WORM’S EYEVIEW: Election cases and the culture of impunity

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CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/05 June) — Questions on the recent elections, unresolved issues, remain hanging, twisting in the wind like ukay-ukay items on a laundry line awaiting disposition.

Will there ever be closure on the alleged “sweetheart deal” between Comelec Chairman Sixto Brilliantes and Smartmatic? How about the 60-30-10 formula that was suspected to have informed the vote count? Was there a Comelec-PPCRV conspiracy? Why was Gus Lagman, arguably the only techno-savvy member of the Commission, let go? Many other issues, local and national, remain on the Pending Tray of our republic.

Closure on public issues is important. How many cases from previous elections were resolved just days short of the May 13 elections? How many were never decided? To leave cases pending or unresolved is like having stale air or an offensive odor hover in a room. You can’t ignore it and it creates discomfort or restlessness in sensitive people. To ignore them, saying they will be short-lived anyway, or that the Filipino has a short memory anyway, is to feed public cynicism or deepen what some refer to as the “culture of impunity.”

Impunity is defined as “exemption from punishment” or “freedom from injury.” Too many Filipinos indulge in reckless, thoughtless behavior, as if they enjoy impunity. Because authorities charged with enforcing the law allow people to get away with it, or drag their feet in resolving cases, people develop a cynical attitude towards the law and its enforcers. Result: faith in the government’s capability or resolve to curb wrongdoing or abuse is eroded.

This erosion of faith or trust partly explains why there is more criminality than can be expected in our society—a society of believers: Christian, Muslim, other faiths. It also accounts for the incidence of plunder, cheating, and other shameless behavior in high and low places. Not to resolve such cases promptly, or to let them be pending too long, is to give the impression that it’s okay to take a chance on wrongdoing, especially if the potential reward is great.

This dynamic holds a special appeal in a society like ours—where the impetus to gamble is everywhere: from almost hourly draws in Lotto to scratch cards promising instant cash winnings to weekly sweepstakes. There are so many incentives, public and private, to place a bet or engage in a game of chance.

Impunity is kindred spirit to gambling. What drives it is the reward, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that makes it worth the risk of getting caught. Getting caught is merely a function of luck. If you buy votes and get lucky, you get elected. If you cheat and win, you become a millionaire, even a billionaire, from Pork Barrel earnings. Becoming rich, becoming an important official is a reward worth taking a chance on. If you don’t make it, well, too bad, bad luck. If anyone tells you it’s wrong to buy votes or to cheat, well, everyone does it anyway. And even if you agree it’s wrong, you can always go to confession and be forgiven if you’re a Catholic!

Whenever cases lay unresolved or a crime goes unpunished, the Culture of Impunity gets a boost. The subliminal message is: go ahead even if what you’re thinking is criminal, go ahead and violate it because, who knows, you could get lucky and no one will arrest you! Besides, maybe it’s not a crime after all because others are doing it and no one is running after them! The Culture of Impunity encourages others to commit wrongdoing.

From barangay to municipio or city, to province and region, throughout the nation, this kind of thinking goes on because the laws are belittled or the law enforcers are remiss. The Culture of Impunity drives traditional politicians (trapos, young and old) to play greedy, reckless, corrupt politics. Unconcerned about the consequences of public cynicism, dissatisfaction or disgust, they commit improper, illegal acts. They do so in the belief that they will not be held accountable or punished anyway. “Let people grumble,” they’ll say. “Let them raise their voice or complain—nothing will happen anyway! Besides, I can always bribe my way out!” That’s what goes on in the minds of trapo candidates and criminal campaigners because of the Culture of Impunity.

Then, even as political dynasties proliferate, squeezing every ounce of power and privilege they can extract from the community, no one complains or challenges them. No one denounces their vanity. No one stops the greed for power. No one questions unceasing quest for enrichment at the expense of the community. People blithely get away with being self-indulgent, focused on their ego-centric agendas.

It all springs from the idea that there’s nothing wrong with corruption or from being self-serving where the Culture of Impunity reigns, because it’s how everyone is, including the bureaucracy. And this goes on despite the multitude of lawyers and countless laws on the books, spreading unconcern about wrongdoing, promoting acceptance of it as normal–especially among people with no expectation of reward from an abstract idea called Rule of Law.

Then the part played by luck in one’s life assumes a higher importance. And that’s why gambling and the Culture of Impunity will always be with us! (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Manny Valdehuesa is the president and national convenor of Gising Barangay Movement Inc. He can be reached at [email protected])

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