Why we fail to eradicate corruption
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2009-05-17

After watching with keen interest the ANC forum with five 2010 presidential wannabes that was held last Monday, your Chair Wrecker felt that here we go again going after the misdiagnosed national problems.

Once again, Filipinos have been suckered into believing that corrupt public officials are the evil dragons that we must slay in order to reach the Pinoy Promised Land. Most of the ANC man-on-street and persons on the scene taped interviews expressed belief that all evil and problems in the land are rooted to corrupt public officials.

All but two presidential wannabes - Senator Richard Gordon and Pampanga Governor Ed Panlilio — expressed views that struck at the very core of the real problem that makes us one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Outside of Gordon and Panlilio, the other three presidential wannabes — Senators Chiz Escudero and Mar Roxas and Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro — were talking about corruption as if catching the corrupt public official is the solution to stopping corruption.

Not to suggest that we don’t convict corrupt public officials but the truth is - catching one will only stop one thief but it will not end corruption. Catching a hundred crooked public officials will stop those 100 thieves but that will not end corruption.

Fighting corruption is no different from stopping eyesight deterioration resulting from uncontrolled high blood sugar - the disease of diabetes. Treating the deteriorating eyesight is useless if the blood sugar is not controlled. A good eye doctor may be able to stop or slow down the eyesight deterioration but the diabetes can easily manifest in other even more deadly complications like hypertension and chronic kidneys.

In our contemporary history, Cory Aquino was just about the most diligent president in trying to maintain an honest government. This is easily seen in the way she chose her people, especially those who worked directly under her. Ping de Jesus, Elfren Cruz, Chito Sobrepena, Catalino Macaraig, Adolf Azcuna — to name a few — held some of the most coveted posts in the Office of the President and left public office with their reputations intact.

It was Cory who gave us the cleanest Comelec (Commission on Elections) Commissioners and it was no surprise that elections that were held under the Aquino administration were some of the cleanest we’ve had. She also preferred cabinet appointees drawn from successful private sector managers. By the time she stepped down, there was no department under a traditional politician.

And yet, despite her sincere efforts, Cory was not able to eradicate corruption because by then, after two decades of Marcos kleptocracy, corruption has developed into a culture.

Just like diabetes, addressing the manifestations of the corruption disease does not solve the problem. Merely catching the crooked public official does not solve the problem of corruption. Eradicating the culture of corruption is the only effective solution to the problem.

In the ANC forum, Panlilio and Gordon were the only ones who harped on the need to reform our values and this makes them the only two presidential wannabes in that forum that really understood the problem. Eradicating corruption is all about reforming values. No matter how many crooks we catch, the corruption will not stop because the culture that spawns it persists.

Catching a crooked public official is something that has been done every now and then and yet, many times, we often saw that the successor to the deposed crook was also corrupt. How many of those who joined the Oust-Estrada Movement in 2000-2001 are now moaning that worse plunder has been going on?

When the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo regime is finally replaced, what is there to guarantee that we will have an honest government? Without pointing to any presidential wannabe as a likely crook, we cannot hope to eradicate the corruption problem if we do not have a leader who will address the culture of corruption by reforming peoples’ values.

Corruption is like dancing the tango — it takes at least two. If there is the businessman who is ever ready to offer a bribe, the culture of corruption will produce the bureaucrat who will accept the bribe and render the illegal service.

In the UK, the Brits have one of the highest standards of intolerance for corruption. The average Brit simply takes the view that there should be no corruption at all. Thus, we see British public officials who quickly resign at the slightest hint of scandal. The higher the public office occupied, the greater the British sensitivity is to irregularity.

Compare that with what is now pervasive in Philippine society; where even basically honest folks agree to pay small bribes to vehicle licensing fixers so as not to take too much time securing the license the proper way. That is the culture of corruption. If you are willing to compromise on venial sins, you may not realize it but those are the very seeds for being prone to committing mortal sins.

In the recent coverage of the Papal Trip to the Holy Land, Pope Benedict XVI was quoted as saying that there is a lot of emphasis in the world today on the problem of temporal poverty but hardly any discussion on the greater, deeper problem of moral poverty. The Pontiff is right. If you get down to the roots of the problem of the world’s temporal poverty, you will find that it is somehow caused by moral poverty.

The Philippine social situation is a good case in point where moral poverty causes temporal poverty. The insatiable greed (moral poverty) of a few oligarchs caused the miserable, hand-to-mouth, sub-human existence (temporal poverty) of many.

Among nations, it is also the same syndrome. The exploitation and predation (moral poverty) by the first world countries have caused the economic stagnation (temporal poverty) of many third world countries.

One of the most honest cabinet secretaries we ever had, the late Jaime N. Ferrer, mentioned three things that are needed if corruption is to be eradicated in a government agency. These are:

1. The head must be a truly honest man. Bad seeds cannot be expected to bear good fruits.

2. The head must know how corruption happens. This includes knowing how corruption is bred — the culture — and how the illegal act is being committed.

3. The head must have the courage to fight corruption. The head has to expect those who benefit from corruption to resort to character assassination or outright assassination. The head could be vilified or killed.

In case you haven’t noticed, some of the biggest assassins are 2010 presidential wannabes. Let’s not even discuss cold blooded murder - character assassination is the work of a very corrupt person.

  Previous Columns:

It had to happen on The Ides of March and Holy Week

Suggested guidelines for liability- free Internet posts

Election lawyer: PCOS critics should put up or shut up

All Excited by Pope Francis

A great disservice to P-Noy

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