Wednesday, June 16, 2010

No corruption, no problem?

President-elect Benigno C. Aquino III campaigned successfully with the tag line "kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap." This statement was created to cater to the electorate who are tired of politics-as-usual, meaning several political groups or families getting richer at the expense of the people. This is a hasty generalization which is faulty logically, but succeeded in capturing people's imagination and getting President-elect Aquino's point across.

The most popular form of corruption, of course, is the type that is said to be committed by politicians. And it is said to be done in several forms. Some raid the kaban ng bayan to personally pay for their extravagant lifestyle. Some overprice on their expenses, in collusion with businesses, pocketing kickbacks. Some rig public biddings to favor those bidders, who would then have to return the favor, one way or another. Some sell their principles over issues that affect people's lives, forgetting that people's welfare should be the supreme and guiding law. Some practice nepotism to keep power, and its privileges, all in the family.

The money wasted on corruption that would have otherwise benefited the people is, well, money gone and will never return. I'm a simple employee whose income tax automatically gets deducted from my salary, never to be seen by me. It really hurts if I learn it was seen, and pocketed, by people who shouldn't. Of course, I'd want a leader who is tough of corruption. Vowing to fight corruption will certainly get people's attention and votes, even though every politician will promise this anyway. It just boils down to the matter of believability.

However, the absence of corruption does not necessarily lead to significantly higher standards of living. Thinking so is foolish. To fight poverty, a country has to accomplish the bigger task of nation-building. The battle against corruption is only one part of this task.

Focus should be given to the improvement of revenue collection, whether from tax or customs charges. This is the lifeblood of the nation, which we have to prevent from being sucked by vampires who would bleed us dry for their own benefit. It should be considered a noble duty of a citizen to pay taxes properly. Be he rich or poor, there is no excuse. Especially for those who have more in life. A rich man who pays the right amount of taxes, even though our society and history have shown that he can get away with not doing so, can be considered a philanthropist. Otherwise, he is a robber baron. It's a fine line that separates such statuses. Those who are tasked with the difficult job to collect taxes and customs duties need to remain vigilant as well, and strong in resisting temptations of fortune and favors.

Then, we have the creation of infrastructure to allow the expansion of local business and attract foreign investment. "Build and they will come," said a character in a movie. Build Philippine infrastructure well and they will come in droves, with their money.

Infrastructure development will also make daily life easier. No potholed roads. Bridges that lead to somewhere. Improved highways. More quality public transport systems.

There is also the improvement of government hospitals that will provide quality service and technology usually found in private hospitals to the public for a small amount of money. If possible, we can aim to expand the coverage of health care to the level seen in European countries.

Government funding for public schools teaching grade school and high school and state colleges and universities can be increased. Education is what will save this nation more than anything else. Investment on the youth is a no-lose policy. Knowledge is the gift that keeps on giving. With this in mind, the government needs to improve the facilities of its educational institutions while aiming to keep tuition fees as low as possible.

And of course, money that is not lost on corruption can be used to improve the lives of public servants. Those who serve need support. The best way to show our respect and pride for our hardworking public servants is to honor them with honest pay for their honest work. Do not make the mistake of equating giving dignity with giving money. It's just that an increase in salaries and benefits would certainly strengthen morale because it gives a simple reminder of how important they are to us. The teachers in the mountains, the soldiers in the battlefield, the policemen in the streets, the clerk who files your records, and all the hardworking men and women of the government who play vital roles in creating a better Philippines.

These are but a few of what can create a strong republic, together with the battle against corruption. These are simple enough things, when you think about it. They are not far-fetched ideas that. They are the things that I simply believe should be done.

"Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap" isn't a plan or a platform on its own. Just a catchy line. But it would serve as a nice centerpiece in the government's efforts to improve the lives of Filipinos.

The absence of corruption will not end poverty. But winning the battle against it will certainly open the door to genuine change and progress in our nation. Then, whatever our dreams are, we can take it from there.

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