Opening A Closet Of Skeletons

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

It is almost amusing to monitor all the ranting and raving about the reported P10-billion pork barrel fund scam. The information being downloaded by the whistle-blowers are all so juicy, real or not. It makes for a good teleserye, actually. Now, another chapter is adding itself to the drama – the warrants of arrest just issued against Janet Lim-Napoles and her brother. As of this hour, I do not know if Napoles has already been arrested.

Assuming that the allegations are true instead of assuming innocence until proven guilty, there is more than enough reported wrongdoing to justify public outrage. What I find amusing is that the justification for public outrage has been there for a long time, except that the public was not outraged.  After all, the whistle-blowers’ story starts from the late 90’s and established the scam formula throughout the whole Gloria and Mike Arroyo regime.

Before the advent of whistle-blowers, which Chavit began against Joseph Estrada and which Jun Lozada courageously picked up with his ZTE revelations, the dirt about the pork barrel had been an open chismis subject until people tired of hearing about it. The railings against the pork barrel must be as old as a senior citizen by now.

It may be that the Erap Resign movement did trigger enough focus on corruption, and an objectionable immoral lifestyle, to end in the unwilling removal of a sitting president. It may be that this process of almost four months of unrest became a partial vent for deep-seated frustrations. With reduced internal pressure because of EDSA Dos, the public again took a very tolerant stance against corruption. Not funny, but public perception of corruption immediately rose in the first three months of the Gloria and Mike tandem that it overtook the worst level that Estrada reached.

Now, what can one expect from a government considered corrupt, or from a string of governments judged to be corrupt? It means corruption finds way to roll itself out. It does not stay in the chismis mode, it always applies itself into action. And because it had been doing so for decades, the application has become systemic and the culture endemic.

What makes us more shocked today than yesterday? We may think it is the alleged P10-billion scam but that cannot be so. After all, if we go back just 10 years, what has been stolen by corrupt officials and their cohorts in the private sector can be well over a trillion pesos.  Many had estimated corruption to have eaten up 30 percent or more of government projects. Even operating costs including the largest, salaries and wages for government personnel, had been stained with ‘‘ghost employees’’. The one trillion pesos I speak about could have been reached just in the nine years of Gloria and Mike.

So, if it is not about a shocking P10 billion story of a scam, why are we, the Filipino public, more agitated now?

I believe the first reason is that P-Noy made Matuwid na Daan a personal vision, that a Philippine President has made fighting corruption a personal challenge and has put his entire administration on the alert against it. This bold public stance prioritizing an anti-corruption attitude does not eliminate corruption but it begins a sincere and sustained effort to do so. All his Cabinet Secretaries know that P-Noy will not hesitate to fire them if he has reasonable proof, and not even beyond reasonable doubt. Now, can you imagine reporting dishonest government officials to Gloria and Mike – and believe they will act against the thieves?

I believe the second reason is that there are now enough young Filipinos who are not yet influenced by the corruption of older generations, that idealism and nobility are finding young heroes and heroines who refuse to inherit a dirty lifestyle. I have witnessed a second generation of elected officials whose family names may not have been exempted from the perception of being ‘‘trapos’’ but are more influenced by the higher standards of ethics and performance.

I believe, thirdly, that there are more Filipino citizens who are now connecting the dots, that corruption, indeed, stunts national progress and aggravates historical poverty. Even with reports of more massive vote-buying at higher rates than before, politicians cannot simply assume that they can buy votes cheaply. And they are not as able to monitor and determine if the voter is really voting for the vote-buyer.

I believe the fourth reason is a growing kindness and concern for the poor by the non-poor, by a growing number of pro-poor programs by corporations, civic organizations, schools and volunteer groups. I believe that this emerging spirit of pro-active sympathy for the poor, especially victims of disasters, understand why corruption is not only immoral but also so wasteful in the face of great and urgent need.

I believe, as a fifth reason, that the Catholic Church is also starting its own recovery program against its own corrupt, albeit that this corruption is against the wealth of the faith more than the money of the institution. The advent of Pope Francis with his simplicity, his sincerity, and his compassion for the poor will overwhelm the acrimonious noise of high-profile bishops, and young Cardinal Tagle will represent that posture more than the CBCP. The appeal for love, forgiveness and mercy by Pope Francis will find more support and may redefine the face and voice of the Catholic Church in the Philippines.

I believe that the sixth reason is technology, a special kind whose nature is speed and transparency, which is not driven by morality but by an almost insatiable need to have data and to share that data. This sixth reason, combined with the five reasons mentioned above, will literally rock the boat in ways we have not yet imagined.

What is clear is that many skeletons are rattling, or are rattled. They sense the closet door will soon be opened, and the light will set them free. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, though, way beyond government. Many more will talk and point to each other. Because in the end, corruption could not have taken over if we did not allow it.

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