Grassroots & Governance

It was an encouraging surprise to find human rights activist Etta Rosales being interviewed on TV and pointing out the ridiculousness of the Sandiganbayan decision to dismiss still another one of the Marcos graft cases, this time worth P168 million. Rosales raised the issue of what this could have done to help alleviate poverty among our rural people. It could have paid for the enhancement of irrigation systems and fertilizer subsidies, and both investments could have made food more accessible to the majority of our people, both rich and poor.

Rosales went as far as to demand the resignation of Solicitor General Jose Calida whom she said was a Marcos friend who could have, if he had wanted to, prevented the ridiculous technicality that was the basis for the dismissal of the graft and corruption case by the Sandiganbayan: the documentary evidence was composed of photocopies, and not originals. Really now. If there were photocopies, there must have been originals. Couldn’t the SolGen have mobilized assistance from the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) and other government agencies to locate the originals? Or have they been stolen and/or destroyed?

Sadly, Etta Rosales’ voice was a mere whimper, hardly heard in the midst of the deafening silence that has become the new normal in response to huge injustices from our judiciary. This judiciary has dismissed cases against Danding Cojuangco, thus legitimizing his ownership of San Miguel shares which had been funded by loans secured from the United Coconut Planters Bank of which he was CEO. The Sandiganbayan also dismissed the plunder case against Bong Revilla while convicting his chief of staff for the same offense, and instructing Revilla to return the millions found in his bank account. How far can we go to insult the intelligence of the Filipino people? But there he is, back in the Senate, getting more votes than the hardworking Bam Aquino. And now a colleague of Senator Imee Marcos.

It is only a little over 30 years (or a generation) ago since we marched in the streets for years, and succeeded in ousting the corrupt dictator, his family and cronies from our country. We have such short memories. Today, here they are holding elective office once more, and, as far as I know, none of the wealthy cronies, not even members of the dictator’s family, have been sent to jail. The former First Lady, Imelda Marcos has been convicted of graft charges but she is out on bail, because at the time the crimes were committed, the plunder law had not been passed.

If this is the new normal, where will this lead our country? Our children and their children hardly know about the Marcos dictatorship and its violations of human rights and governance ethics. Besides, ethics has become an alien concept. Now and then, some government official is found guilty of some offense such as conflicts of interest (e.g., SolGen Calida and Health Secretary Duque); but they are still in office or reassigned to another government post.

Thanks to the economic cluster in the Cabinet led by Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, the business community is complacent and does not rock the boat because there are so many opportunities for them, especially for the top 20 or so conglomerates who are raring to get into the billion-peso Build, Build, Build projects. The rich will get richer. But the poor still suffer from involuntary hunger. And they are too weak and ill-informed to raise hell about all the injustices.

What will it take to get at least our middle class to start raising hell and organizing once more against all the thievery that has been and is being done to the modest assets of our government? How much can we tolerate the degradation of our ethical norms and our civilization?

We are being left behind by our neighbors in reducing or getting rid of poverty. Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand have left us behind. We are about to be surpassed by Indonesia and communist-run Vietnam.

What will it take to wake us up?


Teresa S. Abesamis is a former professor at the Asian Institute of Management and Fellow of the Development Academy of the Philippines.