A Little History Of Thievery

by Juan L. Mercado

The big mistake is to be awed by the numbers of the million people march. It did not hit one million, maybe not even one half. It is a bigger mistake to not to be awed by the event last Monday because it deserves all the credit it claims.

Having several hundreds of thousands in the Luneta when there was clear organizer is a feat. In different major cities, they had their version of the Luneta gathering as well. The numbers were not overwhelming, but those same numbers are not static. Even today, the numbers grow because the spirit of million people march remains agitated.

Thirty years ago, August 21, 1986, a big mistake was made. The dictatorship shot one man in the tarmac of the Manila International Airport. He was only one man, after all, and so many had been killed by the dictatorship by then.  But one man’s martyrdom was more than enough to light a fire. It was simply time. Filipinos did not want to live in fear anymore. They said, “If they could kill Ninoy Aquino like that, they could kill any of us anytime.”

Thirty years later, August 26, 2013, Filipinos said, “If they could steal our money like that, so much, so arrogantly, they can do that anytime they want to.” People have had enough today; it is simply time.

Yes, 1986 Edsa was about freedom lost and regained. Freedom most of all was the battle cry. But the evil of corruption followed very closely as motivation for Filipinos to fight the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. The call for a boycott against crony firms after the snap elections meant that Filipinos knew how the dictator fed his cronies while he bled the nation.

Marcos underestimated the temper of the times just as he underestimated the numbers of Filipinos willing to confront him. For too long, he did not depend on the support of the people. He was too used to using the military to frighten people into quiet submission. In the end, he lost both the people and the military. In the end, the spirit for change drove the people to Edsa and Marcos to Hawaii.

In Transparency International’s  list of the World’ Most Corrupt Leaders as of 2007, Ferdinand Marcos was in Number 2. This shame apparently was not enough to deter big time corruption because Joseph Estrada was convicted of plunder and found his way to the 10th place of the same list of the World’s Most Corrupt Leaders.

Estrada’s subsequent removal from Malacanang came about after an aborted impeachment trial turned into street action. Like Marcos in Edsa ’86, people went to the street. When Estrada lost the people, he also lost the military. In the same list of the World’s Most Corrupt Leaders, Estrada made it to number 10.

Twice, sitting presidents went into plunder and twice, the people and the military turned against them. It was impossible that the number one beneficiary of the Erap Resign movement would not learn from the fiasco of her predecessor. But apparently, Gloria learned the other lessons but not the most important – honesty. She kept the military close to her, or at least the key leaders from day one to year nine.

She could not keep her image clean, though, and all the more her husband’s. Early in her presidency, the IMPSA scandal broke out before she could warm her bed in Malacanang. The most expensive roads in the reclamation area scandalized the people, followed by the smuggling of rice, of sugar, of different foodstuff.  The list went on and smelled so bad that in December 2002, she announced that she would not seek reelection in 2004. She lied, of course, but the lie worked enough to fool the people and eased the political pressure.

Learning as well that Edsa ’86 and Edsa Dos in 2001 worked because the Catholic Church went with the people against Marcos and Estrada, Gloria went out of her way to establish a relationship with bishops. She got enough of them to be supportive of her and there were only muted cries against the corruption of her administration. She was not able to prevent being viewed so negatively by the public that she has emerged as the most unpopular president ever in Philippine history.

Of course, Gloria now stands accused of plunder and stealing the 2004 presidential elections. It is no wonder that the 10 billion peso scam could have taken place in the environment Gloria built around her nine years in office. And it will be no wonder if many times that amount will also surface as stolen. Sen. Serge Osmena already pointed to a 111 billion scam in a bridges-to-nowhere program. COA is investigating the mis-use of the Malampaya oil amounting to 23.6 billion.

The ZTE scandal did not materialize because whistleblower Jun Lozada found the courage to tell the public about what was going on. But the story goes that the Chinese firms involved had already given advances, not to government, of course, but to government officials. But cases could not prosper despite all the corruption because the environment did not encourage prosecution.

It is expected that the current furor over the 10-billion scam, the PDAF, and the so-called pork barrel will find a government eager and willing to run after the thieves. Already, the DOJ/NBI are combining efforts with the Ombudsman and the COA, including AMLA for money-laundering activities. And why shouldn’t they? Was it not P-Noy’s first act to establish the truth Commission? Was it not Former Chief Justice Corona’s first act to shoot down that Truth Commission – because it seemed to target only Gloria Arroyo? Well, Rene Corona, we may not live long enough for government to finish finding, investigating, prosecuting and convicting her and all the thieves from 2001-2010.

A little history of the thievery will go a long way in making social media revolutionaries realize the context, and difficulty, of cleansing society of corruption in high places. But the odds are now in our favor because people power is alive.

Leave a Comment