• Jo Chanco

Dynasty of Thieves


Buzz about a Binay-Erap tandem for the 2016 elections seem to be lending form to what is easily the most revolting prospect this country can have for the next several years. Some political spinners are even calling it a winning ticket, as if the thought isn’t already hard to stomach. How can the majority of Filipinos possibly want these two to be in the leadership at this very critical time, when we could no longer afford another bad administration? Indeed it is a crazy, yet very real, scenario that brings many to question the kind of democracy we have, or if it is even a democracy at all.

Making Kings Out Of Plunderers

Joseph “Erap” Estrada and Jejomar Binay are not new allies. The two were running mates in 2010 under the ticket Erap-Binay, where Binay won the vice presidency and Erap almost became president again, if not for Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III and a respectable margin which drew what was the only defining line between decency and debauchery. It is actual history that spells out a good, clear chance a Binay-Erap can still make two out of two this time around, in which case, if both do win, we’ll all be staring at zero progress, more government-instigated plunder and the complete impunity of corrupt individuals, for the next six years.

In the first place, the legality and morality of their candidacies were already questioned in 2010 and, no doubt, would still be disputed if they do decide to run next year. Erap is a convicted plunderer, sentenced to a lifetime in prison, and released only by virtue of a vague and very undeserved presidential pardon. Binay, on the other hand is currently facing multiple allegations of corruption. Moreover, they are both patriarchs of political dynasties. Erap has two sons who are senators, had a senator wife, has a former spouse who is a mayor, a nephew who, until recently was a provincial governor, a niece who is a city councilor and another nephew who is a provincial board member. Binay has a daughter in the senate, another in congress, a son who is a mayor, and a wife who was a former mayor. Erap’s son, Senator Jinggoy Estrada is currently detained in Camp Krame for his involvement in the Pork Barrel Scam. While Binay’s son, Jun-Jun, is suspended from the Makati mayoralty, facing allegations of corruption, as his father.

Even the simple mind of a 3rd grader can point out how it would be utterly insane to put these two guys in the leadership. But the Supreme Court and the Commission on Elections have, so far, decided to uphold their eligibility for public office, causing an avalanche of disbelief to cascade towards such institutions that permit them such privilege.

As if nothing in the Constitution protects the Filipino electorate from dishonest public officials or the exclusive reign of political families, the judges at the Supreme Court merely debated on the definition of a “full pardon” and then decided it implied the restoration of all of Erap’s civil rights, including the right to run in an election. Erap, therefore, is cleared for public office, according to the power of the Supreme Court. The Comelec, on its part, considering it has been disqualifying candidates left and right, simply because the Comelec commissioner deemed them as nuisances, could not also seem to draw anything from the Omnibus Election Code to disqualify Binay, not even on the grounds of him being the head of a political dynasty. It's very much like Erap and Binay are above the law, exempted from all penalties and prerequisites. There’s only support for, and affirmation of, their legitimacy, from the institutions tasked to embody justice and the sanctity of our elections.

Erap was actually convicted for only one count of plunder, despite the fact that the Ombudsman actually filed four separate charges detailing four different acts. Several more crimes were alleged to Erap but for lack of evidence were never made into formal charges. Meanwhile, Binay, who is currently leading the pre-elections popularity race, is contending with accusations that seem to be multiplying every time, as ongoing inquiries are inadvertently opening more cans of worms. If all the allegations against these two are true, then the Philippine government, via erring court magistrates and other indiscreet officials in the bureaucracy, is basically allowing into the leadership, not just a couple of petty thieves who picked the pocket of some random pedestrian, but two of the biggest crooks this country has ever seen.

For plunderers to escape prosecution and punishment in a working democracy is embarrassing enough. But for trusted institutions to be promoting such audacious thieves by even putting them up for re-election into the very public offices they betrayed speaks volumes about the integrity of people in government. And one just has to wonder what these people are trying to do with the government.

The Perfect Kleptocracy

According to Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, the Philippine government is no longer a democracy. She said, the magnitude of the corruption, as demonstrated by the Pork Barrel Scam and Disbursement Acceleration Program, already makes our government unmistakably a “kleptocracy”, or a government of thieves. She is so right.

A kleptocracy is defined as a government or state in which those in power exploit the nation’s wealth at the expense of the ruled; a government where officials are politically corrupt and financially self-interested. It is a government characterized by rampant greed and corruption.

Helplessly overrun by thieves, our government is exactly a kleptocracy. As a matter of fact, to have an expounded definition of kleptocracy, one only has to describe what’s been happening in our government. Excruciating decades of corruption had gone by with hardly anyone punished. Government officials perpetrate plunder to degrees that are already mind-blowing. Funding for development infrastructure and public welfare are patently diverted to the pockets of politicians through a plethora of scams and rackets. Paid off with bribes, congressmen conspire to protect corrupt presidencies by trashing impeachment complaints with overwhelming votes, even if it results in this nation’s ruin. And in most court arbitrations, the judges rule in favor of the corrupt.

As it is true that a defective democracy can have its share of corruption, it would even be ideal if our problem were only so. The degree of corruption in our government is so debilitating for any democratic principle to manifest, much more carry on, that the entire system is rendered out of order. This is why for so many years, we never saw genuine progress for our nation, and instead only reaped scandal after scandal linking government officials—from presidents, vice presidents, senators and congressmen to military and police generals, the department heads of the bureaucracy, and judges of our courts—to all sorts of corruption scams and acts of larceny. Even the Chief Justice of the Judiciary who should be sleaze-resistant, being anchored to the higher philosophy of equality and all; and the Ombudsman who is precisely the embodiment of the nation’s counter-graft effort, were not spared by the contagion. So clearly, with corruption everywhere in government, and our democratic systems having long been defeated...what else could this be but a kleptocracy?

The Philippine government is so corrupt it has become a stupid paradox. Policemen need to arrest drug-traffickers who are, basically, them. Judges need to uphold equality and fairness after accepting bribe from one side. Congressmen need to pass an anti-dynasty bill and a freedom of information bill, laws that have been pending for more than 20 years…because many lawmakers are members of dynasties and have information to hide. Senators need to launch a full investigation on the Pork Barrel Scam which they instigated themselves. And the President, while agreeing to scrap the Pork Barrel system is defending on the other hand the Disbursement Acceleration Progam, which is just like a presidential pork barrel.

They may seem like the twisted jokes of a neurotic fool, but we really ought to cry than laugh.

Make Or Break In The Next Six Years

Further describing the kleptocracy that has become our government, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago also warned that corruption is already so “rampant” that we are now on the brink of becoming a “failed state.” This totally makes sense.

Within the next six years, the Philippine government will be forced to face a number of serious issues it has long put off because of myopic public officials who were more focused on plundering than rendering actual competent service to the country. By selling our votes, being indifferent to the affairs of nation, being complacent and cowardly as to not revolt in defiance of wicked leaders--we put stupid and selfish people in the ranks of government where wisdom and selflessness are the pre-requisites. So it shall be all of us paying the dire consequences that shall inevitably erupt, possibly soon, in a dizzying confluence and, perhaps, a violent crescendo.

Around this time, the last thing we need is a leader who is a mindless buffoon that will not think twice about declaring an “all out war” against Muslims in Mindanao just because he doesn’t trust them, but who are fellow Filipinos nonetheless. We could also do away with Supreme Court magistrates who, for convenience, will just keep quiet and go along with that all out war, even as it is clear as daylight that we, as a people, renounce war as an instrument of national policy.

On the other hand, we cannot also have a lame duck for a leader, as the Chinese have already invaded our national territory and obviously will not be moved by diplomacy, but are simply challenging us to do something, if we are in fact a sovereign nation. The Chinese probably see how our own government betrays us, with the leadership so busy scamming the public and emptying the nation's coffers while we don’t even have a single fighter aircraft to defend our shores. Worse, they might thinking that they don’t even have to do a thing to destroy us, seeing how our own government is already doing a good job at it. They only have to wait until we completely destroy ourselves. This position is even strengthened after the Chinese learn how willing our President is to grant an entire region its own autonomous government, just because Muslims dominate it, and because the national government does not have the logistics to secure and serve the citizens there. If we're showing the Chinese that we just give up sovereignty that easy, we give them all the more reason to doubt and contest our status as a sovereign nation.

Mutual respect is essential for the success of any diplomatic negotiations. How can we even expect China to respect us when our own government betrays us, and we keep on electing the same traitors to govern us?

Needless to say, we will unquestionably fail as a nation if our leaders remain so dense, as to focus on plundering and building their own dynasties and business empires while neglecting burning issues—from territorial disputes with China, the Mindanao autonomy and the reigning kleptocracy, to the alarming overpopulation, the disappearing agricultural lands, food shortages and relentless deforestation. We cannot expect to see a good outcome for any of the pressing issues we must resolve, if we elect the worst possible people to lead this country. It’s not that we should not but we cannot allow, to any further extent, the national government to be turned into offices of avaricious, lying, treacherous, cheating thieves. Government officials who prioritize public projects according to the amount of kick-backs they’d be getting will only be serving us more disasters.

Typhoon Yolanda and Tacloban have shown us how, even in the face of cataclysms happening simultaneously with human catastrophes, we are still staggered by the profiteering happening in government ranks, under an administration that's supposedly "not so corrupt". Can you imagine anything worse, under a more corrupt leadership? Perhaps then it would neither be a democracy nor a kleptocracy anymore...but sheer lunacy.

When Thieves Rule

Assuming they will not steal a single peso, Erap and Binay will still make bad leaders, in that they are terrible role models, setting the exact examples that can damage a culture, in the promotion of twisted values. No doubt, it would be sending the wrong messages across generations. Crime does pay; money can bend the law; unproven guilt means innocence; and dishonesty is the policy of the best—are mental attitudes that don't make a better nation. That people might emulate traits that are less than exemplary, however, is just the tip of the iceberg. Erap and Binay are actually just the faces of an entire body that is the Philippine underground. There are numerous other officials who are the silent, incognito conspirators to the kleptocracy—the judges, police, city prosecutors, anti-graft agents and election commissioners—all of whom are setting bad legal precursors, ingraining horrid practices or reinforcing shady procedures in the world of public service.

It's just idiotic to suppose that the lawless will uphold, implement and enforce the law. Crooks are inherently law-breakers. They might appear to be law-abiding citizens, but for them to achieve their real goals, they'd have to twist the law, obscure its essence, make it useless, or blatantly break it and convince everyone else that it's just normal to do so.

In further describing the kleptocracy that has beleaguered this country, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago added that the situation is already so bad that even her fellow senators have already “undermined the judicial system and the rule of law”. Senators, however, are not the only ones able to comprehend the law. And it's not like our Constitution was written in Latin or Greek. Any Filipino of average intelligence, should be able to comprehend, at least the essence of what is provided therein, even without the prowess of a lawmaker or a Supreme Court judge at his disposal. As the law, after all, was written for the common people, perhaps we can judge for ourselves if thieves have indeed already undermined the very principles on which this nation was erected.

For instance, it shouldn't be too difficult to understand the Constitution's declaration of our State Policies (Article 2)—that the government is to promote social justice in all phases of national development (Section 10), maintain honesty and integrity in public service by taking positive and effective measures against graft and corruption (Section 27); and guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, mainly by prohibiting political dynasties (Section 26). How has the government responded so far to these very basic policies that are based on the principles we affirm as a people?

Pardoning a plunderer almost as soon as he is convicted; giving the V.I.P. treatment to erring high officials, including special detention, special consideration, and not prosecuting to the full extent of the law; carrying out the institutionalized corruption scheme of the Pork Barrel, with the Supreme Court ruling it un-constitutional after decades it's been in effect; and allowing political dynasties to flourish in blatant defiance of the Constitution---are all going the opposite way of the law, yet these sort of things are done casually, in broad daylight, and without penalty. It's as if there was a conspiracy to throw the Constitution out the window and replace it with some lame excuse to exempt thieves in government. Social justice, honesty and integrity in public service, effective measures against graft and corruption, and the prohibition of political dynasties...are nowhere to be found. And that's just an example. If we comb through the Constitution, and compare each article with what the government is actually doing, we'd see more clearly how sly jurists and legal thaumaturgy subtly implemented the reverse of everything that was decreed.

It’s criminal, how the courts rule in favor of bank confidentiality and a public officials’ right to privacy, right to remain silent, and right against self-incrimination in cases where public funds amounting to about a billion pesos are involved. And there are just so many cases where the government perceptibly did everything to protect corrupt public officials, keep their crimes secret, and effect the reverse of what the Constitution intends. Too many, in fact, that impunity can be said to be automatic, thus making our present government a kleptocracy that is no better than the Marcos regime.

Indeed, people who marched in EDSA during the People Power Revolution wanted to topple Marcos for different reasons. While many truly believed being good meant having to stand up against Marcos and everything that was bad, there were some who thought it wouldn’t be so bad to be where Marcos stood because it meant having everything that was good. So basically, we, Filipinos, kicked out the dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 because he was supposedly a thief who monopolized power so he can embezzle the nation with impunity…only to find ourselves in 2015 subjugated by many thieves, all trying to be like Marcos. That’s real progress! From one plunderer then to thousands of plunderers today, this truly is kleptocracy at its worst.

In all this, however, it is important for us to realize that our ill fate of having bad leaders is not attributable to sheer bad luck. Nor is it the fault of the ignorant and misinformed masses who unwittingly elect them, as many politicians would have us believe. Nowhere in our Constitution’s preamble does it state we are a suicidal, self-damning race.

The millions of Filipinos in the workforce tirelessly laboring for the rewards of an honest living cannot, at the same time, be wishing to obliterate the few opportunities to better this nation and surrender their fates to the discretion of treacherous individuals. The citizens are definitely the victims here, and not the cause of the problem, as they are so unjustly used, abused, exploited and then made to pay for the damage caused to them. And it would be nothing short of demonic to afterwards slap the ordinary, law-abiding citizens with the guilt of elevating the wickedness that has gone to plunder and destroy this nation like a capricious sadist.

On the contrary, hope lies in the masses. Only, the new, more dynamic and more capable breed of leaders we need to manifest meaningful change and genuine governance are deliberately stalled by the same old names associated in corruption scandals and controversial bungles that have been happening for more than two decades. New batches of less narcissistic, more honest and more effective public servants are being stonewalled by the same old faces that don’t even flinch at the thought of our nation staggering and stagnating the whole time in their protracted watch. New minds with viable solutions to propagate renewable energy or revolutionize mass education have been wittingly prevented from serving the country, by the same brand of people as Erap and Binay, who will not do a thing to change the corrupt status quo, and even cement the dysfunction in government by putting their families in positions of power, thereby perpetuating the rule of their dynasties over a government of fraudulence.

For the ruling class, it matters not if former KBL and known Marcos loyalist Erap mixes it up with Binay who is anti-Marcos and a self-professed Cory supporter...just as long as thieves rule, in this dynasty of thieves.

#Opinion