Institutional Corruption

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

Maybe because I write a weekly article in an opinion page, I tend to connect what I write about over time. There is that issue of coherency. Though life teaches us to learn new things every day, there are certain fundamental views and values that must stand the test of time. These basically define our character, the unchanging or hardly changing facets of our lives by which people know and judge us.

Partisanship, especially in politics, is not only divisive and but is a serious obstacle to efficiency and progress. It takes away the value of what needs to be done in favor of who needs to do it. Visions, missions, and programs are sacrificed for personalities. The common good is subordinated for the good of a person or a group. That is the cost of partisanship.

No wonder, then, that elections are not held too often. Governance is badly disturbed by politicking. Partisanship and governance are strange bedfellows; in fact, they should not sleep in the same bed at all. Partisanship corrupts governance because it promotes a jaundiced view that one side knows better than the other. Worse, it creates a hypocrisy that hides favoritism under the cloak of superior ideas or morals. Why else would societies like ours limit partisan politics to a few months every several years if these were not so destructive to governance?

Unfortunately, this is democracy as we have chosen it, as we have molded to suit our culture. The United States of America defined democracy to us when it was a foreign master who invaded, subjugated and ruled us. They could never teach us democracy and be consistent with democratic principles, not as conquerors and colonizers anyway. It is not difficult to understand, then, why we think we are democratic even when elitism remains the core nature of our governance.

Democracy is understood to be the rule of the majority where the majority reflects the common good. But democracy has deeper values, like equality in worth and dignity, like equality before the eyes of the law, like equality of opportunity for the fruits of the motherland. Of course, this kind of democracy is not present in the Philippines except, ironically, in the words and spirit of the Constitution.

It can be argued that democracy is a work in progress. From colonial rule all the way to the common good via majority rule is a long and arduous journey, even when the colonial master had left the land. But our particular journey will never prosper unless an equal opportunity to survive is first established. Human survival refers to easy access to land ownership or tenure, decent homes that protect lives from the elements, and food security. But the lack of these fundamental needs guarantee that democracy is only for some, not for all.

It is poverty that should be unconstitutional, more especially because the natural attributes of the motherland is wealth and fertility in abundance. Poverty is a crime that can only be committed by those who have the power to provide, or to deny, the basic human needs for survival.

If democracy is to work, it has to reverse the impact of our colonial and feudal history. It was not just the loss of political and religious freedom that marked our colonization but, first and foremost, the loss of our economic freedom. The transition to democracy, therefore, must begin with the return of economic freedom through the return of what was materially stolen by the colonial masters. The return of political and religious freedom does not compensate when the platform of economic freedom is withheld.

The loss of ownership or control of land at a time when land was the fundamental economic asset of man and society caused the inevitable journey to the massive poverty of the Filipino people. The government policy of selling back to Filipinos what was originally stolen from them by foreign powers is not only immoral but is institutional corruption.  Unless government recognizes its own historical amnesia, it becomes an accomplice to a historical wrong and perpetuates its horrible consequences on the victims.

In the face of abject and massive poverty, wealth and power are not accomplishments that can be touted. Instead, they should be explained and justified. If foreign powers had victimized the natives, why did a few profit? Were they collaborators? Were they traitors? Were they profiteers? If the foreign masters had left our shores, why had a local class replaced them, not only in authority but also in wealth? From what? From whom?

Why are we not curious at the massiveness of poverty when the natural wealth and fertility of our lands remain while those who forcibly took possession of them had to go and leave everything behind? Is it because the history of our poor is so insignificant in value, or are the poor themselves without value?

I had always tried to assume that those in power today carry no malice against our majority poor. I had always tried to attribute it to a historical amnesia rather than greed or lust for power. But I now realize that it is not as easy as that, that historical amnesia also carries with it a disregard for the poor themselves. Because the powers that be do not care, or do not care enough, they have no curiosity about the cause of poverty. And because they do not care, or do not care enough, the solutions they will propose will never be same as solutions they will propose if the problem were theirs.

And life will go on as usual. Politics will become more intense as election season nears. The House of Representatives and the Senate will go on with sensational cases, all political in nature, all denied to be partisan yet cannot be anything else. Meanwhile, the greatest crime of all, the greatest  theft of all, the greatest loss of all, will not be thought of, will not be debated, will not be investigated. And the poor will have to un-poor themselves, blamed for their own misery.

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