Strange Virus

by Juan L. Mercado

Are we, Filipinos, afflicted by a strange virus? Do we have “amnesia and déjà vu at the same time”?  Look at how today’s scandals blot out yesterday’s scams. Current headlines zero in on Celso de los Angeles and plunder of Legacy funds. The theft,  in Legacy banks and companies, is staggering,  even by this jaded town’s standards.  Victims are mostly low-income folk: retired school teachers, self-employed workers, etc. They deserve expose of this sleaze.

But intense Legacy coverage had unintended results: It smudges equally-shocking holdups, like the World Bank’s documented reports on rigged bids for road construction. “Al que nole miran, le olvidan,” my grandmother used to say. “Out of sight, out of mind.”

A spineless Ombudsman and white-washi bank accounts, the First Gentleman was insulated from answering tough questions. Presidential immunity, in this country, has a reach beyond letter of the law.

Thus, all the road thieves, plus their official “godfathers”, cheekily remain in business. “The past is never dead,” William Faulkner once said. “It  is not even past.”

Tell that to former Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn  Bolante. The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee reported “Joc-Joc” and coterie of runners plundered P728  million worth of  fertilizer funds.

Did  Bolante and runners blush?  Why should they? Joseph Estradsa didn’t blink when he signed as “Jose Velarde”.  Example remains the best teacher. And  if anything, “Joc Joc is a quick learner.  Now he may run for Capiz governor, come  2010. “One is never so dangerous than one who has grown too old to blush,” warned Marquis de Sade.

Some 193 officials  dipped into fertilizer loot. Gleefully, they’ve back-peddaled as this scam slipped into the inside pages. But they leave a worrisome question: Is stealing citizens blind now a qualification for public office?  “

These are the more recent examples of felony.  They’re fading rapidly into collective forgetfulness.  This lack of recall vests criminals with impunity. Many keep the loot, prosper, only to rob again tomorrow. Indeed, “we live in a world where amnesia is the most wished for state.”

You doubt that?  Run down an even abbreviated check list of past scams. Whatever happened, for example, to the  P532 million overprice for the Diosdado  Macapagal Boulevard?  No one went to jail. That turned into a dry-run for raids on World Bank road construction projects.

The original price tag for the ZTE broadband project was $132 million. After the President and First Gentlemen completed a golf game, with ZTE officials, the cost ballooned into $329 million. Kidnapping of witness Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada capped the press uproar and Senate probe. Malacanang scuppered the deal. But was any one penalized for this attempted  hijack?

The President denounces “disappearances” and “salvaging”. But no victims turn up. Not activist Jonas Burgos. Nor UP students Karen Empeno, Sherlyn Capada and others. Davao teacher Reblyn Pitao’s “crime” was her father is an NPA commander. She was raped and salvaged.

OK. So, military rouges did it. But why do they disdain the Commander-in-Chief’s diktats?   Is it because her words don’t square with her deeds?  She coddles, for example,  former Gen. Jovito Palaparan. The man ran this country’s “dirty war” ala Pinochet.

In October 2007, the President met with congressmen, then with Union of Local Authorities officials. Envelopes were handed out.

“I thought it was a Christmas gift,” explained Rep, Antonio Cuenco of Cebu. “What’s this P500,000 for?”,  Pampanga Governor Ed Panlilio asked aloud: “Everybody else zippered up.” Cebu Daily News noted. “Even more telling, no one returned an envelope.”

Remember the P1.6 billion Mega-Pacific election computers? Senate Report 44 skewered  Election Commissioner Benjamin Abalos for tailored specifications and premature approval.

“Credible, orderly and peaceful elections…were  put in jeopardy by the illegal and gravely abusive acts of Comelec,” the Supreme Court ruled.

Ombudsman Mercedes Gutierrez prosecuted no one. She didn’t get back the money paid. There was a major crime,  Ms Guiterrez admitted. But no one was liable.  “Where in the world does a major crime occur without a criminal?,” asked Viewpoint ( Inquirer, 7/29/08) “Onli in da Pilipins.”

Many scams disappear in amensia’s pits: from  1,353 overpriced but lightless street lamps installed, during  Asean’s  Summit,  funneling of Girl Scout funds into a congresswoman’s personal account to kickbacks in textbooks, etc.

The press does a yeoman’s job of exposing these finagling. But does our job end there? “We’re  always moving on to the next thing,” a broadcast executive noted. “Hence, we really never develop a vocabulary for sustained coverage.”

Officials must be held accountable. In ancient Rome, the engineer would stand under an arch when the last capstone is put into place. Accountability in today’s government is possible only if  the press dispels  amnesia. Follow-up ensures. ”Permanent ghosts, stamped, inked, imprinted, ( are ) eternally seen.”

Newspapers are now developing checklists. They track how a scam develops or fizzles. That shapes the tough follow up  questions. As Saul Bellows stressed: “Memories keep the wolf of insignificance from the door”.

(E-mail: juanlmercado@gmail.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it )


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