A culture of graft

    FIGHTING CORRUPTION ranks top in every administration’s agenda, the current one not exempted. Notwithstanding its OCness with the drug menace.

    Corruption though has apparently gotten the upper hand in every administration, the current one again unexempted. Look no further than the Jack Lam case.

    As hard on corruption – in verbiage, at least – is every administration on graft, the senior in the G&C partnership of evil. With the same result – graft prevailing.

    Here’s a take on the subject, in the local setting, from The Voice, Sept. 6-12, 1998.

    NO, this has nothing to do with horticulture and that method of plant propagation whereby a part of one plant is cut and attached to another to improve the species.

    Yes, it has everything to do with that incurable disease endemic in the Philippine bureaucracy. That which is so deeply rooted and pervasive that not a few anthropologists hypothesized is an integral part of Filipino culture.

    Values and traditions define the culture of a nation. Where lies graft there? The family. The basic unit of Philippine society. The font of love and unity, the binding and bonding fabric of values. There is another facet to the family though. It can likewise serve as the breeding ground of all that is not true, not good, not beautiful.

    All in the family. It is often said and heard. Of the conjugal dictatorship of the Great Ferdinand and the Beautiful Imelda then. Of the wife behind – in front, at the side, and just about every which way of – dearest mayor, governor, or congressman. Or haven’t you heard of the wifey herself knocking at the doors of the jueteng lord’s manor at every month’s end? Or the mistress of the house talking trusses, divots and vibra-rollers with contractors? Of yet another madame counting her footprints in the quarried sands of time? And still another missus who comes fortnightly a-visiting her husband’s office to withdraw from Treas (that’s treasurer, dummy) – sans vouchers and supporting papers – the wages and allowances for the cook, the driver, the gardener, the maids, and above all, for herself and the kids?

    To be politically correct and gender sensitive, there is the case of the hubby too who skims the fat off the honorable wife’s barrel of lard and promptly forks it over to the oh-so-unwifelylooking pretty-pretty GROs.

    Starting ‘em young saves time. The kids have been initiated too. Oh, how they took to the game like young alligators to the swamp. One wife may have the jueteng fund but the son holds everything else, from the contractor’s 30 percent SOP, to the grease from the amusement tax. Uh-oh, there is another son – endowed with his own sandy kingdom transcending defined political boundaries.

    Then come the other relatives, from cousins to in-laws, for the remaining pittance. From the family, the culture of graft spreads to the circle of friends. “For the boys,” as euphemized. Whence rises cronyism. One compadre to handle all medical supplies. Another confederate for the most lucrative Q. A cohort for the small contracts. The friend of a friend for the office supplies. And hey, why not a long-time kakosa as corporate partner in the numbers game?

    Pakikisama (loosely translated to fellowship) is one strong, prevalent Filipino virtue. Taken to the extreme, it becomes redolent with pungent meanings. A UP lecturer on Filipino values says thus, “Mabuti ang pakikisama basta hindi ito nagiging pakiki-sama.” The stress in the last word is on the last syllable. Fellowship is good so long as it does not end in something evil.

    Very strong too among Filipinos is the padrino or godfather syndrome. This works with another value – utang na loob (debt of gratitude). Political mentors and contributors make the bulk of the public officials’ list of favors to return or to be paid back. While a Pacman has yet to evolve on the local scene, a number of gobblers, past and present, have made their presence felt. Or have you forgotten the Voltes Five, the Pajero Gang, the Chinese connection that lorded it over Pampanga’s infrastructure scene?

    The first order of the day in any winning official’s agenda after each election is the repayment of all debts. Especially, those of gratitude.

    The primacy Philippine society puts on material things as the yardsticks of success further tightened the grip of graft among our local officials and their families, both immediate and extended. And with the grafters among local officials apparently making more the rule than the exception, graft in government has become the “normal” way. To which our people have fallen in resignation, in indifference.

    But for the local officials who may have felt alluded to here, who will raise a hoot over our thesis of a deeply imbedded and expansive culture of graft in the Philippines? Indeed, who gives a damn over this our damaged culture?


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