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Time to come clean

President Aquino took a huge gamble when he took on the then Chief Justice. Had he lost, his presidency would have been irreparably compromised. He’d have been a lame duck way ahead of time. But he won. His obsession with corruption is bringing results. The key question now is: Will the then Chief Justice’s comeuppance serve as the catalyst to go after others? With this President, there’s a good chance.

Let me quote the President: “Restoration of economic stability. Alleviation of the common man’s plight. Establishment of a dynamic basis for future growth. Solution to the problem of unemployment. Attainment of self-sufficiency in the staple food of our people, namely, rice and corn. Creation of conditions that will provide more income to our people—income for those who have none and more income for those whose earnings are inadequate for their elemental needs. Establishment of practices that will strengthen the moral fiber of our nation and reintroduce those values that would invigorate our democracy. Launching of a bold but well-formulated socioeconomic program that shall place the country on the road to prosperity for all our people.”

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“Trouble is, that was President Macapagal-Arroyo’s father talking in 1961—more than 40 years ago.”

I wrote this in a column in 2004, and I went on to say: “Yet it could all still be said today. Almost all the parameters of human life are worse here today than when I came here in 1975. Words are meaningless without action. When do we see action?”

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The year 2004 was 8 years ago, six of those ruled by Diosdado Macapagal’s daughter. We have reasonably good economic stability, but not a strong economy. Nothing else has improved. It can all still be said today.

Fifty years and the Philippines hasn’t improved the lot of the people. In people terms, in fact, the common man’s plight is far, far worse. During the late 1960s, around 17 million people were considered poor; some 930,000 were unemployed. In 2009 (latest official data available), some 23.1 million were poor and around 4 million were without jobs (SWS, whose numbers I’d trust more, says around 45 million considered themselves poor while some 11 million adult Filipinos were unemployed). The common man’s plight has definitely worsened. The dynamic base for future growth didn’t materialize. In the past 40 years, the Philippines grew at an average annual rate of 3.9 percent, Thailand 5.9 percent, Indonesia 6 percent and Malaysia 6.2 percent.

The changes the first Macapagal called for didn’t happen. The failure to achieve the growth potential that the 1970s promised for the Philippines didn’t happen because of serious societal flaws, nothing else.

The climate is no different elsewhere, the soil much the same, the people just as industrious. It’s the leadership and the way society is structured that is different and accounts for the slower growth. So it’s this that must be changed if the Philippines is to grow at 7 percent+, if the horrendous level of poverty is to be addressed. Corruption is one of the flaws, and one of the most important of those flaws. Dramatically reducing it can provide the necessary underpinning for later, sustained economic growth. And that economic growth must happen. So the President is on the right track when he focuses on corruption.

But there are other flaws, too, and one of them is the control of society by the same people for too long. The Constitution recognizes this, and the people acknowledged it in their vote for that Constitution. Dynasties must go. Will the President, with family in politics, be willing to address it? Fresh faces are needed in the leadership of the country. When a fine, honest, dedicated woman like former Gov. Grace Padaca can be persecuted by scum who will do anything to retain their hold on power, you know there’s a long way to go. It’s time Congress was forced to pass the antidynasty law that the Filipinos called for in their ratification of the Constitution. As the 1987 Constitution says: “The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.”

Those like Joseph Estrada, who think we should just leave the former Chief Justice be out of compassion, are exactly why top crime flourishes in this country. Estrada should be in jail for 40 years for plunder. He stole an estimated P4 billion from the people. This is not an allegation; this was affirmed in a court of law. In any other country he’d be in jail. The prime ministers/presidents of South Korea, Japan and Peru have gone to jail. Compassion wasn’t given. It’s a touching trait in the Philippines to forgive those who’ve transgressed. And in neighborly affairs, this is perhaps to be encouraged. But at the national level, there can be no compassion, only judgment of innocence or guilt, and guilt properly penalized.

Renato Corona may or may not have legitimately amassed the very large amount of money in his bank accounts; it’s exceedingly proper to find out. If he can prove innocence, fine. If he can’t, he must go to jail. And no pardon. The message must be sent to others: In the Aquino administration, you can’t get away with it. This is not vendetta or vindictiveness, it’s justice, something the Philippines has been depressingly too short of for far too long, and must now be corrected.

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Compassion only has a place in justice after judgment is given. And only then with extreme caution. Compassion for persons who held a senior position in society should be even more sparingly given. They have publicly betrayed the high trust given to them.

If Macapagal’s dream is to be realized, this is where it has to start—with a cleanup of this society. Examples must be set, exceptions can’t be allowed.

It’s time for a moral revolution. Then the economy can flourish.

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TAGS: Aquino iii, corruption, economic growth, featured column, food sufficiency, political dynasties, Poverty, Unemployment
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