It’s not as if we don’t expose them. We do, to spectacular lengths.
This past month or so alone, media have regaled us with spectacular cases of corruption, ones that involve spectacular sums and spectacularly high-placed officials. We’ve had the Czech ambassador complain of an effort by DOTC (Department of Transportation and Communications) officials to extort $30 million, subsequently reduced to $2.5 million after being forthrightly rejected. We’ve had senators and congressmen reported as entrusting huge chunks of their P200-million and P70-million pork funds respectively to a shadowy organization that plows them into shadowy projects, a scam that has cost us all of P10 billion over the past 10 years.
We’ve had at least a bit of good news in that 13 former high-ranking officials and board members of the Development Bank of the Philippines have been issued warrants of arrest for giving out a P660-million behest loan to Bobby Ongpin during Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s time.
And of course there’s Aquino himself lambasting Customs for its failure to check rampant smuggling, a thing, he broadly suggested, that owed to his officials being stricken blind.
On the side, we had things like the local governments’ complicity in the pork scam and Malampaya’s own ghost projects. The latter has to do with Palawan, which shares P3 billion from the earnings of the Malampaya Gas Project, assigning P20 million uniformly to all roads and bridges. That is not the crime, though that alone is a telltale sign of something wrong. The crime, as shown by the Commission on Audit, is that the roads and bridges are nowhere to be found.
Nobody can accuse us of not exposing corruption. But everybody can accuse us of not doing much about it.
I remember again someone telling me years ago in an Asian media forum how enviable we were to be so free to call crooks out in the
media. I said that was the good news. The bad news was that nothing really happened. You’d think being exposed was punishment enough. When the exposed didn’t even have the decency to feel ashamed. Without the threat of being jailed or having their loot seized, they just laughed at the exposés and got the bishops to pontificate, “Let’s move on.”
Of course, to say that we do nothing to punish the erring is grossly unfair, particularly today. The fact that the Sandiganbayan has issued arrest warrants for those involved in the Ongpin loan must suggest something is being done. Indeed, the fact that Aquino has not been loath to berate erring, errant, and/or error-prone public officials when he is invited to their anniversaries must suggest he personally is willing to move heaven and earth to curb corruption. Shaming crooks has been known to produce effects, as other countries have shown, and the President himself doing the shaming can always do the trick. It’s something we, the public, should be doing as well.
But clearly these are not enough. Not by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, the astonishing thing is that the sheer plethora of scams being penned in the press is matched only by the sheer paucity of the scammers being penned in the correctional. No big fish has really landed in jail. The only really big fish that has been caught in the net is former Chief Justice Renato Corona, and he is not in jail to watch faded pop musicians performing on a small CRT TV, he is merely on hiatus freely watching the oldies perform at Araneta Coliseum live. Arroyo has been sprung from house arrest; her husband is nowhere near to experiencing it. You’d think deteriorating health was punishment enough. That’s not justice, that’s karma.
In fact, the astonishing thing is not the surfeit of scams we hear about and the scarcity of wrongdoers being jailed that we see. It is that we are not at all astonished by it. It is something we expect. It is something we shrug our shoulders over and make text jokes about. The explosiveness of the exposés is not matched by an explosion of public outrage. We are not furious. We do not protest. We do not march down the streets howling at the top of our voices: “Tama na, sobra na, tigilan na!”
Which is how corruption thrives, however government is at pains to stop it. Which is how we keep reading in newspapers or watching on TV exposé after exposé, however Aquino desperately tries to stop corruption. There is no public opprobrium to deter it, there is no public taboo to stop it. Unlike other Asian countries where public opprobrium is so ingrained in the culture it can compel the dishonored to commit hara-kiri to prevent the dishonor extending to the family. How many Angelo Reyeses do we have? Unlike the Western countries where the belief that corruption is stealing from the citizens is so ingrained in the citizens’ minds it can compel transgressors to resign posthaste and slink away in ignominy. From Spanish times, we’ve always thought civil—and church—officials were entitled to plunder, provided they did not plunder too grossly.
Public opprobrium, revulsion, seething anger—that’s what’s lacking in the equation. It’s what makes our efforts to fight corruption not unlike our politics and our religion, a lot of form but not a lot of substance. So long as we have elections, we can rape and pillage and still call ourselves a democracy. So long as we go to Mass, we can rape and pillage and still call ourselves Christians. So long as we expose scams, we can go on raping and pillaging and still call ourselves heroic.
We do so love rituals.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.