Thursday, June 10, 2010

Corruption as Culture


Corruption in the Philippines is not from the top going down. Unlike other countries where, when corruption rears its ugly head, the people rise up like mythical Greek heroes and slay it. They do it through the ballot. Whatever ruling party has allowed corruption to fester in their governments and societies gets booted out of office in humiliating defeats at the polls. The new party tries to correct the mistakes of the past and to steer the national ship in the right direction again. In mature democracies, the losing party usually performs a re-organization in its ranks, ridding itself of its corrupt elements, in order to win the trust of the people again.

Corruption is beaten easily because it is never allowed to grow and is not given a part in national culture. And the people take the patriotic duty to save their country from it to heart.

The Filipinos' fight against corruption is much tougher. Corruption in our country is from the bottom going up. It is a fight against our own culture, history, belief, and in the end, ourselves. Corruption in the Philippines is prevalent on all sectors of society, regardless of financial status, profession, gender, educational level, faith, or politics. Corruption is an evil spirit that has taken root in our Filipino soul.

When we talk about corruption in the Philippines, our kneejerk reaction usually is to complain about congressman this and mayor that. We immediately put a face on corruption, usually the faces you see on campaign materials during elections. We fail to realize that corrupt politicians are not the source of corruption in the Philippines. They are merely the product of our culture. It was our culture that gave dirty politicians impunity. Wealth and position may have made them rich and powerful, but it was our culture that let them get away with it.

It is also the mistaken notion of most Filipinos to simply equate corruption with money. The illegal transfer of money from one party to another is merely a part of the culture of corruption. Maybe Filipinos prefer to simplify things that way to make themselves feel better when they insult politicians every time the topic of corruption comes up.

Corruption is about the perversion of man’s idea of a civilized state. When someone seeks to bend a civilized society’s norms to suit his malevolent desires, whether he believes it to be the right thing to do or not, it is corruption. And when corruption has been institutionalized, that is when civilization fails. History is replete with empires that fell under the weight of its own corruption.

The truth is, corruption in the Philippines starts from the common man. Sad as it is to say, that means the common man who is said to be striving hard to earn a living despite being robbed blind by their leaders.

The person that offers bribes to a government employee to facilitate transactions, and the employee who accepts them, are equally corrupt. The man who runs a red light when no policeman is looking is corrupt. The driver who puts money with his license as he hands it to a traffic cop is corrupt. The palengke vendor who rigs his weighing scale to dupe customers is corrupt. The billionaire who refuses to pay correct taxes is corrupt. The pedestrian who crosses the street when there is already a steel barricade preventing him from doing so, a footbridge located a few feet from where he is to serve are a crossing point, and a huge sign that says “Bawal tumawid. Nakamamatay.” to scare the s**t out of him is corrupt. The voter who sells his vote is corrupt. ‘Yung nag-1-2-3 sa jeep is corrupt. The applicant who presents a fake diploma from Recto is corrupt. The neighbor who throws his garbage where it clearly written "bawal magtapon the basura dito" is corrupt. The taxi driver who chooses passengers is corrupt. Able-bodied men and women who choose to remain indolent or resort to begging for handouts from relatives and the government are corrupt.

I could go on and on. The point is that all these exist in our society. We all probably know someone who would fall into the descriptions I gave. Our nation seems to have already accepted such behavior, like corruption already beat us so we might as well join in on the “fun.” We talk about these things and it often results in smiles, not frowns. I know Filipinos love to make fun of the ills of our society, and that’s fine. The Filipino is the master of gallows humor, whether he knows it or not. But humor should only serve as anesthesia while we heal society’s wounds. It isn’t a good thing that we’ve been telling the same joke for decades. There’s a point when the comedian himself becomes the joke.

Filipinos can start change in the smallest of ways. We can change the character of our nation for the better, one step at a time. I highly suggest people get themselves a copy “12 Little Things Every Filipino Can Do To Help Our Country,” written by Atty. Alex Lacson. He cites simple ways through which we can prevent our nation from becoming morally bankrupt. Atty. Lacson wrote this not because he looked lowly on the Filipino but because he has utmost faith in us and wishes us only well. He is not trying to be the sage of our time who will write a platform that will save our nation, or a modern day Pilosopong Tasyo. He’s just a friend who reminds us to do good. As a disclaimer, Atty. Lacson once taught for a brief time in my class. And he was the only candidate that I actually told people I would vote for, whether they asked or not.


Then, when we have won the battle with ourselves, it is time to fight the great war of our generation, the war for the Filipino soul. This war will be waged through our votes. No longer must we allow those who have enjoyed impunity from justice for their corrupt ways be allowed to hide behind their positions and capitalize on the Filipino culture of corruption.

Allow me to borrow some terms from our American friends and change them up a bit. We have to elect leaders who can offer us a new deal, not the tired old politics-as-usual. Leaders who will introduce us to a new Philippine frontier, where we can leave behind our messy past, which exposed us to dictatorship, coup d’etats, legislative lethargy, electoral fraud, paralyzing partisanship, rebellions, widespread poverty, rampant criminality, and other such horrors, and discover the true wonder and beauty of our nation. The oldest republic in Asia will once more be invited to the dance of mature democracies. The world is watching and waiting.

As Senator Richard Gordon loves to say, “What this country needs is not a change of men but a change in men.”

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