There’s the Rub

Corruption, too

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Those who’ve written about it are perfectly justified in their outrage. That is Juan Ponce Enrile distributing P1.6 million in bonus to his favorite senators, who are most of them, and “only” P250,000 to his not-very-favorite ones, who are Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Antonio Trillanes, Alan Peter Cayetano and Pia Cayetano.

The problem is not the disparity in the amount of the Christmas gifts given to the two groups, which is what Santiago has been harping on over the last few days. She has gone to town questioning the criteria Enrile used in making the division of spoils, which question she herself has answered by suggesting that it was a bribe to the tractable to keep him as Senate President. The four are past bribing—at least on that issue. Hence they are being made to pay for it.

Their colleagues of course are pissed off for being depicted as tractable. Ping Lacson shot back: “He or she who is questioning (Enrile’s action) should be consistent and should not have accepted the P600,000 given last November. One cannot preach righteousness after committing the very same unconscionable act yesterday.” Gregorio Honasan for his part says those who are complaining to the media anonymously “should join the Witness Protection Program.”

They miss the point, and reveal only their utter blindness and deafness to what’s happening outside their air-conditioned rooms. Who the hell cares about their intramurals except themselves? What matters is that they are the anak-ng-Diyos, or anak-ng-whatever, beneficiaries of those things, and the fact that Santiago can complain about the grievous injustice of being given “only” P250,000 can only deepen our impression of their insulation from the people they are supposed to serve.

The atrocity in the P1.6 million given to the 18 senators—and  the P250,000 given to the four,  and  the P600,000 given to all of them last November—Leonor Briones shows in a comparison. In the National Housing Authority, employees are being asked to refund the bonuses they got in previous years. The maximum allowable for government offices is P10,000. Only the President, Senate President, House Speaker, Chief Justice and heads of constitutional commissions can give more at their discretion. In the NHA’s case, retiring employees face the prospect of having their “excess bonus” from past years deducted from their retirement pay. Some by as much as P200,000, which is less than what Miriam and company got in one fell swoop, but which is an absolute fortune—which stands to be lost—for them.

But there’s one very big rub. That is that while this is clearly immoral, while this is obviously unjust, while this is patently obscene, it is also perfectly legal. It is perfectly legal because the law says that the officials named above may distribute amounts to their people at the end of the day, or year, as they please from their savings. The problem is not in the application of the law, the problem is the law itself.

You have to wonder in the first place about the concept of “savings.” You have to wonder how in God’s name any government office in this country, elective or appointive, can possibly save anything given the enormous, dire, life-and-death needs of their constituents. You have to wonder how, in the face of Congress moving heaven and hell to ratify the sin taxes because government badly needs the money to rescue the country from the wages of sin, or the clutches of deprivation, the Senate and House can possibly end up with savings to give to their members.

“Savings” in fact is institutionalized corruption. It is not a virtue, it is a vice. It has nothing to do with frugality and scrupulousness, it has to do with profligacy and unscrupulousness, the sums deliberately withheld from projects that benefit the people then allocated to programs that benefit those behind the savings. Before the savings can revert to the national treasury, with a pat on the back for being abstemious, the office gives it to itself through various ruses.

You define corruption as the appropriation of taxpayers’ money for personal gain, then this is corruption pure and simple. One sanctioned not just by long-held practice and tradition but by law.

All of which only shows how deeply rooted and tangled corruption is, and how beyond presidential resolve you need other things to push it back. Chief of them public opinion, public pressure, public opprobrium.

Someone like Enrile decides to play Santa Claus with your money, you can’t fight it legally, short of fighting to amend, or scrap, the law itself. But you can fight it morally, by public opinion, by heaping scorn on those who practice it—not quite incidentally by making sure that their children do not get voted into public office and that the values of their fathers are visited upon them.

You can fight it by telling the senators, whether they got P1.6 million or P250,000, whether the division of spoils is “hating  kapatid” or hating  gabi: You should be ashamed of yourselves you have the gall to accept things like this while the street children sleep in the streets, while the traffic cop grows tubercular from inhaling the traffic smoke. You have a heart, you have a conscience, why don’t you donate all that money to the cause of the NHA employees so their retirement pay, which is nowhere near what you get in a month, will remain intact?

I’m glad the commentators have been riled by this, but the question is, when will the public follow suit? When will we all get furious at this? When will we all go beyond making text jokes out of this? When will we start mounting a campaign against the kapal in the way we have done against the epal? This is appalling too, this is disgusting too:

This is corruption, too.

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