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There’s the Rub

‘Pag walang bulag…’

There were two sets of stories this week that, taken side by side, told yet another story.

On one side were the stories about corruption.

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Chief of them was the continuing saga of Janet Lim-Napoles. The latest on her was that she deposited half a billion pesos with the Air Materiel Wing Savings and Loan Association Inc. After siphoning off a fortune from the pork of senators and congressmen, she tried to add to it by putting a portion in AMWSLAI, which paid 13-percent interest tax-free. Problem is AMWSLAI rules impose a limit of P3 million per depositor. The plot thickens.

In another story, Miriam Defensor-Santiago fumed over the 44 mayors’ protest about being implicated in the fertilizer scam, saying they weren’t oppressors but victims. What happened was that the mayors signed letters that came from Napoles’ office uniformly asking for P5 million for agricultural enhancement from the agriculture department. The money allegedly went to Napoles’ fake NGOs with the mayors getting commissions. The mayors were complicit in the crime, Santiago said, as shown by the letters they signed. Which is all very well, except that you remember that Ping Lacson also called her a “crusading crook.”

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In still another story, the Sandiganbayan and NBI ordered Rep. Abdullah Dimaporo arrested in Cardinal Santos Hospital last Monday, still in connection with the fertilizer scam. An NGO of his claimed deliveries of nonexistent fertilizers in 2004. The NBI agreed to allow Dimaporo to stay in the hospital under its watch after the Sandiganbayan refused bail. Earlier, the Sandiganbayan also ordered the arrest of Development Bank of the Philippines officials for a behest loan to Bobby Ongpin.

On the other side were stories about poverty.

SWS reported that poverty levels remained pretty much the same, at least as the poor themselves saw it. In self-ratings, 10.4 million Filipino families described themselves as poor, while around 8.5 million families said they were food-poor. This was consistent with the findings of the National Statistical Coordination Board released last April that said the poverty incidence as of the first half of last year, 27.9 percent of the population, was almost the same as those of 2006 and 2009, 28.8 and 28.6 percent, respectively.

Yet another story gave a face to these figures. Jose Llanes, now 83, had lived beside the creek in San Juan for most of his life. He and his wife started squatting there shortly after martial law, a place he staggered to at the end of the day as a taxi driver. Llanes was among those who voluntarily gave up his shanty in favor of relocation in Bulacan. He stared at the pieces of wood and tin that had collected at the back of a truck, which was all that remained of what he once called home, and grieved as the memories collected in his mind.

It was part of government efforts to unclog the creeks to ease flooding in the city. A thing well past due and showed that P-Noy meant to do what he promised in his State of the Nation Address. But it was also a reminder of how “the other half,” or indeed the other three-fourths of the population, lived, mired in want and homelessness. The occupants of the shanties by the esteros would be gone, by choice or force. Not so the children living in the streets, not so the vagabonds sleeping under bridges.

There and then you see the complete disconnect between the corrupt and the mahirap, at least as the mahirap themselves see, or do not see, it. “Pag walang corrupt, walang mahirap” was of course the slogan that brought P-Noy to power, but if it is grasped at all, it is grasped only by P-Noy and a few other officials. And if it is grasped at all by the public, it is grasped only by the intelligentsia. And grasped only by the head and not by the heart, and grasped only cynically and not furiously. It is not grasped at all by the people themselves, most of whom are poor, most of whom are desperate, most of whom live lives dangerously.

There is no sense of cause and effect: That the poor lack what is theirs by right because a few others have an abundance of what is not theirs by right. That they are unjustly deprived because a few others are unjustly endowed. That they scavenge in mountains of trash, go to sleep with their stomachs gurgling in hunger, live beside esteros and in fetid slums that experience sudden fires when demolitions do not work, because a few others skim the fat off the land, fat that by every law of God and man belongs to them.

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Look at the two sets of stories and see if they do not present a stark contrast. On one side, you have sums that boggle the mind they become ungraspable, hundreds of millions and even billions of pesos swirling down into a bottomless pit. You could be higher middle class and those sums would remain unreal to you. From the other end, you have nothingness that boggles the mind as well, the lack of food, a roof over your head, a tangible hold on physical existence. You could be lower middle class and that kawalan could be unreal to you.

Yet we do not see the one as inextricably connected to the other. We do not see this as stealing from us, we do not see this as snatching the grains of rice about to enter the mouth of a street child. We do not seethe, we do not rage, we do not march down the streets in Edsa numbers. I do think “Pag walang corrupt, walang mahirap” is a good mantra. But I do think as well that something should precede it. Which is:

“Pag walang bulag, walang kahabag-habag.”

* * *

From my good friend, Noel Cabangon, whose father, like mine, hailed from Catanduanes (surprisingly, a part of the country I’ve never been to): “Calling all alumni of Viga Academy to a homecoming in Viga, Catanduanes, on Aug. 12, 2013. Please contact Aven Tongo (09178954898) for details.”

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TAGS: Air Materiel Wing Savings and Loan Association Inc., AMWSLAI, AMWSLAI rules, DBP, Development Bank of the Philippines, fertilizer scam, Janet Lim-Napoles, Miriam Defensor Santiago, NBI, Rep. Abdullah Dimaporo, Sandiganbayan
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