Making a stand for truth and accountability
The 5,000-strong pro-Corona demonstration, comprising mainly of employees of the Supreme Court and the Judiciary, as well as members of a religious group, made front-page news and prime-time TV last week. The demonstrators expressed their full support for Chief Justice Renato Corona, notwithstanding the preponderance of evidence that over P30 million, and still counting, of his assets were undervalued or not reported in his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs).
The demonstration was both pathetic and disturbing. Pathetic in that the participants looked so silly for remaining so loyal to one who appears to be a disgrace not only to the Supreme Court but also to the entire Philippine Judiciary and the country as a whole. And disturbing for the fact that many of these people probably sincerely believed in the reason for the demonstration.
More disturbing though is the fact that the Management Association of the Philippines, the Financial Executives Association of the Philippines and the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, three of the top business organizations in the country, unlike the Makati Business Club, have opted to keep quiet on, and appear indifferent to, this gripping national issue. Their silence, perhaps without their realizing it, contributes to the travesty of integrity, transparency and accountability, and justice in our country. The search for truth takes the back seat, and the distortion of truth is accepted as a fact of life. How can our country truly move forward when our key organizations continue to refuse to take the side of the truth and to demand accountability? This attitude promotes unbridled corruption, which diminishes the attractiveness of the Philippines as an investment destination. We need to learn from the Indonesian experience, where concerted anti-corruption efforts are viewed as a key factor in the substantial growth of investments in that country.
The silence would be understandable if the issues touched directly on religious values and beliefs, such as the reproductive health bill, which are indeed very contentious. But in instances where the accusation appears to stand on solid basis, or where the truth is being emasculated and the supporting evidence is continually blocked as inadmissible, such silence is deafening. Perhaps during the Arroyo administration, concerns about possible reprisals were not totally unfounded. As we know, the past administration was perceived to be akin to a crime syndicate that had the three branches of government, including the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines, in its pocket. But this is clearly no longer the case at present. Thus, the inaction and indifference of these organizations would seem to reflect the failure of their leaders to realize that their silence could be interpreted as an act of acquiescence or surrender to the culture of corruption. The way many of the senator-judges are behaving, they could very well make a judgment based not on truth and accountability but on legal technicalities. Unless the citizenry and the country’s major business organizations state categorically the primacy of truth and accountability in this case, some of the senator-judges may be lulled into believing that the people do not care at all and they might just vote for the acquittal of the accused despite the overwhelming evidence against him.
These organizations have for members and directors the top minds in corporate Philippines and should therefore have a better appreciation of the facts. Their opinions matter in that they can be more objective, unlike some radio, TV and newspaper commentators and reporters who are obviously paid lackeys or clearly biased in favor of the past administration, or simply against the reforms that our country needs. The ordinary citizen needs the help of these more knowledgeable leaders to appreciate the facts and to see, and be guided by, the truth.
The lame excuse oftentimes used for the silence of these organizations is that their members are not unanimous in their opinion, and to make a stand on this “contentious” issue would be divisive. However, these organizations can easily address this problem and at the same time have their voices heard, by doing a simple survey among their respective members and by publishing the results. The survey could have three simple questions that may be answered by “Yes,” “No,” or “Don’t Know”:
1. Do you think that Chief Justice Renato Corona did not report correctly in his SALNs his bank deposits, investments and real properties?
2. Do you think he should be convicted by the impeachment court?
3. Do you think at least 16 senator-judges will convict the Chief Justice?
The ongoing impeachment trial is a litmus test of the country’s resolve in the fight against corruption. The acquittal of the Chief Justice will send a disturbing message to the world that we are a hopeless case. This will create the impression that corruption is so embedded here such that the corrupt cannot be held accountable, which will make us unattractive to foreign investments. We need these investments to generate job opportunities for our people and pull our country out of poverty.
David L. Balangue is the chairman of the Coalition Against Corruption and is a former chairman and managing partner of SyCip Gorres Velayo & Co. Comments could be sent to email@example.com