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Two things

The first is Miriam Santiago’s call on Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales to start filing charges in the Sandiganbayan against the lawmakers implicated in the Janet Napoles scam. “It’s been six months now…. I think the public is getting jaded by these public revelations in the Senate probe (without) seeing any action. We cannot allow public interest to die. Plunder is just too important to the national economy.”

I agree wholeheartedly. Of course Miriam has her own reasons for wanting the government to discover some urgency in advancing the case against the senators. There’s nothing she’d like better than to see Juan Ponce Enrile meted out a jail term within his or her lifetime, whichever comes last. But that doesn’t detract from the merit of her proposal.

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I’ve been saying the same thing for some time now. Where’s the point in holding all these Senate hearings if they don’t lead to anything anyway? The point of fighting corruption isn’t just to expose the corrupt, it is to punish them. The point of upholding justice isn’t just to embarrass the corrupt, it is to jail them.

It’s gotten a little more complicated these past weeks in light of new witnesses coming out of the woodwork, adding new offices and lawmakers to the list of those who participated in Napoles’ scam. Including Edgardo Angara in Dennis Cunanan’s account, including broadcast journalists Erwin Tulfo and Carmelo Magdurulang in Rhodora Mendoza’s and Vic Cacal’s account. While all this is praiseworthy—Mendoza and Cacal in particular have shown balls in naming media, particularly broadcast, practitioners, hitherto feared and avoided like the plague because of their retaliatory power—this has its downside as well.

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Chief of them is that the ever increasing number of the accused is also diffusing focus and scattering attention every which way. It’s almost enough to convince you it’s a ploy by the handlers of Jinggoy Estrada, Bong Revilla, and Juan Ponce Enrile to draw attention away from them. Jinggoy did manage to draw the spotlight away from him last year by pointing at government. This time around, the new revelations could do the same thing, however completely unwittingly.

The throwing of a couple of journalists into the fray could always lead to something bigger. As it is, the naming of Tulfo and Magdurulang alone, quite apart from the third unnamed recipient of P2 million, is already explosive and could rivet public attention to it in days to come.

All this threatens to keep unfinished business unfinished. Indeed, all this threatens to dull the senses by information overload. Miriam is right there, the public could get jaded. Even I sometimes get a feeling of saturation every time I look at the lead stories of news and see that they’re still about pork, and the three accused senators are still free.

The point is to have a sense of priority. The point is to have a sense of purpose. The point is to go back where we started. The point is to finish what we started before we embark on something else.

The second thing is my wonderment at the paradox of Filipino behavior. The revelations about the involvement of all sorts of people in the pork scam over the last half year must make us wonder if corruption is the exception rather than the rule here. Certainly, it must make us wonder so about the congressmen who figure preponderantly in the Commission on Audit’s report about those who abused or pocketed their Priority Development Assistance Fund. The only group I really feel bad about is the NGOs which, through no great fault of their own—they are more victims than perpetrators—have been made synonymous to fake.

All this gives the impression that you give us Filipinos—including, or especially, our presumably respectable authority figures like generals, judges, and bishops—the slightest chance to profit from an immoral, or illegal, transaction, and we will take it. I’m reminded of that dialogue in “Catch-22” where Yossarian’s commanding officer lectures him about the evils of not doing the right thing. “Suppose,” he says tolerantly, “everyone thought the same way you do?” Yossarian replies: “Then I’d be a damn fool to think different.”

That seems to be our philosophy too: Suppose everybody tries to rip off everybody else? Then I’d be a damn fool not to.

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Yet from the other end, a tragedy strikes and suddenly we become the most altruistic people in the world. We become the most selfless, the most generous, the most self-sacrificing people in the world. We become the most high-minded, the most heroic, the most selfless people in the world. Look at the way we responded to “Ondoy,” “Pablo” and the Bohol earthquake. Look at the way we responded to “Yolanda,” when even the youth and the children volunteered to give of themselves, quite apart from give of what they owned, to help the starving, the grieving, the helpless and hopeless.

To be capable of nobility in times of tragedy, and greed in times of normality, that is quite a contrast. To be capable of selflessness in bad times and selfishness in good times, that is quite a phenomenon. To be capable of people power when times are dire and lust for power—or wealth—when times are fine, that is quite a paradox.

I myself think the key to it lies in that last line in the National Anthem which says, “Ang mamatay nang dahil sa iyo.” We’ve never lacked the ability to make the grand gesture, we’ve always lacked the ability to just do the right thing. We’ve never lacked the ability to show charity, we’ve always lacked the ability to show justice. We’ve never lacked the ability to transcend ourselves, we’ve always lacked the ability to sustain it.

We’ve never lacked the ability to die for the country. We’ve always lacked the ability to live for it.

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TAGS: Carmelo Magdurulang, Conchita Carpio-Morales, Erwin Tulfo, Miriam Santiago, pork barrel
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