Tuesday, March 20, 2007

looking for someone to blame

This was my column yesterday. I was in Baguio City Friday to Sunday - and was sick the whole time. This column can get an award for "column written in shortest possible time," I think I wrote this in 30 minutes in a cafe at Session Road, while suffering from extreme abdominal pains. Anyway, am back in Manila, but am still sick.

In a survey conducted a couple of weeks back, international traders picked the Philippines as the most corrupt among 13 countries in Asia.

These people should know that they are the ones who allocate the money that goes into corruption in the first place. These people are the ones that pay bribes to get their business papers processed and approved at record speed.

And yes, these are the very same people who complain of inefficiency and bureaucratic red tape every single time they are made to follow procedures, wait for a few minutes, or are made to comply with some regulatory requirements.

Who has not met foreign businessmen who come to the country expecting doors to be automatically opened to them and all civil servants to be at their beck and call simply because they are investors bringing in money? They cite supposed global standards (yeah right, as if they do not line up, or accede to rigorous business processes in their own country) and complain about how bureaucratic red tape in this country is hopelessly tangled.

And then they pay grease money to facilitate their business. Very often they hire professionals to do the dirty work for them. It’s called public relations or something similarly innocuous. They feed the system, make some public officials indebted to them.

And then they have the nerve to complain publicly as if they never had the choice not to indulge in corruption.

But please don’t get me wrong, I do not share the Palace’s spin on the results of that survey. I do not share the opinion that corruption does not happen in this country.

If you may recall, immediately after the results were announced, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her bright boys attempted to downplay the results of the survey by burying their heads in the sand like that proverbial ostrich. The reaction from the administration was denial—they claimed that the survey was based on previous data and perception.

The reaction reminded me of a friend who rants endlessly about kotong cops. Yet this friend wantonly violates traffic rules and pays grease money instead of asking cops to give him a violation ticket every single time he gets flagged down for some traffic violation. In his mind, it is never ever his fault and traffic policemen simply pick him out randomly every single time as if he has a chip implanted somewhere in his body that attracts cops. He is in denial—he thinks kotong cops are corrupt, but his actions do not constitute corruption.

So what’s my beef with the results of that survey? Nothing. I think that the results validate something that we’ve all known although not quite accepted for quite some time now (the President is not the only one in denial, that’s for sure). For crying out loud, this is a country where legislators have pork barrel funds, where every single local executive thinks nothing of pulling strings to secure a relative some job or favor, where even the Catholic Church is on record as having received donations from proceeds of gambling operations.

My beef is not with the results of the survey, but with the survey itself. More often than not, these foreign individuals package themselves as victims or at the very least, impartial observers to whatever it is that they find objectionable. Truth is, they are often willing accomplices. They actually feed the system.

The group who conducted the survey did not even come clean about why they were doing the survey. I really resent the fact that these international traders or businessmen (or foreign government representatives for that matter) do these things with this unmistakable attitude of contempt for us and our processes. They point out to us what is wrong with our country but do not come clean about their role in the whole sordid scheme of things.

Oh please, contrary to what they wish us to believe, foreign businessmen and traders are not exactly the most ethical business people in the world.

There are actually many cases where foreign traders or businessmen come into the country simply to make a quick profit, and then at the first sign of trouble fly off, leaving behind a string of negative commentary about our country, our culture, our laws, our government, our people.

In other words, they spit on our faces after they’ve milked us dry and made their fortune.

These people come into the country, cavort with the devil, and then get sanctimonious and begin pontificating. It is sad but it is very easy for these people to come in, make a quick profit, and then go off just like that.

Sadder still is the fact that in the din and dynamics of the current political climate where it is more convenient to simply hate the government, certain people take advantage of any piece of bad news to shore off their political stock.

But to go back to the topic of corruption, everyone knows corruption happens in this country. Heck, everyone is guilty of it.

And this is exactly my point: Corruption is so ingrained in the Philippine culture because everyone is guilty of it. There are those who try to project this holier-than-thou attitude and pretend that the little things they do like asking friends who work for the government to facilitate their teeny weeny transactions do not comprise corruption. Many people have this insane paradigm that says corruption is something that other people do.

If we are serious about addressing corruption in this country, we must move beyond the current mindsets. Denial will not get us anywhere. Neither will blaming other people, particularly the government, work. It will take so much more than these to address the problem.

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