Good governance, like Heaven or utopia, has become such a cliché, yet implies a concept that is so intangible and so unattainable, it may as well be a myth. Most of our politicians speak of it incessantly, swearing to practice it and espouse it as their lifelong advocacy. But then, if almost all our politicians have such a strong stance against corruption, how is it that the Philippines has been considered as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, and the most corrupt in Asia?
In hindsight, come to think of it…despite all the brouhahas and revolutions against supposedly corrupt governments, not one presidency, over the past three decades, can really be deemed as corruption-free. Each successive president, after denouncing the allegedly corrupt leadership they replaced, was in turn supplanted by another who accused them of corruption later on.
In the People Power Revolution of 1986, Corazon “Cory” Aquino toppled the 21-year dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, which she regarded as one that was unjust, corrupt and so wicked as to have denied the Filipinos their civil liberties during its dynastic rule. Fidel Ramos, who succeeded Aquino in 1992, as he was endorsed by her, and was also a pivotal figure in the 1986 Revolution against Marcos, turned out wanting to amend the 1987 Constitution ratified under the Corazon Aquino administration, supposedly for its imperfections, and went on pushing for “Cha-Cha” (Charter Change) up to his final hours in office. Joseph “Erap” Estrada, though he served as vice president during the Ramos administration, has repeatedly criticized the Ramos’ government, since the former actor became president in 1998, up to this day, blaming him for an assortment of fiascos—from the Social Security System woes, which he attributed to behest loans and rampant cronyism that occurred under Ramos’ leadership, to the still-unresolved chaos in Mindanao, and even the poor economy during Erap’s own administration. Gloria Arroyo, likewise, propelled to the presidency in 2001 after another People Power Revolt, this time against Erap’s supposedly corrupt and scam-infested administration, ousted her predecessor on the premise that Erap’s government was so bad it was intolerable, and that she was ordained to better the leadership. And Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, Jr., while advancing his concept of good governance in what he calls, daang matuwid, or the “straight path”, got into such a habitual vilification of Arroyo whom he succeeded, that it became almost like the main policy of his administration to make a perennial scapegoat of the leadership previous to his. It has pretty much gone to a point where the public, netizens especially, have already damned Noynoy and his straight path in the arena of ridicule, where people are wondering what would he blame on Arroyo next: his plunging ratings, his hair loss, a super typhoon, or him going down in history as a bad president.
Now, newly elected president Rodrigo Duterte, not even one hundred days in office, has gone into quick, decisive and drastic actions to effect positive changes on crucial issues that were hardly acted upon in six years of P-Noy’s daang matuwid, which he regarded as simply “a fantasy” created by the Aquino administration. He described the government during P-Noy’s leadership as “pure corruption”, and said it performed as if no one was really taking care of the country, adding that it was the government itself that was the oppressor of the people. And, in turn, vowing to stop criminality and the menace of narco-politics that has encumbered the nation through the years, and through various administrations, Duterte has promptly demonstrated a seemingly iron will, resulting in 465 summary killings of suspected drug dealers and the surrender of over 60,000 drug addicts, two months after he assumed office.
Is our country’s situation getting better, or worse? Considering how each succeeding administration is supposed to correct the mistakes and learn from the faults of the previous one it most likely vilified, the state of nation should be improving. But is it really?
A Track Record of Hypocrisy and Bogus Governance
As clever and capable as all our presidents believe themselves to be, genuine progress for this country has remained largely elusive, as many of the Filipinos’ age-old problems still loiter around debates that are devoid of any positive action, to this day. A fresh example of this would be Noynoy Aquino who has recently exited a presidency which he still insists embodied a good government, even when all his preaching about a mythical “straight path”; the nonstop condemnation of the “evil” Arroyo government; and the frequent boasts of a 7.6% GDP growth— all seem like token accomplishments, compared to the disastrous blowback he’d be leaving behind for the nation to deal with, in the wake of a plethora of epic failures that history will most certainly attribute to a hypocritical, sanctimonious and myopic leadership. After the endless mantras of praise that it absurdly handed to itself, the Aquino administration is seemingly even proud of its legacy to the Filipino people: an atrocious mess borne by an audacious farce.
In the face of Noynoy Aquino’s supposed good governance and advocacy against corruption, what the nation needed most—which was to effect justice, in the form of proportionate punitive action against the plunderers who’ve sabotaged our common interests for their personal gain—has taken on a complacency which only declined gradually over six years, and alas amounts to nothing now. Looking back, one can summarize his campaign for good governance as a dismally deteriorated effort to punish plunderers and curb corruption, while completely absorbed in blaming past administrations for the faults and ineptness of his own governance. His administration failed to convict Gloria Arroyo, whom he accused so much, of corruption and a plethora of misdeeds. Meanwhile, despite the long list of names of those who instigated and benefitted from billion-peso scams, in the form of the Pork Barrel and the Disbursement Acceleration Program, only a handful of individuals were arrested, imprisoned, and now even likely to be exonerated with poorly resolved cases before them.
Duterte and Good Governance
Will the Duterte administration be any different? Well, so far we’ve seen “The Punisher” crack down hard on small-time drug pushers, with hundreds of suspects killed without due legal process. But, in the same breath, has, by the influence of his office, expedited the release of Gloria Arroyo from hospital arrest at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center, with the sudden junking of her plunder case by the Supreme Court. Furthermore, he has recently ordered that the remains of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos be buried at the Libingan Ng Mga Bayani, as a hero, an announcement that was met by a hurricane of protests from the public. After seeing this, many, perhaps, are starting to wonder if this gaping disparity of actions on the principles of justice and human rights point, in due time, to another sham of a government, or one that might even be worse than the past administrations it claims to admonish.
There’s no way a government can be considered good when it gives big time suspects of plunder the right, privilege and extensive benefit of doubt so as to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, while small time crime suspects are gunned down under very vague and sweeping presuppositions. The menace of illegal drugs and criminality that the new president vows to eradicate will only continue if corruption remains rife in a system that is highly tolerant of plunderous leaders and erring government officials who, as a matter of fact, are frequently the big bosses behind the various criminal rackets gripping our society. And no meaningful change for the better can truly materialize if the government remains hypocritical and double standard, oppressive and unjust, protective and sympathetic towards corrupt personalities who debilitate this country many times more than a legion of petty criminals ever could.
A good government is one that creates and thereby constantly upholds laws that serve the common good, and not only the few who wish to lord over everybody else. It seeks to protect and aid the life of each and every citizen, with equal regard no matter what their standing in society. And it aims to build a just and humane society, under a system that embodies and promotes the principles of good, such as truth, freedom, love, peace, justice and equality.
A good government is what we need this Duterte administration to be, not just because the public is fed up with the pattern of one bad leadership after another, and is understandably already at a breaking point, but because we know these crucial times demand it to be, if we are to survive as a people through the next decade. And hundreds or even thousands of dead drug pushers is hardly evidence at all of good governance.
A good government should be intrinsically sound in its priorities and therefore should put foremost corruption, and not illegal drugs, as the real menace behind our country’s failings. There are enough laws and enforcing institutions against illegal drugs, only these are circumvented by corrupt officials. Illegal drug syndicates pervade because of corruption in police and military organizations, in local governments, in the justice system, and in the legislature. Meaning, if we curb graft and corruption significantly, so will our problems with illegal drugs be suppressed noticeably.
The Changes We Need
Instead of an all-out war against illegal drugs, a leader aspiring for good governance must wage an all-out war against corruption. At any rate, if the Duterte administration does supposably epitomize change, there are obviously several other things it can do that will certainly present better transformative prospects for our society, than whatever changes are proposed by the vicious lynching and bloody killings of misfits and outcasts who are, after all, victims themselves of a government that seems to have betrayed and neglected its people all this time. With Duterte’s popularity, and the Congress practically behind him one-hundred percent, in what seems to be the largest legislative coalition to date, there probably has not been a better opportunity to implement some long-due adjustments and reparations to this very flawed system of governance which we have, absurdly, been following despite an endless profusion of pathetic, tragic and disastrous consequences.
So, let the problems of illegal drug trafficking and substance abuse marinate for a while, in lieu of really urgent priorities. Rather, it would do our country a greater deal of good if, for example, the Duterte administration acts as speedily in imposing a strict prohibition on political dynasties, which though expressly outlawed by a constitutional provision in 1987, has yet to be passed as a law before it can be enforced. Widely tolerated all this time, political dynasties, instead, flourished unabated despite the propensity of such a custom to perpetuate corrupt oligarchs in positions of power, and also bolster warlord-ism in the provinces. Putting a restriction on dynasties will prevent political families from hoarding the opportunities to govern amongst themselves, and consequently phase out the lot of short-sighted trapos (traditional politicians) from the vital government posts they’ve bankrupted for so long with their boorishness, while allowing more chances for new, honest and rightful people to ascend public offices.
It’s also high time the Philippine government implements, exercises and upholds the Freedom of Information as a fundamental right of Filipinos, and as an extension of Freedom of Speech and Expression. All departments of government should be mandated to disclose public documents, easily and promptly, upon the request of any Filipino citizen. This will ensure transparency in public offices and their respective policies and agendas, and definitely be an integral element in our pursuit of Good Governance and Anti-Corruption. With Freedom of Information practiced across the board, finally after three decades in suspended animation, the public can break through the cartel of trapos who’ve persistently denied this nation the truth that we supposedly advocate as a people. It would be a lot easier for us to see the whole stories underlying issues, discern lying bureaucrats if there are any, and make erring public servants accountable for their faults.
In line with the full endorsement of the Freedom of Information, the new government should also work on the abolition of bank secrecy laws that prevent investigators of graft and plunder cases from seeing the ends of paper trails and from achieving conclusive reports on dubious fund movements. Only three nations in the world still have bank secrecy laws that serve as the protector of plunderers and their ill-gotten wealth. The Philippines is one of them, and probably has the strictest bank secrecy laws in the world.
To boost transparency even more, instead of plainly accepting the prescribed SALNs (Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Networth) of public servants and take their word for it, why not make it a prerequisite for all government officials to waive their rights to keep their bank accounts secret, as well as their rights against self-incrimination, since these are clearly used to forge the way to corruption?
We should make it easier now to probe, prosecute and punish those guilty of graft and corruption, and while we are at it, we must do away with the outlandish “VIP” treatment of government officials suspected of malfeasance, and deny them such exclusive privileges, as being able to opt out of the normal imprisonment via house, hospital arrest, or some specially arranged detention. For the sake of equality, which is a principle we uphold as a people, any reason that an official accused of corruption gives in order to avail special treatment must be put under intense scrutiny, with the presumption that it is a lame excuse. And as for the variety of malicious court appeals these villains deliberately file to delay investigations and legal proceedings on corruption cases, the presiding magistrates of court, bearing in mind that justice must be swift, should slap them with contempt for making a mockery of the law.
And then, to complete the proofing of the loopholes used by corrupt government officials to escape prosecution and punition, it only makes sense to establish a rule that would disallow the granting of executive clemency to convicted plunderers, especially ex-president plunderers. Pardoning high-ranking officials guilty of high crimes makes all the efforts rendered and all the expenses accrued in the administration of justice an exercise in futility. It’s a terrible custom that makes corrupt officials feel invincible and more emboldened, as they seem above the law, and thus promoting this trend of recycling bad leaders back into positions of power…where they will most likely fall back to their old corrupt habits. Why even bother instilling anti-corruption measures if in the end game, the guilty don’t only go scot free but are essentially resurrected from purgatory?
Change That Can't Be Kept In Check
The general public should be able to grasp the idea now, in the wake of the Pork Barrel scandal, and with corruption even becoming worse under daang matuwid. Our government was designed by corrupt people, and so naturally it will defend the corrupt and uphold the schemes that foster corruption, though subtly and traitorously disguised by shameless hypocrisy. All else will deteriorate and collapse beneath its evil reality…the whole bureaucracy, our weary and confused society, along with our national hope for a better future.
Newly seated president Duterte may have gone on a kicking start, not to mention a spectacularly bloody one, with the slaughter of several hundred suspected drug pushers and addicts. But all this frenzy about cleansing our society of the drug menace may just be a big cloud meant to conceal yet another floundering leadership before us. For apparently, and in just a short while since he sat at the this nation’s helm, a series of bewilderingly questionable executive orders have already taken effect bearing the likelihood of atrocious consequences, while he coolly makes his rounds in the bureaucracy, swagging about, and seemingly oblivious to the implications of what he’d done.
We must, however, in the midst of all these, remember that a drug-free government does not necessarily make it a good one. A corrupt government, on the other hand, is always bad. And using wrong tactics and methods to correct what is wrong, can’t really be deemed right.