Remembering and recording corruption
If I were a whistle-blower testifying in court or a Senate hearing on what I know, critics may dismiss me as not credible. Why? Because I present too many details and my testimony sounds too rehearsed and contrived. People normally do not remember too many details about the past, the insignificant stuff especially, that, if I may argue, can in fact add credence to my testimony.
Damned if you do remember, damned if you don’t.
Remembering with precision is now raised before whistle-blowers on the multibillion-peso pork barrel scam. While alleged scam queen Janet Lim-Napoles said too many I-don’t-knows and invoked her right to stay mum many times at a Senate hearing, main whistle-blower Benhur Luy provided many details.
Not everything Luy presented came straight out of that part of his brain where memory resides. A lot of the damning stuff came from his notebooks, lists, and other hard and soft copies that he kept while he was working with Napoles. While much of the stuff may be considered official documents (receipts, vouchers and checks used in business transactions), some are personal in nature (lists and scribbles on a notebook).
I don’t intend to be a whistle-blower someday, but I keep a lot of hard and soft stuff related to my work as a journalist that I can dig up at a moment’s notice to buttress or enhance an article I am working on. I fancy thinking that some of these may someday become pieces needed to complete a jigsaw puzzle or solve a mystery.
Once I dug up my old reporter’s notebooks to find out if a person I had interviewed in the distant past had casually mentioned something that might cast doubts on this person’s later statement about a crime committed.
Some facts I know are purely from memory and can be backed by other people’s testimonies, or by photographs I took that can prove I was there. For example, I was with other journalists at Camp Aguinaldo on that February night in 1986 when Juan Ponce Enrile and Fidel Ramos, then defense minister and Armed Forces vice chief of staff, respectively, announced their breakaway from the Marcos dictatorship. We all heard Enrile confess that the 1972 ambush on him had been staged.
Now, why has that story changed? I have photos of that night and the days after. I have kept the orange silk tulip that I picked up from among the shards of a broken vase on the floor. A token, I thought then, because I was sure that the next day the place would be pulverized and the holed-up mutineers bristling with high-powered arms would be bombed to kingdom come.
I do not suffer from an obsessive-compulsive disorder. My writing area at home is not too spic and span. But I have a way of putting order in my hard and soft files, books and notebooks. And yes, I have kept my pocket calendar planners that date back to three decades ago. A planner can show my whereabouts when Mount Pinatubo was erupting in 1991.
A tip on how to remember, say, the plate number of a wayward car, when pen and paper are not within reach: Say it aloud over and over until the sound of it stays in your mind. Right now I can remember my 16-digit credit card number because I recite it in my mind every time I punch the numbers on the ATM to pay.
Didn’t we discover roygbiv and other memory tips in grade school? Doing the Inquirer’s Sudoku puzzle while having morning coffee helps my memory. I’m now trying to get a copy of “Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything,” a 2011 bestseller by Josh Foer, a forgetful science journalist who underwent memory training and became a finalist in the US Memory Championship.
All these bring me to the importance of remembering and recording, even if only in codes, observations such as corruption and misdeeds committed by people around us. Whistle-blower Luy was wise enough to keep records and lists that help him remember.
And as to the account of the better-late-than-never alleged rape victim and accuser of a TV celebrity, the place and date of the alleged crime that happened four years ago were all wrong. A lesson for victims and eyewitnesses: Immediately write down what you remember, whether or not you intend to report the crime. Keep a record, don’t say you’d rather forget.
I made it to the list of legitimate martial law survivors that filed a suit against the Marcos estate because I had documents and news clippings about the torment I and other “mosquito” journalists experienced under the dictatorship. But those who had severely suffered had difficulty writing about their ordeal.
Being observant is a habit of feature writers like me. Maybe I learned the skill of listening to what is not expressly said from my Projective Techniques psychology class under Fr. Jaime Bulatao, SJ. (I just looked at my transcript of records; he gave me an A-.)
Remember the senior Cabinet officials of the Arroyo administration who saw what they saw and resigned en masse? Civil servants, elected officials and their staff should be compelled to be observant of the corruption and other irregularities committed around them. They should develop the habit of recording these in secret for whatever purpose these may serve someday. This does not mean creating a culture of suspicion, distrust and paranoia. But how begin to fight the culture of corruption? An examination of conscience at the end of the day, such as what we had been taught, should suffice, but the fear of being watched may be a stronger deterrent.
I still have the 2000 “Hello Yoly” cassette recording of the phone exchange between Gov. Chavit Singson and a Yoly about jueteng kickbacks. This helped send a president to prison for plunder. His successor is under hospital arrest.
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