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Reform must come now lest the Marcos storm most viciously returns


It was on a hot humid day in August of 1972 when I left the Philippines; for good, I thought then. I was disillusioned, feeling hopeless and, like millions of other Filipinos, looking for a chance at a new life in new lands. (It was a most fortunate escape.) Our country’s raging ailment then? Graft and corruption. The twin evils ruled supreme in almost every facet of life. It rose to such levels during the Marcos dictatorship that his realm was likened to a mafia fiefdom with all levels of government shaking down every conceivable source of illicit income the revenues of which were funneled upwards. This became so commonplace and ingrained that to this day the surviving partner of that conjugal dictatorship, Imelda, refers with near innocent attachment to their loot as something that “was ours”. All $10 billion or so of it.

20 years later, post Marcos, I finally made a trip back home. I’ve flown back a few times since then. Each visit resulted in a rediscovery of a beautiful land populated by beautiful and amazingly talented people. The experience always grips me and tugs at my heart. Almost like experiencing anew the warm and tender caresses of an alluring lover determined to keep one in her bosom forever. With each trip though came other discoveries and, as if peeling an onion, one goes deeper into the many layers and strata of Philippine life. Keeping the onion peeling analogy, tears often flow, inevitably, out of love and out of a deep sadness that the conditions that drove one to desperation and eventual flight 40 years ago still persist, and have even worsened.

Graft and corruption, by both admission and consensus, remains the root evil that has kept the Philippines on constantly shaky grounds. It is the daily crime that causes government and its many institutions and appurtenances to miserably fail to provide quality basic services. It is why the population is resigned to the fact that the justice system works for the rich and powerful, only. Traffic is a mess and no efforts are being made to find and effect long term permanent solutions. The same benign attitude is on display with the problem of stifling pollution that grips the Metro Manila area daily.

And, more seriously, the Armed forces can’t keep the peace in many areas and, like the police, can’t be trusted (in fact rumors abound that they head, or are in cahoots with, crime syndicates themselves). The education system is failing. Nepotism, favoritism, the padrino culture rules. A qualified teacher wants a job at a public school? She better be in the good graces of the local political overlord else she won’t get the job.

Thus some 11 million have fled the country as temporary overseas workers, many of them college graduates who accept employment as maids to Arabs, Koreans, Japanese, Europeans and get as far as Santiago, Chile on the western coast of South America. There is no hope for the unconnected. Governmental incompetence all around. The country is run by oligarchies at every level , in every milieu. Corruption is not only a way of life, there is the consensus that without it nothing moves. A hand is out awaiting bribes at every turn; some hands don’t wait, they go into the victims pockets unresisted mostly. Rules are flaunted, laws are manipulated to this end. It is the rule of the day.

When it is a charge that can be credibly laid at the foot of the country’s Chief Justice, when a recent ex-president and her family and friends are perceived as wallowing in it, when the population instinctively assumes that every politician and so called public servant is there to enrich themselves at the people’s expense, what more damning indictment need be hurled?

Our people, strong and resilient, survive the “…slings and arrows of outrageous fortune…” , daily, it seems. Patience, a touted virtue, has morphed into a lethal two-bladed sword that slices at the very flesh and bone of our national character. How will we survive and can change come? There is feint hope. Yet we must cling to hope even if it merely dangles by a thread. For at the very fiber of this thread is an oft aspirated wail, “…if only we had a leader who could set an example and who would commit to curing our ails, to stopping corruption, surely we would follow and support him…”.

Well, I posit that today the Philippines has its best chance to begin to expurgate what ails its body politic, to start the process of extricating from the very bowels of Philippine society the cancer of corruption that has chained and condemned the nation to a deathbed of hopelessness for generations, indeed for the lifetimes of even the oldest among us. It finally has a leader who has demonstrated over his first 2 years of a 6 year term that he is incorruptible and that he remains committed to the eradication of the graft system in government.

It is a daunting task even for the most talented and resourceful of leaders. The forces of the status quo, in government, in business, in the many institutions that sway power over the population and control the country’s resources are and will continue to be the obstacles to change.
To accomplish his mission, President Benigno Aquino III needs strong, committed and lasting collaborators. And the best allies he should be able to count on are the millions of Filipinos of goodwill, the ones who want to live by the rules, abide by the laws, and adhere to the lofty moral standards for which the nation’s many heroes of the past sesquicentennial have given their lives for.

We need heroes today. Not to stand in front of tanks or machine guns, but to do their part daily in every walk of life. The process begins by mastering our own urges to gain an unfair advantage even with the smallest of concerns like breaking to a line, or cutting off another vehicle in traffic or bribing a fixer to “expedite” our needs or a traffic officer to “look the other way”. And their voices need to be heard in the halls of Congress and all government entities, in the boardrooms of corporations, in churches and community halls, in schools and classrooms, in jeepneys and teeming sidewalks, in the workplace, at home with families and friends, in the editorial rooms and tv and radio news stations.

The message must go out loud and clear, thru strong voices and even stronger actions. We must be the change we want to see. We must ask, nay demand that the institutions to which we have access to and count on us for support must be a part of the change.

It will not be easy. Yet nothing worthwhile pursuing ever is. And consider that even the mildest of ripples, under the right circumstances multiplied many times over could grow into a tsunami, a tidal wave that could eventually sweep away the rot of corruption that has festered on our nation’s shores, and robbed its soul, for way too long. Can it be done? Why not, how would you rather spend the next 4 years? After Noynoy, will there be another opportunity? Likely not. We must act now lest forever we shall be silenced. The Marcos evil that we assume we dislodged some 25 years ago did not die away nor fade into oblivion. Even as we write, and breathe, the storm clouds signaling their comeback are stirring in the north and in no time could sweep over the country and we shall once again be overwhelmed in a deluge from which, this time, there will be no escape.

(Some 35 years ago Leandro D. Quintana was one of the editors of Philippine News in San Francisco, with responsibilities for covering political events, business and other activities of interest to the Filipino community.  Between 1978 and 1981 he was editor of Asian American News in Los Angeles.  He left the news business to devote resources to a full time job in the air freight logistics industry and to raise his family. He retired in 2007 and began writing articles for a blog starting in December 2009. He currently does consulting work in the logistics industry and resides in Hawthorne, California. Prior to immigration to the US in 1972 he was a public relations specialist for Philippine Airlines based in Mactan, Cebu.)

by Leandro D. Quintana

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