10:17 PM July 24th, 2013

By: Conrado de Quiros, July 24th, 2013 10:17 PM

I do think P-Noy’s tack of embarrassing or shaming or humiliating the errant or recidivist in the bureaucratic ranks is commendable. But it has its downside, too.

We saw it when he took Customs to task, along with Irrigation and Immigration, last Monday without naming names. We do know Customs is one of the most corrupt institutions on this planet, our Customs in particular, but we also know, or suspect, that it has sown a few good seeds there over the last three years. They now thrive, though tenuously, alongside the bad ones that continue to teem and riot there.

Those bad seeds will be the hardest things to root out: Customs is an “open sesame” to a fabled fortune; the sums to be made there by taking the less than straight and narrow path are absolutely mind-boggling. Tens of millions of pesos per week, if not per day, for well-ensconced officials. The temptation is huge, and most people in Customs are huge believers in Oscar Wilde’s witticism that the best way to deal with temptation is to yield to it.

In any case, what happened after P-Noy damned the office without naming names is that the wrong people felt referred to, the wrong people being the more honest ones, the good seeds in that funny farm. The right people, the more corrupt ones, the bad seeds in the funny farm, will never feel referred to. At the least because they have PR agencies who can always divert attention away from them by pointing to others. At the most because they have developed a talent, or thick hide, for not feeling referred to. Unless of course they are specifically named, the way P-Noy specifically named Augusto Syjuco, and probably not even then.

In short, you cannot shame someone who has no shame. But you can shame someone who does, who has something to lose in the good name that he has, who has something to lose in the honorable life he’s always led. Which stands to be taken away from him by something like this.

Such a one is Danilo Lim.

He was the first, and very likely only, casualty of the presidential castigation of Customs. He’s the only one who has tendered an irrevocable resignation. I doubt we’ll see a stream of similar resignations, let alone a flood.

It’s almost an irrevocable truism about the bureaucracy: Talo ang disente. The decent lose. Unfortunately, it’s not just they who lose, the government does, too, the citizenry does, too, the nation does, too.

Lim’s departure from Customs, if it proves truly final and irrevocable, will be a spectacular loss to it. It will be a massive loss to the government. He is quite possibly the most honest man in Customs. He is quite arguably at least one of the most decent persons in the government.

I met Lim years ago in Camp Crame; he was an inmate there after the failed coup attempts against Cory. I was visiting some of the leftist leaders there with whom the coup plotters were residing, and with whom, by dint of discussion and argument, they had formed friendships. It was easy for Lim to find a common ground with the other prisoners. He was an honorable enemy, the kind you respected far more than fickle, or opportunist, friends. Just as well, he ardently believed, and theorized (he was the brains in RAM), that for any military action to succeed against a corrupt leader, it needed more than swiftness and boldness and brute force. It needed the support of the people.

I wasn’t surprised at all when he led the “withdrawal of support” from Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2007 and got jailed again for his pains. He got out only after P-Noy became president.

More to the point, as far as Customs went, I remember him telling me his frustrations as Intelligence head of that office, how fighting smuggling seemed an epically arduous climb. What the right hand taketh away in raids and seizures of contraband, the left giveth back with interest, and there were more left hands than right.

Seeing how his financial fortunes seemed to have scarcely improved since he joined Customs, I asked him once how he himself dealt with the temptations of office.  He replied that of course the temptations were huge, the sums that were being hinted at, or plain dangled before him, were fabulous. Particularly for someone who wasn’t rich—he is one of very few high-ranking members of RAM who never got to be so—it was a veritable treasure.

But he never really wavered in his convictions. He always remembered, he said, his long years in prison, the years he spent often in isolation, removed from fellow officers and friends, whiling his time tilling a small plot of land and raising a brood of chickens. And he would ask himself: Did he go through all that just to throw everything away for this? It does put the relative value of things in perspective. It does offer new reflections on “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?”

Outside looking in, it’s the hardest thing to understand how someone who wasn’t being referred to should do something as rash or impetuous as resign. Which in fact opens him to intrigue, which the real culprits in Customs, or their official intrigador, also called PR, would only be too willing, and eager, to sow. But inside looking out, well, a good name is something to be prickly about, pride is something to be jealously protective about, honor is something to take in finicky, all-or-nothing, life-and-death terms. Those are the only precious things a good man has. Hell, those are the only things a good man has.

I still think Lim should rethink his resignation, or be made to. If not, a good man will be out of Customs, a good man will be out of the government. Given that looking for 10 just men at least in the first is like doing so in Sodom and Gomorrah, that is a horrendous shame.

That is truly sayang.

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