III. Systemic Corruption
GENERAL SANTOS CITY, February 9, 2013 — Corruption is primarily an effect, not a cause, of moral perversions and violations of the ideal or of ethical principles. However, once created in different species, forms and names, corruption tends to breed more corruptions. Remember the saying: “Money begets money.” When corruption pervades with impunity in government and other sectors of society and gains public tolerance, indifference and even acceptance as normal, it becomes systemic corruption.
Systemic corruption infects individual and social conscience to weaken moral judgment and degenerate moral values. As a consequence, wrong is accepted as right, the legal is always right, and the wrong is legalized to become right; corruption becomes a profitable way of life. Corruption grows in sick conscience.
In the Philippines today, corruption is mainly seen in terms of money that changes hands to undermine the law or of public funds misappropriated for personal or shared private interests. On the blind side, the immoral and the unethical continue to nourish that and other species of corruption. For so many decades now, the Philippines has been immersed in systemic corruption.
Is corruption endemic to Philippine culture and society?
I remember my grandparents and some others in the old generation in my native barrio saying, “Mayad pa nga magka-on sang dahon sang katumbal sang sa magka-on sang tinakaw (It’s better to eat pepper leaves than eat something stolen).” At that time, it was not uncommon that members of poor families volunteer to serve like slaves some rich families to whom their families owed gratitude for big favors like life-saving kindness. These manifested a kind of social or individual conscience prevailing then.
In the 1930s, civil service officials and employees were admired for their honesty. The elections were much, much more honestly conducted than today despite the system that was “crude” by today’s standards. This is what I remember as a personal witness, not from anybody’s tale.
The systemic corruption today was not unforeseen. In 1949, Sen. Lorenzo Tañada in a privilege speech warned against moral degeneration that the national leadership should nip in the bud or it would grow into a monster to devour the Filipino nation. The leaders of the young Republic and in the succeeding years ignored him. Today the monster has enslaved Filipino leaders and is in no mood to leave.
It was perceived that among Filipinos, morality broke down during the Pacific phase of World War II (December 8, 1941 – August 15, 1945). As reconstruction started after the war, schemers and opportunists driven by greed scrambled to regain lost wealth, social prominence and political power. In the fight for survival and supremacy, morality was trampled on.
[HISTORICAL NOTE: President Sergio Osmeña returned with Gen. Douglas McArthur at the Leyte landing on October 20, 1944. On February 25, 1945, the Commonwealth Government was restored. The surviving members of the National Assembly formed the First Commonwealth Congress; the surviving elected local government officials were returned to their offices. Appointees must have filled the positions of those who had died during the war. Among the first acts of Government was to seek international aid to rehabilitate the people. – PPD]
The international effort to relieve and rehabilitate Filipino war victims bred the first post-war scandal. President Osmeña’s return to Malacañang brought relief goods from the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. People close to him sold some of these goods to be known as UNRRA scandal. This was among the issues that led to his defeat in the April 1946 general election – ending his short presidency, August 1, 1944 to May 28, 1946.
They were signs that appeared prophetic. With graft and corruption among the main election issues, no sitting president of the Republic won a reelection except Ferdinand E. Marcos, who deftly marshaled corruption in aid of his reelection. And the extent of corruption increased from president to president. President Elpidio Quirino, the second president, was accused of buying a P5,000-urinola (bed pan).
Most prophetic was Tañada’s privilege speech.
Elected high officials used brazenly their positions to enrich themselves. Most lucrative to these officials but most disastrous to the people were the laws passed by Congress opening Philippine forests to the logging industry for the reason that the country needs revenues for development. Japan was in need of logs for its booming plywood industry.
No scheme could be more treasonous. While revenues from logging created billionaires out of concessionaires – some were members of Congress, their relatives and cronies – the Philippines remained undeveloped after most of the forests had disappeared. On paper the laws were good but, apparently, never intended to be followed. Now, while the logging billionaires have expanded their business empires, the communities below the denuded mountains are at the mercy of devastating flash floods and landslides.
There emerged another industry – influence peddling. People close to the President, top Palace officials and leaders of Congress used their influence to obtain for big business interests special laws, concessions, or other favors. Fat kickbacks were the meat of stories about scandals from influence peddling which could be dug up from the archives of national newspapers.
Governments would design economic programs and projects with huge funding and create development agencies as implementers. When the programs and projects failed, the agencies were abolished and new ones established under new names to undertake new programs and projects. Had all such programs and projects succeeded, the Philippines would have become a paradise. How these programs and projects failed due to corruption in various forms and shapes would fill volumes.
The above were just among the many more — all rooted in moral degeneration. Had Tañada’s warning been heeded, could Philippine bureaucracy have taken a different direction under a different environment? This is crying over spilt milk.
Rule of Law
Rule of law is the byword of Philippine bureaucracy. The test of the rightness of any act is the rule of law. Perceived or apparent wrong is not wrong if justifiable under the law. But this virtue can at the same time be vicious because of legal loopholes.
These loopholes take the form of ambiguous legal construction, exception, exemption, discretion, etc. They play into clever and unscrupulous minds to run around laws, to weaken or bend them to satisfy selfish interests. Exploitation of legal loopholes has subverted justness and public good. In courts, it delays justice in the name of freedom and right.
Through legal loopholes the country has lost – will continue losing — billions and billions of pesos in tax money. For efficient tax collection on sales of goods and services, the VAT (Value Added Tax) was adopted. But in practice, the issuance of official receipt is not strictly enforced. BIR (Bureau of Internal Revenue) notices posted in various places of business reminding customers to ask for official receipts imply that the burden of enforcing the issuance of official receipts is on the customers. Few customers bother to.
A few examples will suffice. Many good-size bakeries and eateries just list down their sales. Do they honestly enter all their sales in the official receipts? Hardware stores issue delivery receipts instead of official receipts. Sales in private, public and central markets are mostly not receipted. By the big volume of sales of fish, meat and other foodstuffs without official receipts, the government must be losing much in taxes. The diversion to business pockets of the tax for goods and services is corruption.
Before, official transactions were done with two or three officials. Now, for safeguard against fraud, these would pass many hands. The delay in the processing of papers abets bribery – petty, big and in forms other than money. It is known that in the Bureau of Customs syndicated bribery and smuggling are thriving – most probably not just to evade taxes but to circumvent long delay in the processing of release papers.
The rule of law, in many instances, is an irony, a paradox. The greater irony and paradox: This has been publicly accepted.
Two brothers, nepotism and cronyism, and their father, patronage, are the triumvirate in systemic corruption. Patrons keep power and share this power and the privileges and perks of governance to their same-minded and same-interest prone relatives (nepotism) and associates (cronyism). This is perversion of democracy, the highest political ideal.
While President Ferdinand E. Marcos had cited the need to rid the country of the “pervasiveness” of “political corruption and moral degeneration” permeating “the whole of society” as one of his reasons in putting the country under martial law, nepotism and cronyism enjoyed his blessings as the supreme patron together with his wife during the 14-year martial law regime. He made a monster of the triumvirate.
Was President Corazon C. Aquino able to slay or banish from Philippine politics and society the triumvirate? That was among her mandates through the snap election. Had she done so, systemic corruption would have been history. She had her own blind side. She allowed the Marcosian triumvirate to creep back into power. Under different names, it has grown under presidents after Cory Aquino. In fact, the “Kamaganak, Inc.” that was associated with her presidency will never be forgotten.
Will President Aquino, the Son – through his “Social Contract with the Filipino People” and his “Daang Matuwid” policy — be able to illuminate his own blind side and do what President Aquino, the Mother, had left undone among her mandates?
(To Be Concluded)
(“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards recently honored Mr. Diaz with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)