September 12, 2019
QUICK, who are the culprits in the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) scandal over heinous criminals let loose under the Good Conduct Time Allowance, or GCTA Law — the BuCor officials bribed to short-circuit life terms, or the prisoners’ families paying through the nose to get the hoods out?
Answer: All of them.
Just in case one forgot, both bribe givers and bribe takers are grafters. One may feel sorry for an inmate’s wife crying on national TV that her husband still isn’t out, despite a P50,000-payoff to a BuCor director.
But really, she deserves zero sympathy, and should, in fact, be charged with bribery, along with the officials she paid off, unless prosecutors let her turn state witness.
Sure, many a spouse, child, parent or sibling would understandably jump at any chance to cut short a family member’s jail term, even by unlawful means. Yet bribery still breaks the law, and those committing it should not get any kind of support. Period.
Many Filipinos may find such tough talk harsh, and would cut some slack for families pressured or scammed by corrupt bureaucrats. Others see no choice but to pay, especially if one’s business would suffer huge losses without, say, the speedy release of imported goods.
Still, others actually boast of getting around the rules or ahead of the pack by working connections compensated with kickbacks or campaign contributions. Then there are the thousands, if not millions of petty violators who slip hundreds or thousands of pesos for enforcers to ignore violations of traffic, transport, building or fire regulations.
Do we cheer corruption?
Now, let’s admit it: How many of us are among those who pay to get ahead, get a deal, or get away from the law’s long arm? And do we express sympathy, understanding, or even delight over payoffs, because they are small, smart, or “standard operating procedures”?
If we are guilty of one or more of the above, that makes us a major entrenched part of national corruption, which persists and grows largely because it is allowed, accepted, abetted, or even applauded by tens of millions of Filipinos, even those denouncing it in private conversations, public fora, academic discussions, and mass and social media.
Hardly helpful in uprooting this culture of corruption is President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent remark that it was fine for police to accept unsolicited small gifts, which one of his anti-graft probers set at P100,000 or less.
Maybe the presidential nod to petty graft had to do with his apparent policy of leaving illegal gambling alone, generating payoffs for police and local officials, so they can refuse drug money and crack down on narcotics (https://www.manilatimes.net/2019/08/04/opinion/columnists/topanalysis/to-stop-vice-put-to-death-evil-desire-and-greed/594790/).
Thankfully, President Duterte’s actions speak louder than his words, with the swift and public firing of dubious agency heads over corruption allegations. But if we depend on the Palace to do all the heavy lifting against sleaze, and even dabble in it when it suits us, the payoffs simply won’t stop, no matter how many sarcastic or indignant anti-graft memes and messages we share.
A sleazy colonial legacy
Why are Filipinos so tolerant of graft? One reason cited by scholars is colonialism. For centuries the people saw favors dispensed by Spanish, American and Japanese rulers to their nationals and allies, starting in the 16th century with huge tracts of encomienda land gifted to Spaniards for loyalty and service to the King.
With the rise of Filipino nationalism and liberation struggle in the 19th century, anti-Spanish groups saw the colonial government as the enemy. Hence, any actions undermining its rule, including corrupt circumvention of laws, were seen as patriotic.
All this should have changed after self-rule began in 1946, but landed families exercised patronage politics in localities, which led people to again seek advantage through local corruption and connections.
Cronies and kickbacks at the national level blossomed in the last half-century, with Marcos-era sleaze continuing after his fall. Despite her denunciation of the late strongman and his family and associates, Corazon Aquino favored her Kamag-anak Inc., spared her family hacienda from land distribution and enacted a pork barrel law.
With top politicians and officials raking in illicit gains, helped by minions in the bureaucracy, many civil servants saw no reason not to follow suit, often giving higher-ups a cut in the take. Thus sprang up agency mafias like the one alleged in the BuCor.
Needed: National movement vs graft
So, what to do? This writer has repeatedly advocated the creation of an anti-graft crusade similar to the National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel). But instead of helping the Commission on Elections keep elections honest, orderly and peaceful, the envisioned group — call it Citizens Coalition for Good Governance (CCGG) — would mobilize civil society and thousands of volunteers to help the Office of the Ombudsman search and destroy grafters.
CCGG should aim to mobilize 13,000 volunteers, which would achieve a 1:100 ratio of anti-graft probers to public officials and personnel — the same ratio as Hong Kong’s feared Independent Commission Against Corruption. That would make graft a high-risk activity, far more than it is today (https://www.manilatimes.net/2018/10/02/opinion/columnists/topanalysis/what-go-should-do-to-help-his-boss-fight-graft/447473/).
More important, however, public awareness and assertiveness against corruption would soar, not only because CCGG would boost the chances of catching and punishing corruption. The coalition would also mobilize countless ordinary citizens through volunteers, private sector and civil society entities.
Then, Filipinos may yet begin to resist corruption, knowing that it can be stopped, and that they are not alone in fighting back. Moreover, CCGG can also give public support for upright civil servants, especially whistleblowers, whose evidence can be given attention and action, even if government bodies don’t.
At this point, one may hear the page turning or the mouse clicking to another story or site. Some may be thinking the idea wouldn’t work, like other anti-graft schemes. And this defeatism is another reason many of us bow to corruption.
Now, if no one will push back, sleaze will keep winning by default. So, the question is: Will we resist or fold without a fight?
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