The occasion was grand—the 5th conference of the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption (Gopac). The venue was grand—the PICC. And P-Noy’s message was grand. “The message of our times is clear,” he said. “The gap between rich and poor, between the powerful and the powerless, has become too huge. Too many people are being left behind. (That) inequity is borne of corruption.”
There was only one problem, which you saw in the pictures that appeared on the newspapers. While the foreign delegates pressed around him excitedly, the President sat on the front row flanked by several people. They were Juan Ponce Enrile, Jojo Binay and Edgardo Angara.
You can’t subvert a message more thoroughly than that.
Binay of course is the vice president and had every reason to be there. But he is a vice president who, like the one he replaced, is caught in the vise of charges of corruption. He has managed to build a reputation of sorts of being a Robin Hood, particularly in Makati, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. The giving to the poor displayed through the University of Makati, an arguably grand institution that provides quality education to indigents, particularly residents of Makati, and various housing and livelihood programs for them.
But his critics at least will say stealing from the rich is still stealing and, anyway, it’s not confined to the rich, it’s not just the rich that pay taxes. Moreover, they will say that the second part of the equation is not always true: he gives far more to himself than to the poor.
Angara had a reason to be there too, though that reason is frightening. He is the newly elected chair of Gopac, the one person who is supposed to lead parliamentarians in the fight against corruption. He has become so while embroiled in a controversy in Quezon province, his turf. Serge Osmeña exposed him some months ago, savaging the economic zone he put up in that far-flung place. It was Angara himself who sponsored the bill that created the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport Authority (Apeco) in 2007, way back in Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s time, which Arroyo’s administration was only too willing to fund for reasons that little owed to economic feasibility. And it is Angara himself, if Osmeña is to be believed, who has benefited from it.
Already costing P2 billion, says Osmeña, Apeco has not drawn a single foreign investor. Sporting an airstrip, Osmeña says, Apeco has seen only the Angaras flying in and out of it. Apeco has come under heavy fire from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines which this time around is in complete agreement with its flock. It has come under heavy fire from the priests of Aurora and Quezon, whose feet are far more firmly planted on the ground, or water, walking as they do with the farmers and fishers of the place. And it has come under heavy fire, or has been the object of protest marches, of the folk themselves who wonder why some are more anak ng Diyos—P2 billion is manna in one very parched desert—than others.
Enrile, of course, is the Senate President, so he had a reason to be there too. But he was also Ferdinand Marcos’ coarchitect of martial law and his right-hand man for much of it, and in that capacity virtually erased this country’s forest cover, so you don’t really know what reason he has for being there. He was one of the pillars of Arroyo’s rule, just as he was one of the pillars of Erap’s rule, quite apart from being one of the pillars of Marcos’ rule, all of whom have been prosecuted for and convicted of mind-boggling pillage, either actually or prospectively, so you don’t really know what reason he has for being there. He has recently figured in a scandal involving millions in gifts to his favorite senators, the unequal distribution of which became the object of ire, and complaint, of his nonfavorite ones, so you don’t really know what reason he has for being there.
I believe in P-Noy’s dedication to pushing corruption to the sea. I believe that he has led by example and is leading by example, and that whatever you say about him, you cannot say that he personally does not practice what he preaches. He is neither hungry for wealth nor for power, the two things that have bedeviled, and doomed, his predecessors, with the exception of his mother. No one is better qualified for the task. No one is more determined to carry out the task.
But I also believe that how you get to where you are going is just as important as where you are going. And a great deal of how to get to where you are going depends on the company you keep, or the qualities of your fellow travelers. I don’t know that the cause of fighting corruption is greatly advanced by fellow travelers like these. They are not used to taking the straight path, they are used to taking the crooked one.
P-Noy himself points out the problem. “While these cases (the ousting of Renato Corona and the filing of charges against Arroyo) have an undeniable impact in our cultural milieu, without structural reform, another corrupt president might one day take over the reins of power, another chief justice might one day again betray the public trust.”
The problem is sustainability. The problem is preserving a legacy. On whose shoulders do you pass on the awesome task of stamping out the plague of the ages? After P-Noy goes, how do we know fighting corruption won’t go as well? Hell, the problem even more basically is, how do you take the one small step for decency, the one giant step for greatness? Enrile himself said recently that he doesn’t believe corruption can be ended in just one term by just one president. Well, with people like him there, it certainly won’t. Not in one term, not in a hundred.
Parliamentarians against corruption?