Tired of the never-ending exposés on graft and corruption? Changing the leadership or the system isn’t as easy as it may sound. Fortunately, you can affect your own corner of the world. But that change has to start first from within.
by Rick Olivares
Public display of corruption
The man behind the clerk’s counter took a long puff from a cigarette then exhaled. If the menthol in the stick soothed his nerves, first his actions, then words, betrayed his true emotions. “Mga aktibista,” he spat. “Hindi pa nila naintindihan ang takbo ng mundo.”
This monologue happened recently at the Land Transportation Office in Cubao, Quezon City, where a couple of college students had put up a few posters with a stinging message in big bold and black letters: WAG MAGLALAGAY PARA SA MAPAYAPANG PILIPINAS.
A cabbie of perhaps 40-plus summers was renewing his license when he overheard the clerk’s muttered disdain. He laughed and chimed in, “Mga bata pa…”
It was as if the man had pronounced the students with all finality, that once they’ve graduated from college to the real world, they will understand its machinations and the convenience of skirting the proper way.
Apparently, the driver had some problems with his license due to a vehicular accident, and for his license to clear, he greased the palms of the man behind the counter. Only when the pesos were counted did the clerk allow a mirthless smile. “Sige, okay na. Pwede mo na kunin.”
The cab driver claims his daily boundary of PhP 1,300 pesos is inflexible regardless of the traffic or the weather. For the cabbie, his world’s economics boils down to one simple truth: No drive, No money. It was that simple.
Unfortunately, that “simple” thing is an inconvenient truth.
The act of paying off fixers in order to expedite papers, licenses, or permits, is but one example of the Filipino’s “diskarte” to rise above the static and the red tape. It also breeds corruption.
Ed Nolasco is in his 80s. Given his age and small frame, it is hard to imagine that he once fought against the Japanese occupation as a solider first, then as a guerilla second, during World War II.
That was a different time. Honor was something everyone took seriously. The moral compass was much much different. The country was in the process of finding its identity as we clung to the old values that we learned at home. The big war was a loss of innocence for many but the ability of the Filipino to bounce back showed in the post-war years. That was the time when we were the only tiger economy in Asia. The real changes in the value system came during the Marcos regime.
That is something that Atty. Grace Tan, a tax lawyer who has worked for both the government and private sector, generally agrees with:
It would be incorrect to say that there was no corruption before the Marcos years because whenever there is contact between people who need something, there is the possibility that it might happen. But it was during those years where favors to political allies were granted. It is where we also saw the police and military given a taste of power; something that is prevalent in today’s lagay and kotong where we see people na ayaw maperwisyo and gusto lusot agad sa mga problema nila.
In March of 2008, a report released by the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC) named the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and China as among the most corrupt Asian economies.
Particularly gagging was that the reaction of political leaders was more of that “we aren’t the most, only one of the most.”
“The Philippines is a sad case when it comes to corruption,” the consultancy mentioned in the report. “While the Philippines is probably no worse than in places like Indonesia and Thailand, corruption…has become politicized and is openly discussed in the media.”
The Philippines scored 9.0 out of a possible 10 points under a grading system used by PERC under which zero is the best score and 10 the worst.
In 2009, the Philippines fared slightly better as it slipped down the ladder with a score of 7 out of a possible 10.
The Philippine customs and tax agencies, police and politicians are perceived to be the most corrupt in the country, the consultancy said. But while “there is very little confidence in the government’s seriousness about fighting the problem,” PERC also noted that “the actual level of corruption is not as bad as it is often portrayed.”
Yet in spite of all of the negativity, Danny Olivares, one of the original members of the Cory Aquino for President Movement back in the 1980s, said that there seems to be renewed interest in making real, effective, and long-lasting change with the upcoming elections.
“People believe that some of the presidentiables like Noynoy Aquino represent a new brand of politics that will get us out of the rut we are in. It’s going to take a lot of strong and unwavering political will to effect change. It’s not going to be easy, but that’s why everyone should make their voices heard and safeguard our future.”
Four pillars of change
In her long practice as a tax lawyer, Atty. Tan has come face to face with the “C” word on almost a daily basis. Even from the beginning, she made a conscious decision to only accept clients who would play it straight.
“The bureaucracy is a rich ground for corruption. Not many have a strong conscience to say ‘no.’ Back in the day, we had ethics classes as a part of our curriculum. It sounds corny but it reinforced our moral fiber. Looking back at it, it was an extension of what we learned at home. Nowadays, I wonder, is it taught at all?”
Tan believes in the “one candle in the dark” mentality: if there are enough people with a strong sense of ethics, then they can set off a chain reaction across the nation. “But it has to begin in these four key pillars of society – home, school, Church, and work, because our value system has been compromised.”
(1) Home – It is easy to get lost in the neon and the glitz and glam of popular culture and advertising. Far too often, children today idolize and place their trust in athletes, actors, and musicians who, while apparently excellent in their craft, aren’t paragons of virtue. A child’s character is largely formed by what the parents teach and show at home.
“Kung ano yung nakikita ng bata sa matanda, siya yung ginagaya,” said Nolasco. “And that’s the truth.”
“Parenting is such a difficult job,” admits Tan. “But if you care for your children’s future, then you just have to make sure they learn the proper things.”
(2) School – Fr. Bienvendo F. Nebres S.J., the president of the Ateneo de Manila University, likes to say that “education is unfortunately below our country’s radar.” The indefatigable Jesuit revealed “that this is why the university has continued to make religion a big part of the curriculum. We are a Catholic school and a Christian country. If we remain Christ-centered then we believe that it should augment in the proper formation of the young who will be the backbone of our country’s future.”
(3) Church – Some make a case for the separation of the Church and State, but in reality, how does one separate one from the other when they overlap as members? “There are many levels to that,” pointed out Fr. Bert Ampil S.J. who has taught and worked as an administrator in both Ateneo and Xavier School. “It’s not as simple as we are black and you are white.”
In a predominantly Catholic country, Catholics look to members of the clergy for guidance on life and its myriad concerns. It is important for the Church to remain steadfast in shepherding the flock with a keen eye and ear to the myriad changes in the world today. “But even within the Church, we do need to do some house cleaning,” said a parish priest who refused to be identified.
(4) Work – The bureaucracy is a fertile ground for corruption. It always begins with a proposal to circumvent systems and procedures. “Gusto ng tao mapabilis yung proseso,” said Albert, a recent graduate who didn’t want the long wait for his police clearances needed for applying for work. “Babalik ka pa kasi. Hassle sa gastos at oras.”
“Filipinos do not like to be inconvenienced. Kung saan makakalusot hahanapin nila yan. But if one says ‘no’ then that conscious decision is one starting point in fighting corruption,” added Tan.
Perhaps those college kids at the Cubao LTO are on to something.
“Fighting corruption, changing decades-old systems that are grounds for it, has to start somewhere,” underscored Fr. Nebres. “It’s a never-ending battle and that is why one should never give up. It seems like one is always fighting battles on so many fronts and that is the challenge. The coming elections is an opportunity for us to have a say in our future. But why wait? It is always good to start with oneself then hope that it inspires others to be the same.”
And that… is the convenient truth.