GENERAL SANTOS CITY, June 7, 2014 – “Daang matuwid” is a novel and defining fixture of the Aquino III administration. In full, the catch phrase really states: “Daang matuwid tungo sa magandang pamahalaan ó pamamahala”; in English, “Straight path towards good government or governance”. It is expected to permeate the Filipino national life and morality.
Whether it is a “mere catchword” or truly intended as the “way to reform” government that in the past, from president to president, was not only perceived as corrupt but known for systemic corruption only the state of morality in government and in national life when President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III steps down on June 30, 2016 will ultimately tell. The President and the Palace glow with optimism; but negative signs cannot and should not just be glossed over.
“Daang matuwid” has always been there since Manuel L. Quezon through which presidents should conduct government and lead the Filipino people. But there have been other paths to take for greater political, personal and other conveniences. President Aquino III only planted the “road sign” to point the way for his government and people to take. At the “ribbon cutting”, he proclaimed amidst applause the end of the “Wang-Wang” era.
Three years after, this should be asked: Is “daang matuwid”, once never or least traveled by, now the most and heavily trodden?
What It Must Be
Has President Aquino set the traffic rules and signs? Has he deployed traffic police and highway patrols? Daang matuwid, literally or metaphorically, is not self-regulating. It is liable to abuse and misuse by the arrogant and the self-privilege seekers.
As adopted by Aquino III, daang matuwid is a Tagalog metaphor for the right way of doing or conducting things. While “daan” is literally “road, way or path”, “matuwid” takes the moral meaning of “right”, not necessarily the physical meaning of “straight”. Sometimes, “landas”, meaning “foot or beaten path” the synonym of “daan” is used – hence, “matuwid na landas”.
As a metaphor, “daang matuwid” or “matuwid na landas” is not of the Tagalogs alone but of all Filipinos – an exhortation expressed in different Filipino dialects and languages. “Sundon ang matarong nga alagyan (Follow the right way)” is an Ilonggo teaching. It’s Christian; Islam also.
For government reform and national transformation, daang matuwid must be a moral highway – just, orderly, efficient, disciplined, corrupt free – linking the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government and the three to the Filipino people. The by-word is: “Change!”
Has there been change to the correct way of doing things, of conducting government? If the old way (dating daan) scandalized, the new way (daang matuwid) must inspire. Is the “IF” real? Has it been realized?
What It Is
The PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund) scandal has exposed the reality: “UNREAL!” – No “Ifs”, no “Buts”; a siren’s song on the wings of rhetoric! That’s “daang matuwid”.
President Corazon C. Aquino revived the pork barrel system naming it “CDF” or “Countryside Development Fund”; it became “CID” or “Congressional Initiative Fund” under President Fidel V. Ramos and “PDAF” under President Joseph E. Estrada in 2000. The General Appropriations Acts (GAAs) the Congress passes annually since the first President Aquino provides safeguards for the use of the pork barrel. However, these have been blurred gradually through 2010.
In the GAAs under President Aquino III, the safeguards in the use of the PDAF have virtually become discretionary on the part of the members of the Congress. This is change – daang matuwid!
According to the exposé – and confirmed by the COA (Commission on Audit) audit reports – the scam started as early as 2002 or earlier. It did not stop with the ascendancy of the Aquino III era but continued through. This is change – daang matuwid!
When the exposé triggered the public outcry for the abolition of the PDAF, President Aquino III rejected the outcry – defending the PDAF as necessary for the poor. But to preempt a million-strong people power rally ala Edsa he turned 360 degrees around declaring in a nationwide address to abolish the PDAF. This is change – daang matuwid!
After the Supreme Court had declared the PDAF or any form of pork barrel unconstitutional, President Aquino III still continued justifying the PDAF as the way for members of the Congress to help their constituents and in return to be reelected. He was perpetuating political patronage with the use of public funds. This is change – daang matuwid!
Ruby Tuason, one of the seven charged of plunder before the Sandiganbayan together with three senators returned P40 million of her alleged loot from the PDAF. She has become a state witness and has been given immunity from plunder charge. This is change – daang matuwid!
Jane Lim-Napoles, the known brain of the PDAF scam and one of the first ten charged with plunder together with the three senators and Tuason has been reported as proposing to return P2 billion of her loot in exchange for immunity from plunder and becoming a state witness. Thank the Ombudsman! She rejected it and indicted Napoles at the Sandiganbayan yesterday, June 6, together with three senators and five others. Had this materialized, what a change it would have been – daang matuwid!
Had the Janet caper been allowed, President Aquino III would have been more despicable than President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, now in detention for plunder, etc. What did she do? Then President Estrada was convicted of plunder after six years of trial. Even before the verdict could be promulgated, fearing the ire of Estrada’s legions of adorers, she had the presidential pardon ready for issuance soon after the promulgation.
The litany does not end here. Those interested may continue it. They can examine the state of politics; of the justice system; of wage, labor and capital; of commerce, consumers and prices, etc., etc. They can look at media, at public cynicism. Is daang matuwid there? Like born losers, they may find that “daang matuwid” is a thing that never has been and never will be.
In exposing daang matuwid, the PDAF scandal has put President Aquino III’s leadership in acid test. Can he eradicate systemic corruption within the last three years of his administration? His first three years has not been inspiring.
When Estrada was charged, detained without bail and tried soon after his ouster, his conviction was expected to be a big deterrent to grand corruption. But Arroyo’s pardon gave impunity to the rich, the politically powerful, the influential and the popular. Arroyo failed her acid test.
The PDAF scandal does not involved one man but corruption that has become an institution through the conspiracy of the rich, the influential and the powerful in government and outside of government. To dismantle this institution, President Aquino III has to prosecute his political allies and the political opposition at the risk of being accused of political persecution. He has to contend with legal practitioners who, with the right money, are adept in bending or corrupting the legal system to make the scammers stay out of jail.
This is a tall order. Will he pass his acid test?
All eyes are on him. Where is his daang matuwid? If he can put all the PDAF scammers in jail and have the stolen billions recovered, the Executive and the Congress will be rid of corruption. The Judiciary and the people will get the message: change and follow the daang matuwid.
If he fails? No Change! [“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You may e-mail your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org]