Inside The Perfect Storm

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

What a week! A Napoles storm, a pork barrel storm, and a storm called Maring. If ever there was a perfect moment to be upset, it is this week. The boat has been rocked, apathy greatly disturbed, and once again, nature shows the stupidity of urban development.

The Napoles drama is one for the books. If we give credence to the still unfolding story of the P10 billion scam by a pair of whistleblowers, then a slap in the face just woke us up. The scam was a crime waiting to be committed. It was not born from greed alone, it was a fruit of arrogance, the same arrogance and sense of entitlement that, on Day One of his presidency, P-Noy called Utak Wang-Wang.

It is not as though our politicians invented power that has no moral moorings. The principle of might over right, the same principle which justified powerful nations to conquer, enslave and plunder innocent people and lands across the world, is the parent of Utak Wang-Wang. Without Utak Wang-Wang, and without an impoverished people pliant enough to accept it, the alleged Napoles way of robbing the treasury with accomplices from almost all sectors simply could not have happened.

The whistleblowers’ story showed a scam not so awesome for its sophistication, but one awesome for its arrogance. It did not deal with an intricate mind, it dealt with an attitude of supreme confidence. And, as the story goes, we cannot blame the mastermind for devising a scheme full of shortcuts that should have exposed the numerous and obvious violations of law and procedure. After all, she was supposed to be money-making machine for senators and congressmen, for Cabinet members, the DBM and COA. Who, then, can stand in her way – especially in the 9-year presidency of Gloria who is now accused of plunder and the theft of a presidential election.

The arrogance of Utak Wang-Wang manifested its arrogance in key agencies that have been traditionally penetrated with corruption. Observing closely the dynamics of politics over the decades has allowed me some views that connect the dots of long ago to the dots of today. Corruption is not a lifeless practice. Rather, it is aggressive and feeds on human greed. When I look back at the allegations of massive corruption levied at previous administrations, many of their public officials dead by now, I see patterns beyond the specifics.

While greed may have driven the corruption of those in power, it is arrogance that makes them cross the line of secrecy or subtlety towards vulgarity. Vulgarity is necessary if one wants to pocket great amounts of money, and arrogance allows vulgarity to transcend fear. In Transparency International’s list of the most corrupt among world leaders, as of 2007, Ferdinand Marcos and Joseph Estrada made it to the Top Ten. I anticipate the great possibility of a third Philippine president in Gloria Arroyo barging into the winning circle if another Transparency International rating will be done later this decade.

If one reflects on what is common among Marcos, Estrada and Gloria in relation to plundering the nation, it is the arrogance by which the plunder was committed. And if one looks closer to that arrogance, it cannot be kept secret for that would be against its very nature. Arrogance is like a peacock, and it will draw admirers. That is why the plunder of presidents include a whole retinue of Napoles-type personalities, individuals with the blessing of the gods who do not need to use much intelligence, just much arrogance.

Before arrogance establishes itself, corruption must first become a sub-culture of governance. That means that many of the highest appointees do not merit the positions they are favored with, that their qualifications depend on both political connections and the willingness to be thieves for the appointing powers. Arrogance in the commission of plunder requires an atmosphere of governance that accepts wrongdoing as standard. Listening to the ugly story as narrated by the whistleblowers easily point to the existence of that atmosphere where might is right and above the law.

An atmosphere of corruption must necessarily include all three branches of government. The system of checks and balances is theoretically in place, but it is only a system that needs people to design it, to follow it, and to institutionalize it. Dishonest people can never follow a system designed to keep them honest. Therefore, if one branch of government will be corrupt and get away with it, it must make the two other branches of government corrupt as well. A system designed for honest governance must have officials who, like the famous three monkeys, see nothing, hear nothing, say nothing.

In many societies where the level of corruption, arrogance and looting became intolerable, the historical counter force was bloody revolution. In the Philippines, the application of bloody methods has not fared well with our culture. No matter the level of abuse, Filipinos have not sought revenge through orgies of violence. That is why the insurgency of the Left, grounded on horrible inequality, has failed to succeed because violence is its primary methodology.

The administration of P-Noy should not fear the people’s demand for change. P-Noy himself is the most high-profile reflection of the people’s deep desire for change. He won because the people wanted change. His legacy will be one of change.

The pork barrel practice keeps tradition from changing, and that is why it is gravely affected. The good that it may have done and can still do is not enough anymore to offset the bad that it has done and will continue to do. To serve the needs of our people better, and in a cleaner way, another pathway can be innovated. Consultation with the Legislative Branch can still be made necessary but the Executive Branch must take full responsibility in the application of programs and projects.

The people’s protests have always been against the darkness of dictatorships, against the ugliness of corruption, and hopefully, against the perpetuation of poverty. After four centuries, we may well be inside our perfect storm.

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