By Niña Terol (originally posted in the blog Out of the Universe)
And now we face yet another hundred-million-peso scandal, unfolding in real-time in the august chambers of the Philippine Senate, involving yet another fall guy who is now the country’s hottest topic (and butt of jokes) but who will later on be forgotten. The moment I heard his name—a few years ago, when my mom casually mentioned the name of the Rotary’s then-District Governor—I immediately felt that there was something fishy about a man named Jocelyn, who called himself Joc-Joc. I think that any public servant who respects his position enough should at least find a more suitable nickname upon assuming a position of great responsibility. Don’t trust a man who calls himself a joke—or, perhaps more accurately, a two-faced joker.
But I digress. This latest scandal to rock the Philippine shores—er, fields—paints yet another ugly caricature of this present administration and its cohorts and once again makes the Filipino nation look like a bunch of idiots. How can anyone justify distributing funds for agricultural inputs that are of the wrong kind, given at the wrong time, for the wrong districts? (And, oh yes, they were grossly overpriced, too.) I felt a brief moment of admiration for Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago when she admitted that, although she is an administration ally, Joc-Joc Bolante was simply “defending the indefensible.”
There is simply no way of getting around this. And we cannot let these corrupt, unscrupulous officials get away with it. If I were a guy, I’d say that “nakakalalaki na ‘tong gobyernong ito (this government is challenging my manhood–or something to that effect).”
This whole episode reminds me of Dr. René Azurin’s book, aptly titled Power Without Virtue. In his introduction, he exhorts us to exact accountability from government, saying that “their powers should be strictly limited, constantly monitored, and held always in check.” Allow me to share some excerpts from his book’s introductory essay:
“… Tremendous discretionary power over public funds, public resources, and public policies is vested in those who capture control of government, and that power has been consolidated, increased, refined, guarded, and avariciously used over the years by the nation’s politicos for their own private and personal gain. Irrespective of any labels or party names that presidents, senators, congressmen, and local government officials have attached to themselves over the more than hundred years since [Mabini’s time], all have been joined… by the notion that the positions they occupy are opportunities ‘to grasp’ and not ‘to serve.’
“By its very nature, of course, it is inescapable that power is vested in government and, by extension, in government officials. Because, however, it is not reasonable to expect that our public officials will be as moral or as ethical as the ‘sublime’ Mabini [whom Dr. Azurin refers to early on in his essay], their powers should be strictly limited, constantly monitored, and held always in check. Discretionary allocations in the national budget—like the huge presidential discretionary funds and legislative pork barrel—should be eliminated altogether. The decisions to award public projects should always be minutely scrutinized, publicly justified, and never cloaked in ‘executive privilege.’”
Joc-Joc Bolante has yet to invoke “executive privilege”, but he has asked that his right against self-incrimination be upheld, even if this is a right extended only to the accused and not to witnesses. He insists that he never knew who recommended him as Undersecretary of the Department of Agriculture, even if he later on admits that the only one he knows from the upper echelons of Malacañang is First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, a “good friend” of his. He apologizes for having made the Senate wait for three years for him to surface and offer his testimony, even if he has had plenty of opportunities to surface before his incarceration in the United States. Moreover, he is adamant that the President had nothing to do with this scandal, although incumbent officials acknowledge that Mrs. Arroyo is a micro-manager who dips her fingers (or those of her husband) in practically every matter in this government. Nobody believes that P728 million could be disbursed to over a hundred districts in the country without this president’s knowledge.
Clearly, what we have in front of us is a joker who cannot be trusted or given the benefit of the doubt. He is one of those avaricious men whose primary motivation for joining government is to enjoy its many under-the-table perks. Now that he has surfaced, we will have to bear with days—possibly even weeks—of a live telenovela that makes the Filipino people look tanga (idiotic) in the worst possible way. How much more of this will we take? Aren’t we tired of scandal after scandal, and of government officials who think that we’re stupid, apathetic, and callous, even?
More importantly, what are we going to do about it? I once more refer to Tito Rene’s introduction to show an alternative I do not want to see:
“In theory, the extent of government power is specified by the role the people assign to it. In practice, that role is actually determined by the latitude the political class is given to arrogate powers unto themselves. Unfortunately, ‘the people’—being a dispersed, diffuse mass—have no real ability to limit that latitude. It is therefore left to other organized institutions of society—such as civic groups, business groups, advocacy movements, professional associations, religious institutions, academic institutions, and media—to try to circumscribe (if they are so inclined) the role of government and the powers of government officials, and then hold them to account.
“A community holds together, I believe, largely because there are reasonable expectations that a system exists for ensuring that each member of it will be treated fairly and justly by the community itself, if not necessarily by every other member of it. Without this conviction, I think that communities will inevitably break apart (unless held together by force, in which case a revolt will eventually become inevitable). If the privileged few who exercise power in the community use this power to plunder and exploit, and they vulgarly display themselves as exempt from the rules imposed on the ordinary many without power, there is no compelling incentive for the powerless and unprivileged to stay within the community or, if they do, to follow its rules.”
If we want to keep intact what is left of the Philippine community, we need to demand accountability from our public officials NOW. The jokers in government have already taken too much from us—what else are we going to allow them to grasp?
Niña Terol, 28, is an officer of Team RP and YouthVotePhilippines and a member of other reform-oriented groups. She hopes to make real, positive change happen in the Philippines within her lifetime.