No way corruption in government can be stopped

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Greg B. Macabenta

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I endured several hours of streaming video of the hearings being conducted by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, chaired by Sen. Dick Gordon, on the reported P6.4-billion drug smuggling scandal.

Fallout from the inquiry has cast a wide net of suspicion involving the recently resigned Commissioner of Customs Nicanor Faeldon and other high officials of the Bureau of Customs, plus collateral damage to the reputation of Davao City Vice-Mayor and presidential son, Paolo Duterte, presidential son-in-law, Manases Carpio, and Panfi Lacson, son of Sen. Panfilo Lacson. It also caused a near-violent confrontation between Gordon and Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, with the former vowing to have the latter expelled from the Senate.

As in past sensational Senate hearings, it is doubtful that anything substantive can be expected from this one, not even by way of remedial legislation or suspects actually being jailed (unless clearly identified as enemies of those in power).

The collateral damage to the reputation of persons caught in the fallout will soon be dismissed and then forgotten as part of occupational hazards. And I doubt that the credibility of the concerned branches of government can be made worse than it is now. Indeed, how can you make the reputation of the Customs Bureau blacker than black?

But the TV coverage of the Gordon hearings has made it starkly clear that there is no way that corruption at the Bureau of Customs can ever be stopped. In this regard, the same can be said about corruption in other government offices, as well as the legislative, the judicial, and the executive branches of government.


Gordon has been parodied in social media as engaging in a soliloquy rather than conducting a Senate inquiry — and I must confess to having added my own pin prick to the pin cushion that has been made of the good senator.

But, having, watched the video coverage, I have cast away any doubt that Gordon has been trying to make sense of an often meandering session, even while he does have the tendency to listen to himself talk.

I can also appreciate why Gordon and Sotto have resisted calling Paolo Duterte and Manases Carpio to the hearing. The only basis has been the allegation by witness and admitted facilitator (read that to mean corruptor), Customs broker Mark Taguba II — an allegation that Taguba has since taken back.

First of all, Duterte and Carpio will simply vehemently deny any involvement in the scandal and Trillanes will simply engage in his usual innuendoes, in the hope that some of the dirt that he flings at his targets will cling to them.

To paraphrase Macbeth, their appearance in the Senate inquiry will be “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Gordon could have pointed that out, instead of being on the defensive and asking rhetorically, “Do I owe Duterte anything?” That response actually begged the riposte, “Maybe not, but Duterte will owe you something.”

Trillanes is pretty much the incarnation of the boy who cried wolf, lying so many times, nobody believed him when he was actually telling the truth. In other words, he may actually have the makings of a case against Duterte and Carpio but there’s no way he can go beyond empty allegations. Of course, he could gain some brownie points among his admirers for being a “crusader,” but to others, he’s just an empty tin can, making a lot of noise.

But to pursue my point about the futility of stopping corruption in government, Faeldon, for all of his seeming nobility in taking full responsibility for the scandal and in tendering his resignation from the bureau, revealed the fundamental obstacle in any effort to clean up the Aegean stables that is the Philippine government.

When Lacson accused Faeldon of being on the take, the latter hit back at the senator by alleging that his son, Panfi (presumably, Panfilo Lacson, Jr.) was a smuggler.

Did Faeldon know about this before Lacson questioned his integrity? A news story reported that Faeldon admitted having noted “Panfilo Lacson, Jr.’s alleged involvement in corruption as early as July last year, when Lacson, Jr.’s company — Bonjourno Trading — brought in shipments of cement amounting to P106 million and undervalued them by 50%.”

Faeldon was then quoted as follows, “I gave the senator the benefit of the doubt na matino siya (that he is clean). Yesterday, he seems to know everything at the Bureau of Customs. Does he know this? O ikaw mismo pasimuno niyan (or are you the one behind this)?”

Lacson rightly replied: “Faeldon should have filed charges against my son.”

Yes, indeed. Why didn’t Faeldon, who has nurtured a reputation for being a crusader, not go after the young Lacson, if he had evidence — or even reasonably credible suspicions — that the senator’s son was breaking the law?

The answer should be obvious to anyone who understands how our government works — in fact, how Philippine society works. It’s called Quid Pro Quo. You don’t expose me. I won’t expose you. Meanwhile, to quote Faeldon, let’s give each other the “benefit of the doubt.”

It’s also called, the privilege of the Sacred Cows. These bovines are considered above the law. In the words of the late Senate President Jose Avelino, “What are we in power for?”

And, finally, it’s called Loyalty.

In Philippine society, as epitomized by Congress and the Senate, as well as Malacañang, one is expected to be loyal to friends, relatives, partymates, and benefactors — whether they are right or wrong.

In sum, Faeldon would not have “exposed” Lacson, Jr. if Lacson, Sr. had not exposed him first.

How many instances of graft and corruption are known to our public officials, which they are unwilling to reveal because of quid pro quo, the privilege of the sacred cows and the flawed concept of loyalty?

I have often pointed out that these “confidential pieces of information” are openly whispered about at coffee shops, among businessmen, politicians, and members of media — but they are considered off-the-record and are never revealed publicly.

The other more fundamental reason why corruption can never be stopped in our government is because those who are entrusted with the mission of plugging the holes in the Ship of State are not motivated to do so.

The fact that only a small percentage of the thousands of shipments passing through Customs is actually checked, ostensibly due to logistical limitations, is in effect a free pass for under-declaration and smuggling.

The number of signatures required in government offices to secure clearance for a business permit and other otherwise routinary documents is also a go-signal for kickbacks. And the fact that high officials like House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and President Rodrigo Duterte unabashedly flaunt their immorality serves as the standard by which Philippine society conducts its affairs.

The only thing we can reasonably hope for is that, in the words of a fellow named Neri, the crooks would “moderate their greed.”

Greg B. Macabenta is an advertising and communications man shuttling between San Francisco and Manila and providing unique insights on issues from both perspectives.