Legit but fake—an oxymoron?
I have not yet heard anyone utter “legit but fake” in one breath to describe the nongovernment organizations that allegedly siphoned off some P10 billion in lawmakers’ pork barrel funds and have none or little to show in terms of beneficiaries and accomplishments. But I have heard the words “legitimate/accredited” from those allegedly involved and their defenders. And the words “fake/bogus/fly-by-night/dummy” used interchangeably by the accusers, investigators, whistle-blowers and shocked citizens of this republic.
So what do we have here, NGOs (foundations, people’s organizations, civil society groups) that are “legit but fake”? Sounds like an oxymoron, which is defined as “a rhetorical figure in which incongruous or contradictory terms are combined.”
Or maybe “legit but fake” is not an oxymoron, after all. Something can still be legit as far as registration and accreditation are concerned, as one accrediting official of the Department of Agriculture tearfully said while describing her official role in the blockbuster scam. Her and her family’s reputation has been tarnished, she rued, when all she did was to approve NGO applicants (for funding) whose papers were in order—that is, they have been duly registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
In other words, how could she deny accreditation for applicants whose SEC papers were in order? What reasons had she to doubt? She even could have added that what happens after accreditation is something else or beyond her duties. Fair enough. But didn’t she see some red flags to forewarn her? Again, maybe it was not in her job description. Sigh.
Applicants for funding with selfish motives can hire the best lawyers to help them set up nonprofit organizations—NGOs, so-called—and put together required papers for SEC registration. Once the papers are in order, these lawyers’ efficient messengers can do the following up. And voila, new NGOs are born. No sweat.
Now the word “fake.” Fake because contrary to their stated mission and vision, these NGOs (legit, you say) were set up NOT for the benefit of the disadvantaged and marginalized but as conduits of government funds that will end up in their founders’ pockets and fatten their personal bank accounts. Fake because if their impressive and kilometric names were to be the gauge, along with the huge amounts of money they have applied for and received, these NGOs could have helped countless impoverished families cross the poverty line, helped the environment recover from ruin, rendered dengue mosquitos near-extinct, etc.
Fake because the founders of these questionable NGOs faked their mission and instead pursued their true end, which was to enrich themselves. Fake because they have betrayed their supposed beneficiaries, fake because they allegedly faked signatures, fake because they are not what they say they are, etc.
So yes, “legit but fake.” Call it an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. A better description, anyone? Legit liars? Legit plunderers? Alas, it seems so easy for those with ill motives to acquire legit status and just as easy for them to operate with impunity. I mention impunity because so many shocking practices and illegal operations have been laid bare, but only a handful, if any—and small fry at that—have been brought to justice.
One of the biggest convicted plunderers of this country had been, in fact, granted presidential pardon and now occupies a plum elective position. “Men of conviction” was how he immodestly described himself (convicted of plunder) and other historical figures who had been convicted and jailed for patriotic reasons (Ninoy, Mandela, etc.). He didn’t mention Rizal and Jesus, or did he?
Beyond all these exposés is the issue of impunity. Will someone ever be held accountable and get punished—severely punished—for all to see? Will heads in the government bureaucracy roll—with their eyes open—from the chopping board and into the basket? Will anyone be tarred, feathered and marched from the Sandiganbayan to deadly Commonwealth Avenue?
People like watching exposés that unfold like telenovelas but they scream bitin! when there is no denouement to provide closure. Former Armed Forces chief of staff and Cabinet secretary Angelo Reyes ended it his way, with a bullet to his heart. A pity, because it did not end the telenovela to the satisfaction of many.
Not a few concerned citizens are now bringing up the freedom of information bill that was stalled, blocked and aborted at the midnight hour in the previous Congress. This is the abortion that has not been rued enough and condemned by most of the vociferous citizenry. This is the bill that can embolden more whistle-blowers and watchdogs, a deterrent especially to crimes that leave damning paper trails. A big step in a vast landscape of corruption in need of paths straight and narrow.
Truly legit NGOs in the Philippines (which have their own share of transparency and accountability issues) are now working for better accreditation and policing of their own ranks to clear the doubts of funders, peers and beneficiaries. It is also a way to dissociate themselves from the “legit but fake” NGOs that are embroiled in the latest scam involving the Priority Development Assistance Fund or pork barrel.
According to Transparency International and U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Center’s “Developing a Code of Conduct for NGOs,” various tools have been developed to promote NGO accountability. These include regulating instruments such as certification or rating systems, self-assessments, independent evaluations, financial and social audits, disclosure of statements, and reports and participation processes.
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