There are some people who are convinced that corruption will be a key issue in the 2016 election. They are convinced that it will be a basic consideration of people when they select the man or woman who will be president after PNoy.
I hope they are right, but I doubt it. Talking about corruption in this country is like talking about the weather. Everyone talks about it in the full knowledge that they can or will do nothing about it. And when they vote, they vote for a kababayan, kamaganak or some celebrity regardless of reputation for corruption.
I have also covered government long enough to know that corruption is like the traffic jams… we have accepted some amount of it and we seem resigned about being helpless to change the system.
We get genuine citizen shock now and then, like when the Napoles pork barrel kickbacks first came to light. I am even surprised things progressed as far as getting three sitting senators in jail. But that too seems destined to become background noise sooner than necessary to produce change.
Corruption is not inherently Filipino. It plagues nations all over the world. It came as a package deal when the Americans introduced their brand of democracy to us. And we have improved on it since then. American politicians steal 10 or maybe 20 percent of a project budget. In the Napoles cases, 100 percent is being stolen.
For us Filipinos, we cannot think of government without thinking about corruption. From the lowly MMDA or barangay traffic aides to members of Congress and Cabinet members, we automatically assume they want something extra when we deal with them. And we have found convenient social conventions to make everything look less detestable.
So that when PNoy suggested that a new regime of Matuwid na Daan is upon us, most of us could hardly avoid rolling our eyes or snicker. Of course we all know better. Now, four years into his watch, we are sad to say that even if PNoy himself seems to still be lily pure, Matuwid na Daan itself is a joke.
Take that controversy over the supposed attempt to extort some millions of dollars from Czech rail car suppliers. I found it strange that even if there was a need to protect the reputation of PNoy’s oldest sister who was implicated in it by the culprits seeking cover, Malacañang didn’t lift a finger.
Indeed, Malacañang spokesmen even sounded like lawyers for the government bureaucrat accused by the Czech Ambassador. I suspect that the attempt was part of a fund raising scheme of the Liberal Party.
The way it works… Aquino officials can continue to deny everything with a straight face because in truth, they were not getting anything. If at all, contributions would be made by grateful private parties to the Liberal Party.
That’s also what I suspect was behind the garlic cartel… and the anomalies in NFA rice importations. These are fund raising schemes to benefit the Liberal Party that would keep the hands of party members involved seem clean. We can expect more such schemes will be tried, and some will be successfully executed, as 2016 draws near.
As for investigations, it is easy to see that we don’t really want to get to the bottom of corruption allegations. We find it enough to talk about these… and sound outraged. Opposition politicians will even use the corruption allegations to serve their interests.
That’s what’s going on with the Senate hearings on the gold plated Makati parking building. The objective seems to be short term and not really to expose how the entire scheme was done and clean up the system.
It is easy to suspect that no one really wants to uncover everything publicly. The politicians exposing today’s incumbent politicians would want to use the same strategy of accumulating and hiding spoils of corruption once they get into power.
If we want to really know the full story, the Senate must follow the money. COA is only helpful up to a point because COA auditors, resident or head office based, become part of the scheme or are too intimidated to do a good job. I even doubt if there are any Filipino forensic accountants ready to put career and life on the line to expose the real story.
There may be a need to hire foreign forensic accounting experts to trace the flow of money in suspect deals. There is a need to go beyond the obvious.
For example, favored contractors of government buildings may be guilty not only of overpricing. The bigger story is in possibly actually safekeeping the politician’s share of the loot.
A big construction company is the perfect place to hide such large amounts of money in plain sight… since the construction business involves large amounts of money anyway. Usual audit procedures are not likely to uncover such things easily. The BIR may even find it difficult to do an honest audit because of the strong political links of the big construction firms.
And in the case of that parking building, it would require a foreign expert to put a value on the structure on an as built basis. If they are not doing this yet, then we know they are not serious about that corruption investigation.
We also need to give our Ombudsman more teeth. Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales told an audience of Filipinos in London this week that she needs more powers to be effective. Among others, she wants the power to freeze accounts of public officials about to be subjected to investigation. She said it makes no sense to alert them by seeking a court order to do it.
Justice Morales is right. The anti-corruption agency of Indonesia had been effective because they had real powers. But don’t expect our Congress to pass such a law. Indeed, the SALN should have a paragraph declaring that the public official is waiving his or her rights under the bank secrecy law.
Still, I wonder if there is hope for a better Philippines, one where corruption is not a way of life. Mayo Lopez, a professor at the AIM posted his thoughts on that big topic on one of my e-groups:
I suspect we are living in at least two mind worlds and several real world contexts in our exchanges.
One mind world comes from our past – the mind world of the idealistic college student of the 1950s to 1960s, schooled in the best thought traditions of the Anglo-American mind.
But we also have a sub-conscious mind world, one we prefer not to think about, but which has always affected us especially when the real world context is here in the Philippines.
Our real world context in the Philippines is a society that hasn’t quite jelled into a nation – strictly defined, not just a geo-political reality enforced by a colonial master who wanted to leave hastily. We are an agglomeration of “tribes” that have not learned to fully trust each other. And even within these “tribes”, the group we truly trust are those we consider “kapamilya at kaibigan” – marahil puede ng isama ang isa pa, “ka-uri”.
Unfortunately, some quiet, subtle changes – not for the better – have happened in the way our children and grandchildren have been formally educated. And the formal thoughts they have been schooled in are no longer, in a real sense, the thought traditions we were schooled in.
Take the concepts of civics and citizenship. Very different. Take the knowledge of country and peoples. We had a subject called “Philippine Geography”. They do not, and as I looked at the materials on the country my boys received in the elementary and high school, I was appalled.
Then I find out that putative presidential candidates giving vehicles to provincial governors and town mayors when he pays them a visit is not considered vote buying. It is mandatory “gift giving”, that quaint practice in feudal society when one overlord visits the domain of another overlord. It is only vote buying when money, not goods and services, changes hands.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg. It gets worse. I think many of our exchanges are centered on addressing symptoms.
Going back to all our corruption talk, if we really want to go to the bottom of things, we should just follow the money flow. In today’s Big Data world, that is easily done.
There aren’t any real hiding places left. Mining Big Data is how to uncover the roots of corruption that has so plagued us all these years. But we won’t dare to really know.
Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco