Skulduggery, the Filipino Way?

by Buddy Gomez

Posted at Nov 12 2014 04:04 PM | Updated as of Nov 13 2014 12:07 AM

There seems to be no longer any doubt about it. Skulduggery--which means monkey business, trickery, unscrupulous behavior, underhandedness or simply dishonesty (all the foregoing falling under the catch-all definitive, termed as “palusot”)--is now as Filipino as ‘bibingka’ (rice cake).

There is hardly a day passing without having news of someone, somewhere in government being accused of, being investigated or indicted for a variety of white collar crimes, from the petty and ridiculous, to the grandly larcenous, oftentimes institutionalized and syndicated.

Of course, these thoughts are pressed forward with names such as Binay, Enrile, Estrada, Revilla, Purisima, etc. and more recently, Ona, Tayag, Ducut, etc. in mind. As well, institutions such as Customs, Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Department of National Defense, Department of Education, the Government-owned and -controlled Corporations (GOCCs), etc.

To err is, of course, human, but to err intentionally and repeatedly over a long span of time as to become a habit becomes culture. A damaged one, to be sure. To be sure, too, happily, these malefactors are not the majority.

The danger to society, however, is when such habit is accepted as par for the course, cynicism having set in. In many quarters, we face that peril. Such threatening tide must be arrested. That there is still outrage in the hearts of many Filipinos is indicative that reform remains truly hopeful. The heavy traffic of internet commentaries about “L’Affair Binay, the Jejomar” is one prominent indicator of public concern. This must be boosted and encouraged. But much labor lies ahead. We must not give up.


The earliest examples of skulduggery in our islands are recalled in the chronicles of friars, inveterate recorders of our history. Here are several pre-Legaspi doozies, perhaps providing a good laugh today, but at the same time, this anecdotal display evinces behavioral patterns that colonial civilization apparently failed to interdict. Philippine society is still awash with such aberrant patterns.

--While reconnoitering the islands, in search of safe havens, souls to convert as well as food, the Spaniards would barter with the natives trinkets and notions for rice. In one recorded instance, a trade was made. Just as the natives were rowing away from the galleons, merrily laughing their heads off, (so written in the friar chronicles) the Spaniards were to discover that the containers of rice were merely half-filled. For show, the upper space had the rice but underneath, up to a good lower half, was rubbish, filling materials of leaves and stems.

---In another instance, this time the need for beeswax. In those days, among seafarers, beeswax was also used as caulking for crevices on the galleons’ hull so as to render it watertight. The Spaniards found a supplier. Again, a trade. The beeswax came in the form of log rolls and, as described, I suppose pretty much like fireplace logs sold in grocery stores and supermarkets for the winter months. As it turned out, the outer layers were indeed genuine beeswax but that was simply for the outer layer. Inside was wood!

---This one is recorded by no less than Pigafetta, Magellan’s chronicler. Natives were allowed on board for some social interchange and also to display materials, tools from an advanced civilization, unknown and strange to the natives. While the visit was in progress, a sailor must have noticed something amiss and unusual. It was a piece of metal, perhaps a nail or a rivet or some attachment. Evidently not a big piece. A rigorous search was made, including the frisking of the native visitors. And voila! The metal piece was found ensconced inside the vagina of a native visitor. Someone must have espied the woman inserting that ‘thing’ through her labia hoping to take away a souvenir!


Fast forward to a more contemporary exhibit. I cannot attest to this instance as still being practiced today but my personal knowledge goes back some 25 years.

There is an ordinance in the City of Manila that requires job applicants, prospective employees in all establishments that serve or handle food to first secure a blood test, pass it and then earn a clearance for potential employment. It was for a fee, of course, aside from the inconvenience of having to go through the tedious, time-consuming procedure of going to a clinic, have blood drawn, followed by analysis and submitting the results in order to secure employment clearance.

The temptation must have been irresistible. The bureaucratic inconvenience was an opportunity for a petty syndicate of City Hall fixers in cahoots with insiders to set up a new business. Not too far away, either. Some spot in the underpass which the late Mayor Tony Villegas named “Lagusnilad,” just across the street. It was innovative, imaginative. Why, it could pass for free enterprise capitalism on steroids! Would you believe, the operation involved the sale of color-coded, “pre-approved” blood vials, already with test results--good to go, with automatic employment clearance. No hassle. And at fees that undercut City Hall’s tariff. Now, that is award-winning skullduggery!


As we end this week’s discourse, let us take a slight detour. While an overwhelming majority of the Philippines is angry and outraged by the continuing revelations of monumental and systematic graft and corruption in the country, currently mostly Binay, of course, there is one sector of society whose silence is noteworthy. Not a peep about Binay. Nary a bit of evidence that they will take up the sword against graft and corruption, with the same fervor and dedication displayed when their motleys gather on Mendiola bridge or in front of the US Embassy on Roxas Blvd. I speak of the otherwise vociferous organized Left, avowedly ‘nationalist’ and socialist. They who speak of love of country, ever reminding all and sundry that they have locked in the market for nationalism have not lifted a finger to fight white collar crime that suck the country dry of the wherewithal for a better life. The organized Left’s ever pervasive and all encompassing strain of nationalism, however, is based on hate. Their version of nationalism is irrefutably defined as anti-Americanism.

It is a historical fact that government graft and corruption in the Philippines was at its lowest ebb during our American-supervised tutelage in self-government. Of course, anomalies and scandals never take a holiday. White-collar felonies were also committed by American functionaries mostly in the municipal/provincial levels but justice was meted with dispatch and the guilty punished. With the prospects for independence and self government already in sight beginning with the Jones Law of 1916, through the Commonwealth and the Republics, public and political morality was unstoppably downhill.

Earlier we spoke of hope because there is still outrage in the hearts of many Filipinos. Outrage is fed by information. Information gives birth to public opinion. Social media is already an established instrument of a vibrant democracy. Imagine what a Freedom of Information law can achieve. First the discoveries, then the punishment of the guilty. Over time, the law will be a deterrent. It will be the most potent tool against skullduggery in government. Rally then to the enactment of FOI. Therein lies hope.

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