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COMMENTARY

Where the problem lies

05:06 AM December 20, 2017

Impunity. Corruption. Twin evils confronting our society. Or at least two of the fearsome snakes of a hydra-headed monster in whose grip we are trapped. Or have we become the monster ourselves?

Rule of law, transparency, accountability. Principles we claim to observe. Or at least three of them. In addition, there are the Ten Commandments, the Civil Code, the Penal Code, the Constitution, our vow of fidelity, traffic rules, internet etiquette … The list is endless.

The problems that confront us are complex because society has grown complex. Of necessity, a high degree of social organization demands rules to govern relationships and settle disputes. We need to have a rule for everything, from love to war, from cradle to grave. But in the thicket of rules and directives, we often lose our way. To begin with, either the rules are external to us or we feel they do not apply to us. Thus, the impunity. Because otherwise, if we value something, we do not disregard it in cavalier fashion.

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With values, or the lack of them, or the wrong ones, where do we begin? In the home, but many Filipino families are parentless or broken, courtesy of the diaspora caused by economic necessity. But it is this diaspora that is among the pillars of our economy, with our overseas workers pumping in billions of dollars to drive our consumption, from the latest electronic gadgets to real estate.

If our families are dysfunctional, schools, churches and the media should take up the slack and help make sure we are imbued with the right values and the discipline to observe them. But many cases show how our schools and other value-teaching institutions have failed. Witness a fraternity of lawyers and law students in the country’s Pontifical University — a university older than Harvard, we proudly say — clearly conspiring to lie and evade responsibility in the hazing death of a new fraternity applicant. If our advocates for justice have no qualms about doing injustice, woe to us hapless citizens. The terrible thing is, we would probably do the same thing if we were in their place!

Is money the root of all evil in a society where thievery and corruption are so rife they plague even the highest levels of our banking system, where financial integrity is supposed to be sacrosanct? Yet the paper money we have is inherently worthless. Money has value because it is supposed to be imbued with toil, preferably honest, not because it was gained through manipulation and deceit.

Where the problem lies is within us and outside of us. We may not be able to do much about what is outside of us, but about ourselves we can do a lot. For how do we deal with the complexity of the
hydra-headed monster in whose grip we are trapped? With simplification and basic human values. But then again simplification also unleashes a host of complications. The police simplify the drug problem by physically eliminating the drug users. But by so doing they cut a lot of corners, commit bigger injustices, and create a cauldron of aggrieved families.

Our answer to complexity seems to be greater complexity. Each new law is accompanied by equally lengthy “implementing rules and regulations.” Every trial judge has to wade through folders of documents for every case he or she handles, thickening as each year passes. No wonder it takes up to 10 years to decide a court case. Not counting the appeals that will follow.

Just as regulation plays catch up to innovation, so does social order play catch up to unbridled self-interest. Where the rule of law is skewed toward the rich and powerful, justice is absent. Impunity exists because the powerful get away with murder and plunder, and the state is weak or hostage to the rich and powerful.

In the end, it boils down to the simplicity of individual decision-making, with basic values as our guide. What we need is to rediscover our humanity and the humanity of others. Not the humanity of frailty and spinelessness that is prone to evasion and corruption, but the ennobling humanity of responsibility and strength.

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Roderick Toledo is a freelance communication projects manager.

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TAGS: culture of impunity, Inquirer Commentary, Roderick Toledo
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