A vote of no confidence
Don’t let the view outside your window deceive you. That’s no romantic Parisian fog; it’s the city smog! I take little comfort in knowing that the haze is not a harbinger of another Taal eruption. Members of our government have thus given the same, now all too familiar advice: Mask up!
There seems to be no escaping face masks in the Philippines. Even before the not-so-new normal imposed by COVID-19, we Filipinos were ahead of the curve. In January 2020, when Taal Volcano erupted for the first time in 43 years, we raided our local drugstores and stockpiled face masks. Little did we know that our mask hoarding and price gouging would foreshadow the challenges that lay ahead. For the next three years, veiling our faces would become a matter of law.
The worst days of COVID-19 may be behind us, or so we would hope, but that doesn’t mean we can cast our N95 masks aside. As we live and breathe beneath the sullied skyline, face masks are here to stay. Our very own out-of-household staple.
We celebrated International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies (Sept. 7) and World Car-Free Day (Sept. 22) in the shadow of pollutants and vehicular emissions. Yet, alas, there’s more than just environmental pollution in the air. It’s thick with political intrigue, corruption, and the haze of misinformation. Indeed, news on the smog that contaminates our city is overshadowed by smoke and mirrors. By graft, bribery, and plunder.
Enter the Office of the Vice President’s (OVP) request for P250 million in confidential funds, ostensibly—and most ironically—for the “safe implementation of various projects and activities under the Good Governance program” in 2022. This request raises eyebrows given the cloud of corruption that has loomed over our nation for years.
COVID-19 may be the defining global pandemic of our time, but corruption is an endemic problem as old as time itself. We are all too familiar with the stories of public funds disappearing into private pockets, of the elected, the appointed, and the powers-that-be steal and then, after, steal more. Our nation’s pockets may run deep, but when it comes to corruption, avarice runs apace. Particularly, in Vice President Sara Duterte’s case, at a rate of almost P500,000 per hour. That is to say, at P125 million of confidential funds spent in just 11 days.
But interestingly, when we put the OVP’s expenditure into question, and rightfully so, it is not simply a money matter. Private siphoning of funds may be nothing new (we’ve seen it many times before in the shape of the “pork barrel” system, discretionary disbursements, etc.), but using the guise of “confidence” raises the stakes in an unfamiliar and unexpected way. By engaging in corruption through the medium of confidence, Duterte sets herself up against a much higher standard and, possibly, a much harder fall.
The terms “confidential” and “confidence” share etymological roots in the Latin term confidere (to have full trust). The misuse of P125 million is thus not only a pecuniary issue. It is a personal one. The matter on confidential funds is thus, at its heart, a matter of confidence. The OVP has asked us to place our trust in it with P125 million. Regrettably, we cannot.
Some may argue that the subpar state of government services in the Philippines is a result of a weak economy. “The Philippines is not a rich country,” so I’ve heard. But let’s be clear, our nation boasts an estimated GDP of P24.56 trillion! Yet, no matter how deep these pockets may be, greed knows no boundaries; it only hungers for more. However deep these pockets go, greed does not go only farther. It grows wider.
It is not only shocking, but disturbing that, in a country where 50 percent of Filipino families self-rate themselves as poor, where three million families endure involuntary hunger, and where 95 children succumb to malnutrition daily, the appetites and the avarice of the privileged few remain insatiable. Our country’s situation is not a case of lack of means but mismanagement. It provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs. Just not every man’s greed.
My journey in advocating for accountability and justice began in high school, participating in public rallies and calls for change. In 2008, I recall decrying the rampant corruption under the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo administration with a slogan simple yet profound: “Moderate your greed!” This wasn’t some starry-eyed plea for an unattainable utopia; quite the opposite. It was a pragmatic demand in an imperfect world that often takes too much and gives too back little.
Every Thursday for the past year and a half, I’ve had the distinct honor of dedicating this column to delve into these imperfections with the aim of understanding them not only better, but more deeply. Even now, as I briefly step away to continue my humanitarian work in Geneva, I hold onto the optimism that the solutions to age-old issues are within our grasp.
The problems of our time won’t disappear on their own. The political winds may shift and change, but these issues will not blow over. We must face them, steadfast, ready, and armed. With more than just thoughts, but with just thinking.