Corruption and a damaged culture

Buddy Gomez

Posted at Jan 13 2016 07:40 PM

The Atlantic Monthly of November 1987 featured a literary attempt to look deep into the Filipino soul. Its author peeled the celebrated curtains of People Power’s heady triumph at EDSA in peacefully booting out a dictator. What its author, James Fallows, was able to peer through was not pleasant. And he called his opus “A Damaged Culture.” Much attention and much controversy followed. National hackles raised, collective pride hurt. And the usual anger and vituperation at American meddling from the usual inveterates!

Essentially, generally, the Filipino abhors a foreign visitor holding a mirror before his very visage for him to see and know what he is all about.

Fast forward, three Presidencies later. The now unleashed verbal fussilades emanating from the presidential wannabes, salivating to replace the non-reelective incumbent, confirm that we are indeed a ‘damaged culture.’ Each candidate has a formula for national correction, change and reform. It is fun to witness bombastic expositions of a favorite patent elixir, snake oil or political placebo with which to solve crime, conquer poverty and public venality, as well as realize elusive economic growth. As in lala-land, each waves a magic wand! Each promising to cure the ills of Philippine government and society with bragging timetables only he or she can best messianically deliver and minister.

All, attempting picturesque fervor. Each, obviously oblivious or in denial that, in fact, change, reform and transformation have already began. President PNoy in the lead. And for progress to really set in, more than ever needing more support and encouragement. Undeniably topsy-turvy baby steps. To be sure, full of wobbling and tumbling but determinedly able to stand and take additional strides forward. 

Beyond question, it has not been a cakewalk. Undeniably, errors of judgment galore. But not of intent. The foundations of desireable transformation have been laid. The politically mature is able to appreciate the consequences of “changing horses in midstream.” 

The momentum has been launched. Departing/deviating from the ‘Daang Matuwid’ (the Straight Path), travails experienced and more obstacle courses ahead notwithstanding, can only mean back to square one and therefore that much farther again from a dreamed of deliverance. Such is undesirable and counter-productive. Corruption remains the inalterable and unadulterated foe of society. It has deep roots in our people’s culture. The voter possesses the ultimate mandate. May the ‘Force’ guide him! 

Let not the cantankerous cacophony of ill-wishing malcontents obscure humble milestones that have occurred during and because of the Benigno Aquino III presidency upon which building an improving future is the immovable North Star.


I am unable to consider any other event more dramatic and more heart rattling than a corruption-related suicide, ensuing as it did, as a consequence of a new mandate against graft and corruption in government. So preeminent a personage was General Angelo T. Reyes, there already was heavy talk among power brokers, mostly military politicians, of ‘Angie’s’ future. The Presidency was being written in the stars for him. 

And why not? A high school valedictorian, a top graduate of the Philippine Military Academy, a Commanding General of the Philippine Army who served as the military’s Chief of Staff. A sterling career path, like no other, of Cabinet Secretaryships. Of National Defense, a few days after retirement, followed by those of the Interior and Local Government; and, of the Environment and Natural Resources. 

Until he shot himself. In the chest with a .45 caliber pistol in a cemetery in front of his mother’s grave. Some sympathetic quarters have opined that it was ‘the only way out that affords him to keep his honor intact.’ General Reyes was under Congressional investigation for graft and corruption--”living lavishly off funds skimmed from one of Asia’s weakest armies,”….”embezzling at least $1M,” so reported media. A retired military comptroller was the principal witness.


The Aquino administration continues to struggle. Recently another anomaly was uncovered--ghost soldiers embedded in the military payroll! Corruption is one tough hombre! But corrective measures continue. Yet, the Armed Forces of the Philippines has never been given as much support and amelioration, the country is witness, as the current dispensation has endeavored to improve and strengthen our military.

In pursuing this anti-corruption thread, discussing laudable gains under PNoy’s leadership, we must not fail to mention that a sitting Chief of Justice has been impeached for unexplained wealth and for perjury. No other country in the modern era has been so forthrightly bold as to take such unprecedented reforms. Three sitting senators were also brought to the docket for graft and corruption. Never before.

While former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s detention, awaiting trial, for the crime of plunder and criminal violations of election law, is not the first such instance in the Philippines, it following the conviction (and subsequent tactical pardon) of ousted President Joseph Estrada for similar financial anomalies, nonetheless, Arroyo’s case has become yet another instance of a President being brought to court. The onslaught against the scourge of graft and corruption in government is on a fast clip and hopefully leaving indelible lessons.

A sitting Vice President, Jejomar C. Binay, has likewise been sued for criminal business transactions and very visible unjust enrichment. Yet, shamelessly he pursues his candidacy for the Presidency. His sally remains, strangely, viable which unfortunately speaks of the mass electorate’s moral imperatives.

We have a criminal coterie within our national police organization that has been caught and charged. Criminally anomalous purchases of materiel. Then, turning around selling the ammunition to enemies of the state!


A recent investigative report, exposed a racket involving payola for expedited and bogus annulments of marriages, in a country that has no divorce law, through the local judicial system involving judges and clerks of courts on the take. In the meantime, a cottage industry in fake land titles continue to thrive causing turmoil among legitimate property owners and the judiciary.

And who has not heard of the extortionate activities by security personnel at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, planting of bullets in departing passengers’ baggage and shaking them down before being allowed to depart? Or otherwise, missing a flight or even detention! 

And, of course, not for the seventh time or was it the eight or ninth raid of the National Penitentiary in Muntinlupa that again and again high-powered fire arms, drugs and sex paraphernalia, cell phones, a/c units and many other prohibited and contraband items were found in the cells and enclaves of powerful inmates, obviously spirited in through the bribed connivance of supervisory personnel!

WATCH: Sex toys, porn DVDs found in Bilibid

In the world’s roster of the greatest thieves in Government, we find the late dictator Marcos at number two and former President Estrada (now Mayor of Manila) at number nine. And historically, by the way, the first Filipino President of the Philippine National Bank (1920s) was jailed for embezzlement. (I bet you didn’t know that!)

Inevitably, one can conclude, justifiably or not, that the preceding cursory egregious specimens of deviant Filipino public behavior is a reflection of culture. 


Aren’t these, therefore, also evidence of cultural damage? To what extent do these genes flow through the living veins of Filipinos? Is it endemic? What are you personally doing about it? It is highly unlikely that a new form of government or even a new Constitution will repair such cultural damage.

As Ninoy Aquino was wont to postulate, speaking of the moral ravage and fiscal damage wrought upon the Philippines by the rapacious dictator, Marcos: ”‘padre, two generations ‘yan!” (Bro, that’ll take two generations!) Transforming mores and norms of society is indeed tedious and demands crucial excruciating time. 

It also requires sincere moral leadership by personal example. Someone sober with both feet on the ground, head not above the clouds and whose throbbing heart is in the right place. Human errors and missteps considered, there is nothing evil about PNoy! As Ninoy’s conceptual first generation comes to an end, seeds his son has sowed need to be nurtured and harvested in the next generation. As earlier said, the momentum has been launched and transformation well on its way. Let not populist impatience and pandering with promises of instant gratification, way lay the path’s trajectory of beneficence.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.