‘Padrinos’ | Inquirer Opinion


/ 11:25 PM August 01, 2013

Retired general Danilo Lim spoke of “powerful forces” preventing reform from taking root in the Bureau of Customs. How powerful? Enough to dissuade the former Scout Ranger from naming names. Another ex-soldier, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, said he was certain President Aquino knew who the “padrinos” pulling strings in the controversial agency were, and called on the President to name names, too.

This sounds like a dangerous game of one-upmanship, but in fact Trillanes has a point. Identifying who the real powers are in Customs would be a vigorous step in the right direction.

But identification alone is not enough. Proof must be presented, yes, but beyond that, naming names would be tantamount to declaring open season on powerful individuals; the President, or indeed anyone else who dares, must be prepared for the certainty of conflict. If the padrinos in Customs are named, the intensity of the infighting among the political class will make the political skirmishing over the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona look like a bloodless video game.

Already, a senator has gone on record to say he has indeed been calling up Customs officials, but only to complain about inefficiencies or instances of corruption. We can expect more strategic denials in the future, from other highly placed politicians or highly influential businessmen. They may be completely innocent; they may be intricately implicated in the corruption in Customs. But they have mastered the political game as it is played in the Philippines, enough to know that all they need to do is ride out the bad publicity, and things will return to normal.


That is why naming names is important; it fixes the identity of those very people who have turned the agency into the icon of incompetence and corruption denounced in the State of the Nation Address. And that is also why Lim missed a real opportunity to fight for the reform he champions; unlike President Aquino, he can speak from his personal experience with these padrinos.

We realize that some padrinos change from administration to administration; how many Filipinos have heard horror stories about one influential individual in the previous government directly calling the shots in the agency? Lim, then, can offer a specific kind of testimony: the time-bound kind, which demonstrates how even corruption in Customs follows a cycle.

Even Trillanes must have based his unlikely challenge to President Aquino on certain knowledge. He can name names, too, offering another kind of testimony: the one from reputation. It may even be that some of those he has heard convincing details about are old, familiar names—the ones who have been around for decades. Think of the service he will render the country.

But Lim, Trillanes, even Mr. Aquino must prepare to do battle; the padrinos are where they are precisely because they know their way around power.


The truth is: In the Customs context, money is not the root of all evil—though there is certainly a lot of money to do evil with. Rather, it is patronage that is the source of corruption.

The padrinos serve as gatekeepers; their nominees win the right posts. They serve to protect those they have nominated, from reassignment or the occasional anticorruption initiative. They serve as guarantors of those they protect, assuring them of steady extra revenue. They even serve as financiers for political campaigns.


These powerful forces must be exposed for who they are. Lim, Trillanes, even the President are faced with the opportunity of a lifetime.

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TAGS: Antonio Trillanes IV, Bureau of Customs, Danilo Lim, Editorial, Graft and Corruption, opinion

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