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The nightmare of our choice


     Former Senator Rene Saguisag, a dilawan forever, was wont to  say, cynically and delightfully, in public his mordant view of the Ombudsman. “ Whenever I shook his hand,” he said of the then Ombudsman chief,”I immediately counted my fingers afterwards if there was  any missing digit.

       Now comes Ombudsman Samuel Martirez telling the Senate virtually that fighting corruption in the Philippines is a moonshot. Not even a P100 billion budget, he told Senator Koko Pimentel, will  make a difference in the fight to rid government of corruption that, on record, was worst during the previous administration than it has ever been.

       One possible reason: his own office is inhabited by- no, infested with- corrupt officials. He knows them but he can’t run after them because he doesn’t have, technically not morally, what is needed to send them to jail: concrete evidence. For a topnotch legal mind like him, he knows that hearsays don’t count, even if there are a thousand reasons to believe they must be true. 

        Corruption is a monster, and the German philosopher  Nietszche had earlier warned that those who fight corruption must not  become the abominable  ogre they want to eradicate. “ If you look at the abyss, “ he said, “ the abyss looks back at you.” 

        To be sure, Martires is a fair and reasonable  judge. In his time as one, he was accused of failing to issue a warrant of arrest for an accused murderer despite the presence of evidence and the recommendation from the prosecution.  The case was dismissed for, as usual, lack of merit.

        He must have had more than an educated mind whereof he spoke. He was a member of the High Court before he was tapped by former President Duterte to head the Ombudsman.  He was known for implementing a moratorium in the release of government officials’  statement of assets and liabilities (SALN) because the document is allegedly  being weaponized for political reason. It was, of course, consistent with the opinion of Duterte.   They’re both law graduates from the same law school, probably speak the same language.

          Two laws, R.A. 3019 and R.A. 6713 and the 1987 Constitution all require that all public employees and officials must honestly and transparently tell the public as to how wealthy or poor they are.  The SALN, which must contain all the truth and nothing but the whole truth, must be made available to the public.

           In making it more difficult for the public to get a copy of any public official’s SALN, Martires has essentially defanged the laws and the Constitution in cleansing government of corrupt people. 

           Where will  Martires’ Senate confession lead the country in the perennial tolling of the bell against corruption? If a bigger budget cannot stop corrupt officials, including from no less than the Ombudsman itself, from engaging in it like nobody’s business, what’s the point of having an inutile anti-graft body? 

             A more dramatic, more impactful course of action Martires should have done was to have submitted his resignation right there and then. Nobody expected him to commit hara-kiri for his self=flagellation .  But something resonates.  If you can’t do the job, so a famous American  businessman once said, get out of the way. The Senate should have urged him to do so immediately after his honest-to-goodness revelation.

             Not yet. He is on top of a very serious, utterly curious case of humongous corruption in an agency where a mere security guard has allegedly nearly P300 million in assets and his wife with less than P200 million. Let’s see where that leads him or his probers. Still, it would make more sense, following his disappointing revelation, if somebody else were  given a chance to head the Ombudsman. 

              Or there will be more poor people in the country before his constitutional term expires.  Corruption is ultimately paid by the poor, according to Pope Francis.  Being a Catholic, Martires should have been motivated with a sense of urgency  by  the  pope’s syllogistic view., unless Benedictines and Jesuits don’t see eye to eye on the issue.  The pope sees the bigger picture: poverty  is a function of corruption. The solution is obvious, not necessarily a walk in the park.                              

              In  the 2021 corruption perception index, the Philippines ranked 117th out of 180 countries. High score equals high corruption.  Martires’ Senate pathetic disclosure confirmed it, but the devil is in the detail. How did we come to this unsavory reputation.  A former lady senator  once thought we got the corruption virus just like the pandemic  virus from China. But China and Taiwan, which ranked 66th and 25th respectively in the CPI, belie that, although there’s a myth.

               The senator’s own perception on the Filipino public officials’ corrupt practices are somehow buttressed   by such controversies as the botched  NBN ZTE deal, the Pharmally heist during the pandemic ,the proliferation of POGOs  and the infamous ‘pastillas’ scheme in the Bureau of Immigration. The writer Joseph Conrad insinuated in his book,  ‘Heart of Darkness” ,yes good and evil are everywhere, like there is a crocodile in every river as the Tausug believe, but corruption is also a byproduct of imperialism. Scholarly works point to the Spanish colonial period as the beginning of corruption in  Las Islas Filipinas.

                Is there hope? Yes and no. The Sandiganbayan has recently ordered the Marcoses to return nearly P400 million pesos tagged as ill-gotten wealth.  The Supreme Court has ruled on the finality of the Marcoses’ P23 billion or P203 billion estate tax payment  they owe the government.  The Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) is still around, despite fears it might be abolished upon the former president’s son return to Malacanang.  

              Martires is the  epitome of a nation seemingly at a loss in defeating the enemy. But Pogo, not the gambler, saw reality: we have found the enemy and the enemy is us.


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