Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Political patronage


My April 28, 2015 column.
It’s too bad the case of John Phillip Sevilla, the beleaguered former chief of the Bureau of Customs, happened at a time when the country was preoccupied with many other seemingly more pressing things. 
There’s the historic boxing match between Filipino champion Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather happening this Sunday, which many in this country are looking forward to like it’s the Second Coming.  I understand that Pacquiao is identified as a Filipino in all his fights and carries the national colors onto the ring.  But seriously, folks, let’s not get overly carried away with the metaphors about how Pacquiao is risking his life for the sake of Filipinos everywhere in the world.  We all want him to win over the trash-talking Mayweather, but our fortunes as a nation are not directly connected to Pacquia’s triumphs or losses.
There’s the eminent execution by firing squad this week of May Jane Veloso, the Filipina convicted of drug trafficking in Indonesia – presumably today, if the last-ditch efforts to convince Indonesian authorities to be more merciful fails.  What I truly want to know is this:  Why do we always scramble for solutions to problems like these at the very last minute?  Where was everyone else when Veloso’s case was still being tried and when all the legal remedies could have really made a difference?
And then there’s the ASEAN summit in Malaysia where the issue of China’s bullying tactics in the West Philippine Sea is expected to attract controversy. Does anyone really expect China to accede to ASEAN countries?  Note that countries and major personalities have tried to intercede for Tibet for many years, but with no apparent success.  If we want China to stop annexing the Philippines, we just have to do more than complain and flail around.
Anyway.  Sevilla’s case deserves close scrutiny because it highlights the many things that stand in the way of attaining good governance in this country. Sevilla had been doing a great job at the BOC and deserved all the support he needed.  Unfortunately, he was instead given the equivalent of a kick in the posterior.  Yes, he resigned – but given that his resignation was not irrevocable and based on his public pronouncements, it was evident that the guy just wanted validation that Malacañang had his back.   As we all know, not only was his resignation accepted without question, he was also replaced pronto.  The message to Sevilla was unmistakable:  You are not irreplaceable so good riddance!
Much has already been written about the implications of the Sevilla resignation on the tuwid na daan program of government.  Sure, what happened is indicative of how the administration seems to be ditching principle to ensure that the next occupant of Malacañang is someone from the Liberal Party, or at least someone who will not do what Benigno Simeon Aquino III did to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.  But what has been glossed over is the complicity of other forces in sustaining the system of political patronage in the country.  Since we are not hearing condemnations addressed to the Iglesia Ni Cristo or the Liberal Party, what everyone seems to be saying is that political parties are expected to indulge in illegitimate political behaviour anyway and religious sects such as the INC are perfectly within their rights to demand special favours in exchange for their solid vote during elections.  Of course ethical leadership is critical in sustaining an ethical culture, but the President cannot destroy the monster by his lonesome.  Destroying the system of political patronage is a challenge that must be shared by everyone else in this country.
I know this has been said many times and more eloquently by others, but changes cannot happen unless everyone else is willing to help make them.  For example, I wish people and organizations support candidates during elections because they truly believe in the cause that candidate is espousing and not because they expect to receive political advantages afterwards.  I dream of a day when an elected President makes a public accounting of all the contributions he or she received during the campaign and proudly declares during the inaugural address that he or she considers all his or her political debts paid. What makes the system all the more disappointing is that the groups who are supposed to champion ethical behavior are most guilty of propagating political patronage. We can criticize the INC for exerting pressure on certain politicians and political parties or for lobbying for certain causes, but let us not forget that the Catholic Church pretty much engages in the same political tactic in support of its various advocacies.  And lest we forget, we also propagate political patronage when we distribute disadvantages as a form of punishment for disagreeing with our own causes and advocacies. It’s one thing to withdraw support, it’s another thing to actively campaign against someone else to the extent of engaging in sabotage or demonization. 
What we learned from the Sevilla experience is that political patronage remains deeply entrenched in our system and comes into play aggressively in times like the present when political parties are consolidating their forces and resources to ensure victory in the 2016 elections.

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