Corruption: A ‘matter of value’?
So much has been written about how our top government officials have squandered large amounts of taxpayer money, quite deviously, in the guise of creating “securitized” offices, even if the implementation of security measures is not part of their mandates. But if there is no limit to how these unscrupulous officials have mulcted government coffers for their personal gain, there should also be unlimited spaces for discussing why this anomalous behavior (or is it more of their way of life already?) is allowed to reach dizzying heights, in both manner and speed of spending millions of taxpayer money.
For the past two weeks, Congress has been deliberating on how P125 million was spent within less than a month—earlier debates mentioned 19 days, but later it was corrected to 11 days of spending spree by the Office of the Vice President in the last few days of December 2022.
But as several television news commentators have discussed in their respective news and public affairs shows, the question is no longer the speed of how the money was spent: whether 11 or 19 days, it really does not matter. What matters most is the magnitude of the amount being spent; it was like spending money as if there was no tomorrow.
This is not the first time we have heard of such a blatant display of avarice among our government officials. But the public discovery of this highly reprehensible behavior among our top public officials has hit us quite hard because of the multiple “storms” that have battered ordinary Filipinos like many of us. These range from adverse climate change impacts to daily increases in the prices of basic commodities. Here in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), the adverse effects of these storms are compounded in communities exposed to violent conflicts and palpable, imminent tensions, especially as the long-awaited barangay elections are expected to take place at the end of this month.
This splurging of hundreds of millions of pesos is taking place at a time when ordinary Filipinos are agonizing over how to scrimp on their meager incomes and how and where to get enough money to feed their families on a daily basis. This is in stark contrast to the situation of our highly paid top government officials who mulct millions of pesos for their future political ambitions or for costly trips overseas.
An official of BARMM has posted on the wall of his social media friend that such spending spree type of behavior and the apparent display of corruption is “just a matter of value.” Since he did not explain what he meant exactly with this phrase, we are left to interpret this comment as a way of condoning corruption at high levels in the national bureaucracy, and on the magnitude of government or taxpayer money being squandered. I would like to give this official the benefit of the doubt, by understanding his rather terse but intriguing comment as an acknowledgment that corruption is best seen as an individual choice of a government official. If it is, the official is to be called out and given sanction—and even haled into court, as provided for by law.
But this is what bothers me—if such action is considered “a matter of value” it implies that it should be tolerated, since it is an individual behavior, based on one’s sets of values. If this is so, there is something seriously flawed in the way government officials were socialized, both at their respective homes and in the schools where they were educated. Or is it the seductive appeal of immense political power that breeds greed among them? Whatever it is, perceiving obviously corrupt behavior as a matter of values has serious implications on how we should react to it—even to tolerate it as part of “individual differences” or choices of government officials, which are, unfortunately, done at ordinary Filipinos’ expense.
It also promotes a normalization of corruption, as something that is naturally expected of government officials. In the early years of this administration, corruption reached a point of being “normal” as a way of life among top and middle-tier level officials.
Telling us that corruption at high levels is just “a matter of value” is perhaps the regional government official’s way of expressing his unabashed support for this type of behavior among his idols in the national government. Or it could also be a calculated move to ensure the “sustainability” of his political career.
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