discipline of holding off on public comment regarding flare-ups until the facts can be put together and delivered to the press more comprehensively.
The President is not responsible for the incomprehensible ineffectual Legislature. He could get a lot more done if they worked harder on the RH Bill, FOI and other acts aimed at building a progressive Philippines. He should definitely work his contacts there, and jawbone them in public.
I rather see the President's "downs" as transactional, minor in the big-picture flow of history. Of concern, sure. Worth panic? For sure, not.
His ups are substantial. The Philippines is growing and stable and modernizing. Corruption is on the way out as a mainstream value.That's what I think will emerge as his legacy. To solidify that legacy, he needs to do more to:
- Push both openly and privately for Legislative action on key bills.
- Track down murderers and definitively end the era of extra-judicial killings.
- Actively back FOI and RH bills as essential steps toward a progressive Philippines. There is no reasonable reason for them to be held back.
- Develop two new personal disciplines: (1) be less reliant on friendships, and (2) refrain from speaking off the cuff to the press during flare-ups until all the facts are known.
The main point of this article is to suggest it is best to keep things in perspective, and not let a sensationalist press paint the picture we view as reality. The secondary point is to muse about what the President could do to build a striking legacy for himself and the Aquino family.