Joining Magalong’s lonely crusade | Inquirer Opinion

Joining Magalong’s lonely crusade

/ 05:09 AM July 13, 2023

Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong dragged out into the open last week what has long been common knowledge, albeit whispered about behind closed doors: How unscrupulous legislators and local officials have been enriching themselves through tainted infrastructure projects at the expense of Filipino taxpayers.

In a television interview, Magalong said: “I had a chance to talk to several contractors. I asked them assuming that I will take a cut from infrastructure projects, how much will it be? And they said about 10 percent to 15 percent or 20 percent to 25 percent, depending on the decision of the mayors or the lawmakers.”


His words reveal that while the pork barrel system had been outlawed by the Supreme Court, its spirit of patronage lives on, allowing crafty public officials to exploit loopholes, rig public biddings, and earn fat commissions from government projects. Many of them earn extra as they—or their friends and relatives—double as contractors and suppliers as well. With other personnel involved in approving the winning bid getting their own cut, contractors have to make do with that’s left, leading them to scrimp on labor hours and materials. “In short, if the project is worth P100, they [would] have to settle for P42.50 to P55, including their profit. So they will be forced to make substandard projects,” Magalong said.


Given this pervasive corruption and wastage of public funds, the retired police general said it had become difficult for military and uniformed personnel to accept the prospect of contributing part of their income to their pension fund to stave off possible “fiscal collapse,” especially since legislators seem unwilling to do their part in fighting corruption. While those “in the uniform[ed] services are willing to give up a small amount of our pension to help the national government” in its “huge deficit,” Magalong said “it’s about time” for legislators to contribute in addressing “national government issues, especially our financial debts.”

But Magalong, a known crusader for good governance, is not holding his breath that action would be taken, since even his colleagues have discouraged him from harping on the issue as he would be stepping on some big toes. But Magalong is determined to wage this battle, no matter how lonely it is. In February, he filed his fourth graft complaint against the head of the Baguio City district engineering office of the Department of Public Works and Highways over an P88-million bridge that, he said, was improperly constructed and used substandard materials.


“I don’t expect anything adverse or drastic on the part of our legislators. I don’t think so. What is important is I’m raising awareness of the ill effects of corruption … hoping we will be able to change the mindset of our people [who] should now demand good governance from their political leaders,” said Magalong. As he rightly pointed out, corruption has a direct correlation with poverty and reduced income, with the poor being the most affected. After all, every peso pocketed by these reprobate individuals means one peso less for public services and social development projects. In 2019, then Deputy Ombudsman Cyril Ramos estimated that the country was losing P700 billion a year to corruption, equivalent to about 20 percent of the annual budget of the government. That the Philippines was characterized as a “significant decliner” among Asia-Pacific countries on Transparency International’s 2022 global corruption index has also affected its ability to attract job-generating foreign investments, which again affects the millions of unemployed and underemployed among us.

To be sure, Magalong’s uncompromising stand against the unremitting greed of some public officials has also gained support from his allies, including former senator Panfilo Lacson, his fellow retired police general who fought against the pork barrel system. “A message to Baguio City Mayor Magalong on his good governance, transparency, and accountability advocacy: It is going to be a long, hard, and lonely crusade. When you look around you, don’t get frustrated that no one is there fighting with you,” Lacson tweeted, “Still, may the force be with you.”

But why should Magalong be alone in this fight? Shouldn’t we, the Filipino people, join his crusade and demand good governance since our taxes pay for it? It is easy to sink into despair and resignation, since corruption seems deeply rooted in our system and efforts to uproot it sound futile. That is exactly the attitude that disreputable officials are banking on. Because, for sure, evil thrives when good folk do nothing. “We have to do what is right even if it is something unpopular,” Magalong said.

If the connivance between corrupt contractors and officials is common knowledge, is the new Marcos administration also going to look the other way and let this pernicious system persist? It is also about time that Filipinos themselves demand accountability and an end to the wanton corruption that contributes to endless poverty.

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TAGS: Benjamin Magalong, Editorial

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