My claim to fame in writing is grounded on the fact that I remember a lot of things, this despite increasing senior moments. One of my favorite topics, corruption, has long threads throughout post WWII Philippine history. These threads provide context, something that unfortunately many columnists would rather not refer to as context makes hot issues old issues. Context puts substance, too, and substance often makes sensationalism look trashy.
I remember Ramon Magsaysay. He was our hero, he arrested some untouchables, including our governor then, for the murder of Moises Padilla, a journalist. I had only started going to Grade School but remember my family campaigned for him in 1953 against a president accused of corruption. !953 was 61 years ago.
I remember the Garcia presidency, the Filipino First policy, and lost his reelection bid, presumably with the Americas helping his opponent, Diosdado Macapagal. I remember the reelection bid of Macapagal, his administration accused of corruption, and the victory of Ferdinand Marcos.
I remember martial law. The radio of our car was malfunctioning, I thought, as I could not connect to any radio station on our way to an aunt’s house in Makati. While there, I saw Kit Tatad on TV reading the declaration of martial law.
I remember the disruption of normal life once martial law was activated. My wife lost her job in a TV station which was closed down by Marcos, later taken over by a Marcos crony. The fear was palpable, and I kept hoping the soldiers would not randomly stop us in the streets even if we were doing no wrong.
I remember the curfew, and the poker games with officers of the Police Constabulary who had us escorted home if we stopped playing after midnight. I remember the Customs personnel who became very honest, afraid of being arrested and detained. I remember everything returned to business as usual in a few years. My job, then, in the company where I worked, included entertaining Customs Collectors.
I remember the Commission On Audit, its acting Chairman who served for some time as COA’s only Commissioner. I remember our company president warning us that we should keep our books in order as the COA Chairman would be an enemy, having been denied the the kickback he demanded for all claims that the company would make for reimbursement of losses mandated by law.
I remember the assassination of Ninoy Aquino. Knowing we would not be able to see him upon his arrival at the Manila International Airport, my wife and I contributed sandwiches to hordes of well-wishers but proceeded to go to our second home in an upland barangay in Quezon. When we returned to Manila, the cowardly act had been committed.
I remember the post-assassination years, the shaky economy, the tottering dictatorship, the snap elections, the cheated results and the awesome protest rally at the Quirino grandstand. I remember going up to our rest house in the mountain again and then knowing, by radio, that Enrile and Ramos had defected.
I remember EDSA, my hesitation to go to the streets, sure that Marcos would send in his loyal military to quell the rebellion in Camps Aguinaldo and Crame. But my wife would not be stopped, and from our mountain home, we joined everyone at EDSA.
I remember the troubled years, the coup de etats, a government kept alive only by the love of the people when many among its officers and personnel in the AFP kept plotting and rebelling. I remember the wasted years, politicians who were simply that – politicians at a time when they should have been reformists, revolutionaries.
I remember corruption creeping back, growing back, until hundreds of millions characterized the new volumes of kickbacks. From one presidency to the next, the volume of corruption was modular, each one building on the other. Marcos had looted the country and took over second place in the top ten of the most corrupt among world leaders. Estrada in less than three years grabbed tenth place in this hall of shame.
I remember in the mid-90′s reading a World Bank report estimating corruption to be 30% or more of our national budget. In the late 90′s and the first nine years of the 21st century, Estrada and Gloria became presidents, both accused of plunder, one convicted, and the other hopefully, too. If corruption at 30% or more was the starting point of Estrada, what was it after Gloria?
I remember that the 2014 PDAF, had it not been scrapped, would have been only 1% of the national budget. And I was wondering what the country would do when the 99% is examined, even just to look at how 30% or more is lost to corruption. In other words, what would be the many faces of corruption that has plagued our government, with lots of connivance from the private sector to boot? We now know of the Napoles scams as narrated by whistleblowers. How about multiplying it 30 times, at least.
I understand the shock of Filipinos when they learn of the looting, but I also know they should have known this a long time ago. Its discovery today is possible because P-Noy declared war on corruption and encouraged an environment of transparency. Do we really believe that a Gloria presidency would allow the same transparency or exposures to flow to media so freely?
I remember campaigning for P-Noy, believing he was the destined one. He is living out that destiny, at great personal pain to him when more of his allies will fall in his own anti-corruption campaign. But destiny is not Pollyana or Disneyland. It will experience betrayal because politics and destined change are not equal – destiny always takes priority.
I remember, and therefore, not shocked that corruption is so deeply embedded in our government system, in our business practices – and even quietly tolerated in our social values.
I wish to remember still, and hope more will, too. In remembering, we will see the threads. When we do, we will know how to unknot this tapestry of corruption.