Posts Tagged ‘government corruption’

pop goes the world: the unkillable culture of impunity

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  21 July 2011, Thursday

The Unkillable Culture of Impunity

What do former Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office officials Manuel Morato and Rosario Uriarte, former Maguindanao elections supervisor Lintang Bedol, Kalinga governor Jocel Baac, and Davao City mayor Sara Duterte have in common?

Aside from the fact that all were or are in government, another linking factor between them is the sense we get that they felt – no, they believed – they were not accountable to the public for any of the actions they committed while in power – and what they did was right, no matter how wrong.

The ongoing Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearings on the misuse of public funds by previous PCSO Boards are shining light into dark corners. The public, aghast, watches the testimonies of Morato (former chairman under the administration of President Fidel V. Ramos and director under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ) and Uriarte (former general manager for seven years under Arroyo), and wonders, how did they get away with it for so long?

Uriarte had a huge coffer in the hundreds of millions for “intelligence funds” to subdue illegal jueteng operators but could not give senators any results of these efforts. She gave funds to her chief-of-staff for an organization that senator Ping Lacson found was election-campaigning for Arroyo.

Morato used PCSO funds for his “Dial M” TV show that, according to ratings cited by senator Jinggoy Estrada, hardly anyone watched. There’s the matter, too, of a hotel he’d owned that was later bought by gaming operator contracted by PCSO, raising issues of conflict of interest.

Lintang Bedol swaggers into the Comelec offices four years late to a summons, conspicuously wearing a bulletproof vest. (Like they can’t shoot his head? As broadcaster Pinky Webb said on radio the other day, his face is still “an open target”.) The assembled populace holds their breath for his first words. “Hello,” he says in soft voice, his tones demure. “Kamusta kayong lahat?” What, like nothing happened?

Lintang Bedol at the Comelec on July 19. Image here.

Jocel Baac storms into radio host Jerome Tabanganay’s booth in Tabuk City while the latter is on-air and hits him in the mouth with the microphone for asking uncomfortable questions about the governor’s alleged involvement in jueteng and illegal logging operations in the province.

Sara Duterte hauls away at sheriff Abe Andres, punching him and pulling his hair as her bodyguards, in true playground bully style, hold him down. The public erupts in indignation.

Her father, vice-mayor Rodrigo Duterte, appears on television and gives the finger to her critics and telling her, no need to apologize, inday, you were “doing it for the people”.  With a father like that, no wonder, etcetera.

What makes people in positions of power think that they are immune to public censure and prosecution? Whenever Uriarte soaks a hanky with tears, are we supposed to feel sorry for her, knowing that she signed checks for P20 million and encashed them without liquidation? When Sara Duterte punches an officer of the court in the face for doing his duty, is she to be commended because her motive was to prevent a shanty community demolition?

They have forgotten that being in power also entails duty and responsibility, and nothing justifies the perpetration of violence, deception, and dishonesty.

There are so many more untold tales. Who’s the government official who’d come to work early in the morning with shower-wet hair – and drunk? Who kept hundreds of billing statements mouldering unpaid in boxes, paying only selected accounts, sending several suppliers into bankruptcy and plunging her agency in debt? Who sent her staff on a junket to Hongkong and Macau several months before the elections? And that’s just one person.

I could tell more horror stories that would curl your hair, but since it might neutralize the expensive rebonding you just had, let’s just agree that instances of government graft and corruption are myriad, like ants in a jungle or grains of sand on a beach

The important thing is, can this social cancer be reversed? Can this deeply embedded culture of impunity be ripped out by its roots and replaced with one of responsibility, fairness, transparency, and accountability?

The present administration under President Benigno S. Aquino III is trying, under his matuwid na daan policy, to set things right. It’s a slow process, and more revelations are likely to emerge and astonish, but until a new and improved culture is put in place, we have to endure under the old one.

Delicadeza is dead. Wait, this is old news. We knew that a long time ago.  ***

Image of Manuel Morato and Rosario Uriarte taken by JennyO during the Senate hearing of 18 July 2011, Jocel Baac image here.  Sara Duterte image here. Rodrigo Duterte image here.

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pop goes the world: a culture change is in the wind

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 8 July 2010, Thursday

A Culture Change Is In The Wind

Even before his proclamation, when it became clear that one Benigno Aquino III won the most votes in the recent national elections, a torrent of well-meaning advice and suggestions by way of mass media flooded him, most of them having to do with much-needed societal and governance reforms.

In the newspapers, on TV, and in the social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), the issue of government corruption tops the list of items that need to be addressed. Commenters unite in saying, “President Noynoy, crack down on the corrupt!” For changes to occur in the structure, the leader has to bring them about both by mandate and by example.

It is inspiring to see how P-Noy started with simple changes that had a personal impact – no wang-wang (sirens) and other traffic privileges for himself; no more presidential plane, he says he can fly commercial (in contrast to his unlamented predecessor who was prevented from buying a P1.2 billion executive jet by public outcry). He arrives early for appointments and beats traffic by leaving his house earlier than he’s used to.

It is appalling to see how the new vice-president, Jejomar Binay, was caught by news media blatantly ignoring traffic rules by running a red light and turning left on a “No Left Turn” street. His comment? “But I didn’t use wang-wang.” He also said that even if he left early, traffic would have been heavy anyway. Yeah, right. Seems to me someone just doesn’t want to give up the “privileges” he’s been used to. Ignoring the rules mandated for others sets you apart from the majority and makes you feel special and powerful. Insecure much?

Binay with Erap on the campaign trail in 2010. Image here.

P-Noy has been criticized for focusing on “insignificant” matters while bigger issues require solutions, now na! Come on, give the guy a break. It’s his first week on the job, yet already his actions have triggered a perceptible shift in the culture of privilege. Hope for fairness has lifted many hearts. Ordinary citizens are using digital technology to take pictures and videos of wang-wang and traffic violators and uploading them to the Internet. Perhaps public shaming will result in a change of behavior. For a test case, we’ll see if it has an effect on V-Nay.

University of the Philippines communication professor Dr. Joey Lacson calls this “a shift in the communication environment” – policies emanating from the top will trickle down and bring about changes in society, where new knowledge and awareness may lead to a change in attitude and practice.

Yet how effective as a catalyst for behavorial change can P-Noy’s example be? To return to the issue of endemic government corruption, will the way the president lives his life be enough to foster better behavior among unscrupulous government officials and employees?

My sister Aileen arrived for a vacation last week from Dubai, where she has been based the past 15 years or so as an overseas foreign worker. She went to the National Bureau of Investigation in Quezon City the other day to obtain a police clearance and was dismayed to see the shabby building, obsolete fingerprinting equipment, and long lines that snaked in three coils to another building. “On what does the NBI spend its annual budget?” she asked.

At Window 1, she was required to pay a fee for the clearance. At the next window, she was assessed another five pesos for “fingerprinting”. “The man taking the money,” she said, “had stacks of coins in front of him. And he wasn’t behind the counter. He did not issue a receipt. What was the extra five bucks really for and why is it not included in the amount I was charged at the first window?”

Fixers asked for P350 to enable her to jump the line and get her clearance faster. They swarmed around her and the other people in line as security guards and employees watched, obviously aware of the system. Since they do nothing to stop it, it leads one to assume that at least some of them are in on it too.

I rode a cab to school yesterday. The taxi driver, Virgilio T., complained that when he went to the Land Transportation Office at N. Domingo to renew his driver’s license, he was told to return after ninety days for the card. At the same time, he was approached by a fixer and told that for a fee, he could get his license in just two weeks. “If they can print the card in that short a time,” he said, “why do they make us wait three months? Why do they have to extort money from us for them to do their job?”

These are just two instances of how deeply embedded the culture of corruption is in government, at all levels from top to bottom, the difference being a matter of scale – the big fish take billions from government contracts, the small fry are content with the steady trickle of coins.

How do you tweak the communication environment in this situation to bring about a positive cultural change? For starters, P-Noy and his team need to craft clear policies that spell out the types of unethical behavior and their corresponding penalties, then strictly enforce them without fear or favor. Consistency in implementation is necessary for credibility.

Next, P-Noy needs to be true to his policies by living a squeaky-clean life and continuing to be a good example, to enable changes in organizations to occur via the trickle-down effect. It’s a tough act, but then who said being president was easy?

We as citizens can to do our part by not giving in to the desire for convenience by refusing to engage in graft and by exposing the corrupt. Like P-Noy, no more wang-wang, no more fixers, no more getting out of traffic violations by showing the card of this or that government official. Or showing the face of a government official – that means you, V-Nay.

“A change is gonna come,” sang Sam Cooke, and we can share that optimism, for we can already feel the winds of change blowing. How refreshing they are.    ***

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