Possible dreams | Inquirer Opinion
There’s The Rub

Possible dreams

THE STATUS is this:

Malacañang has ordered the firing of Deputy Ombudsman Emilio Gonzalez. Gonzalez is the official Senior Insp. Rolando Mendoza accused of foot-dragging in his own dismissal and trying to extort money from him to improve speed, if not to look with favor upon his case. After brooding for a while, Mendoza went ballistic and held a busload of Hong Kong tourists hostage, eventually massacring them.

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The Office of the Ombudsman has defied Malacañang’s order. Merceditas Gutierrez says only she can fire her subordinates, a position defended by her assistant, Jose de Jesus, who says only the Office of the Ombudsman can discipline its members. And Gonzalez doesn’t need any disciplining because they’ve already cleared him.

Not so, say Malacañang’s allies in the Senate. Though that office is an independent body, says Juan Ponce Enrile, the President maintains supervision and control over its employees. If Gonzalez resists, says Kiko Pangilinan, remove him bodily from the premises.

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First off, you’ve got to marvel at Gutierrez’s cheek or gall as much as you’ve got to applaud P-Noy’s earnestness and zeal.

The first has been pointed out by various editorials, not least in this paper. It has become Gutierrez’s instinct, honed by years of practice, to defend wrongdoing and fly to the aid of the wrongdoer in his/her hour of need. A strange instinct for an ombudsman whose task is the very opposite, which is to ferret out the corrupt and ungodly and punish them, or recommend so. Can you imagine if Gutierrez had just applied a modicum of her doggedness or tenacity to doing her job?

The second deserves pointing out. If anyone is still in doubt that P-Noy means to live up to his campaign vow to fight corruption, this should help dispel it. Less than a year in power, P-Noy’s government has already gone boldly where no Philippine government—not even his mother’s—has gone before.

Thus far he has fired three huge volleys against corruption. The first has been to support, if not initiate, the investigation of corruption in the military. It was his government that questioned the plea-bargain agreement with Carlos Garcia, which led to the Senate investigation of it, which laid bare the broader aspects of military corruption. The second has been to instigate, if not directly vote for, the impeachment of Gutierrez. Speaker Feliciano Belmonte would credit P-Noy for the overwhelming congressional support for it, and he wasn’t being entirely coy. And now this.

Doubtless, we still have to wait for how these things will end. Particularly the first two as the third will very likely end soon in government’s favor. But these are by no means token gestures. Taken collectively, they do show a leader who means to act on his belief that “Pag walang corrupt, walang mahirap.”

I have no problem with government’s thrust. Where I do have problems, or where I feel bitin, is with government’s strategy.

That strategy remains trapped in the traditional mold of seeing the problem in terms of how the Executive may build alliances with Congress and the Judiciary to carry out its agenda. Or more broadly, that strategy remains trapped in the conventional mold of seeing the dynamics of governance as involving only the three branches of government. Building alliances is of course a vital undertaking, and how well or adeptly Malacañang does it will tell on how successfully it carries out its campaign. But why limit building alliances only with congressmen and judges? Why not go on to build alliances with yet another element that figures even more vitally in governance?

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Why not build alliances with the people?

That’s what’s lacking in government’s strategy of fighting corruption, the absence of the people’s participation in it. The problem is not that government doesn’t want to do things for the people, it is that government doesn’t want to do things with the people.

If the people figure at all in the equation, it is only as spectators. It is only as audience. It is not as participants, active or complicit. It is not as players, foreground or background. Which is a pity. Because they are the ones that ultimately spell the difference in whether or not government can truly push back corruption or not.

In other countries, what would make Gutierrez’s defiance completely unthinkable is not just the weight of law, it is the weight of public opinion. At the very least, that means the weight of culture, which is the values and judgments of society in codified form, permeating daily life and affecting or dictating the way people think and act. Far more than law, that is what inhibits people from committing atrocity, that is what compels people to commit suicide when they are deemed to have done so, it is what makes people bury their heads in shame when they are found out. That is what precludes a scale of defiance or pakapalan, such as Gutierrez shows, from even being contemplated.

At the very most that means the weight of public outrage and scorn openly and relentlessly brought to bear upon the erring official. Gonzalez’s transgressions are by no means light, especially as they have produced horrendous consequences. For Gutierrez to spurn any effort to punish the erring from sheer intransigence, the way she has done again and again in the past, for which she will soon stand on the dock, deserves opprobrium of an epic scale.

That is what government is not stoking. That is what government is not harnessing. That is what government is not enlisting to its cause. I’m glad that it has embarked on the quixotic quest of fighting corruption. All it needs is to bring in the people, in lieu of Sancho Panza. Then the quest becomes less quixotic.

Then the impossible dream becomes less impossible.

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TAGS: Benigno Aquino III, corruption, Government, impeachment
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