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‘Utang na loob’ fells Noynoy

The day before Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales ordered the criminal indictment of former president Benigno Aquino III, she talked of the dangers of “blind loyalty” to an official who appoints another to a government position. “Some people believe gratitude is a virtue,” she said in Japan’s television program “Direct Talk.”

Indeed, utang na loob, the moral obligation to reciprocate someone who has done a favor, is a very important value in Philippine society. Old folks in my family used to say that it is wiser to borrow money, even at usurious rates, than to ask a favor. Unlike monetary debt, a favor is not quantifiable and therefore is never fully paid. One who has utang na loob is forever in debt, they explained.

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That is why utang na loob has turned out to be a dysfunction at times. The one beholden is sometimes driven to do things against his or her principles to repay a debt of gratitude.

Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez was impeached for, among other complaints, her failure to take action against former president Gloria Arroyo with regard to the NBN-ZTE project. Arroyo had appointed Gutierrez Ombudsman. Many believed that it was a special favor Arroyo extended to Gutierrez as the latter did not have the credentials for the exalted position. For one thing, Gutierrez failed to pass the bar examination the first time she took it. The second time she did, she passed with only an average grade.

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Chief Justice Renato Corona was impeached for supposedly ruling in favor of former president Arroyo and her administration in some 19 cases. Corona would not have been chief justice if it were not for Arroyo. She appointed him chief justice in contravention of the constitutional provision that prohibits the president from making appointments two months before the presidential election up to the end of her term.

While Morales was appointed to the position of Ombudsman by then President Noynoy Aquino, she had no qualms in indicting him. Maybe she does not feel indebted to him. After all, she had been associate justice of the Supreme Court, a position not inferior to the position of Ombudsman.

Ironically, it seems that it is utang na loob that has placed Aquino in a dire situation. When then Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima strayed from P-Noy’s Straight Path—Purisima built a luxurious vacation house in Nueva Ecija, accepted a donation of P11 million for the renovation of his official residence in Camp Crame, and purchased a luxury car at a 70-percent discount—P-Noy defended him, saying he did not know Purisima to be “luxurious and greedy.”

When asked why he entrusted the mission to get Malaysian terrorist Marwan to the suspended Purisima, P-Noy explained that he continued to have trust and confidence in the former PNP chief. But there were speculations that his real intention was to reinstate Purisima as PNP chief if Marwan were captured or killed with only light casualties.

Responding to public puzzlement why he was so supportive of Purisma, he intimated that Purisima had saved his life during the coup attempt on his mother’s administration in August 1987.

In the wee hours of Aug. 28, 1987, rebel soldiers led by then Lt. Col. Gregorio Honasan attacked Malacañang. Noynoy, President Cory Aquino’s only son, was coming home to the Palace from a night out when his convoy was fired upon. He was wounded, and all his security escorts killed. Joseph Galleta, who was with Noynoy in the car, shielded him with his body, taking five bullets himself. Capt. Jose Angel Honrado, then the Presidential Security Group officer assigned to secure President Cory’s children, rescued Noynoy and Galleta from the rebel soldiers. There was no mention of Purisima, who was then the PSG intelligence officer, in the report of the fact-finding commission headed by Hilario Davide Jr., or in the media accounts of that incident.

There were newspaper reports that Purisima was out with Noynoy on the night of the coup attempt but there was no information on where they went. Both have kept the information secret to this day. Is it Noynoy’s reputation and not his life that Purisima saved? Whichever, he owes Purisima a debt of gratitude.

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Oscar P. Lagman Jr. has been an observer of Philippine politics since the 1950s.

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TAGS: Alan Purisima, Benigno Aquino III, conchita carpio-morales, Inquirer Commentary, Mamasapano massacre, Noynoy Aquino, Oscar P. Lagman Jr.
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