Napoles: The Common Good

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

Like many other Filipinos, I read, listen or watch news about Janet Napoles. I have been doing so ever since her cousin, Benhur Luy, began to talk about a web of corruption that he was part of until the latter part of 2012. Because I write a weekly column, I tend to remember highlights, time periods, and how an issue runs hot, gets cold, fades, gets buried, and sometimes resurrects.

Recently, especially after Napoles seeks to be a state witness herself and comes up with her own list of government officials, or their fronts, who have been on the take, an unusual level of noise from those denying, from those accusing, and from those just unable to resist commenting. It has been a virtual cacophony, a Tower of Babel relived, enough to confuse the silent majority with contrasting and conflicting opinions. It is not the alleged lists from Napoles that confuses more, but the personalities in and around the lists, and the more vociferous among kibitzers.

I remember Jun Lozada the whistle-blower. I even remember Chavit Singson, an even earlier whistle-blower. I remember how the two administrations of Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo used more than just intimidation to try to silence Singson and Lozada. One sensed an impending rubout in Manila, called his mayors as psychological and physical shields, then went public to expose the plunderous behavior of a sitting president. The other, after being kidnapped from the airport and given what must be the most memorable ride of his life, complete with threats to make him believe he would die before seeing family and friends, sought refuge among brave nuns and La Salle Brothers before going public as well.

It appears, from the minds of these whistle-blowers, that going public with what they know is their best protection. If they were right in concluding that Estrada and Arroyo would prevent them from sharing dirty information even if it meant killing them, then going public was not so much a moment of truth but a moment of self-preservation. There is nothing wrong with that. Courage and integrity are not normal virtues of thieves, but can be developed in the midst of a life-threatening crisis and in the fresh company of brave and noble Filipinos. At some point, because I had occasion to be with Chavit and Jun during their cathartic process, I did see them reach the noble in them. I did tell Chavit, while in awe at his transformed state, that he was a hero whose greater challenge will be to sustain his heroism.

Chavit triggered not just his nobility during that crisis, but something bigger – the courage of a silent majority, or enough of them, to express their disgust at the greed of a most popular president. The turn of sentiments from largely positive to largely negative pushed rebellion in the hearts of many AFP and PNP officers and personnel. At a critical point, even the AFP Chief of Staff deserted his Commander-in-Chief when he felt the irresistible tide of both his institution and the people.

It may seem that Jun Lozada failed to be as effective a trigger than Chavit. He was not able to bring down Arroyo who, unlike Estrada in his time, was already a most unpopular president. But Jun achieved something that he may not appreciate enough, especially now when he developed his own set of frustrations that he seemed to be struggling to rise above of. From my own observation, Jun Lozada helped sensitize a more collective conscience, a process more substantive and sustainable than a burst of collective behavior. Even among those who may not know, or remember, the hero of the moment in the person of Jun Lozada, the process of a more sensitive, collective conscience has become irreversible.

In a few short years, whistle-blowers who attain a critical level of credibility are not being threatened or discouraged by the PNOY administration. In fact, in the case of Benhur and company, including now even Janet Napoles, the opposite, the extreme opposite, is true. Benhur was rescued and protected by the NBI, and is now the golden-haired boy of the Department of Justice. The Senate and Congress, despite the number of members in each chamber as part of the involved according to the whistleblowers, are not timid about investigating the cases.

The Ombudsman, too, cannot be said to be deliberately avoiding investigating and preparing cases against those whom it believes to be prosecutable. What seems more plausible is that the Ombudsman is trying to be deliberately avoiding prosecuting cases that will lose. If it takes more time to raise the odds for conviction of high government officials, then the Ombudsman must have that regardless of the screams that accompany the impatient. The conviction of senators and congressmen in one fell swoop is history in the making, an event that, otherwise, only bloody revolution or civil war can accomplish.

It is the common good of the Filipino as a people, the collective raising of consciousness, the refinement of values and ethics,  that is much more important than the personalities that evolution or destiny uses to trigger societal crises. Every change agent, if not for personal aggrandizement, works for the cause of the common good. In a universe seeking its higher self are societies seeking their own, including the Philippines. That common good confronts Janet Napoles, representing both the culture and personality of corruption. What is happening is the dynamics of a change so powerful that the frustration and agitation of advocates will ultimately be worth it, if not for them, then definitely for the people and the nation.

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