20 Questions on TnD: What upright Filipinos can do

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Ricardo Saludo

Ricardo Saludo

(Last of four parts)

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IT is most appropriate that “20 Questions on Tuwid na Daan” ends on the 30th anniversary of the assassination of Benigno “Ninoy” S. Aquino Jr., the President’s father. Part 4 covers the last two questions, which are about what key institutions and the citizenry should do in the face of disturbing actions undertaken and increasing power wielded by the Aquino administration, as expounded in the first three parts (published on August 14, 16 and 19).

Jailed opposition leader Ninoy Aquino galvanized upright, freedom-loving and patriotic Filipinos to oppose the rule of then President Ferdinand Marcos, braving the dictator’s overpowering control over national institutions, media, crony conglomerates, and the political establishment. Ironically, that same inspiration may be what’s needed now in dealing with the regime of Ninoy’s son.

Today, as expounded in the first three parts of this essay and the 18 questions they contain, the government of President Benigno Aquino 3rd, while democratically elected and avowedly anti-corruption, is showing hallmarks of the Marcos era: domination of co-equal and constitutionally independent institutions, a largely pro-government mainstream media, staunch support from the United States wanting military facilities, and proven electoral clout amid wholesale disabling of poll safeguards.

Perhaps the latest demonstration of Aquino’s over-arching power is the ongoing pork barrel controversy. It was unleashed just when the nation was getting worked up over attempted extortion from a Czech company, Inekon, by a group including presidential sister Ballsy and her husband Eldon Cruz.

The first pork barrel report named opposition senators, and further briefings by the Department of Justice (DOJ), the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), and most recently, even the constitutionally independent Commission on Audit (COA) tarred Aquino’s rivals and spared his allies.

Pro-administration media blithely headlined the reports with little, if any, incredulity about the official line that decades-old raiding of pork barrel funds has not stained any Aquino supporter in Congress, including opportunists who switched sides as the much-maligned Arroyo government neared its end in mid-2010.

Meanwhile, Filipinos are expected to find nothing amiss in COA limiting its pork barrel report to 2007-09, even though its past audits have reached till 2011, including its Audit Performance Summary Report 2011 submitted last September to Aquino questioning some P100 billion in state spending and activities.

Plainly, while no doubt uncovering much real sleaze, the government’s agenda remains bent on concealing its own filth and targeting opponents, but never advancing long overdue reforms needed to fight corruption and hold perpetrators accountable. As it is in the pork barrel scam, so it is in the Bureau of Customs, where no one of note is even investigated for the P200 billion in revenue losses cited by President Aquino himself.

In the face of the disturbing, even alarming trends presented in the 18 questions raised by this article so far, the choices for concerned and upright citizens is clear but tough: swallow the administration hype that it is seriously fighting and winning against graft, or confront the reality that President Aquino coddles cronies, bends national institutions to his will, and enjoys fawning support from mainstream media.

The first option of acceptance would be the path of least resistance, allowing the citizen to go about his life and work, trusting that all will be well under Aquino’s rule. Much like the way most Filipinos went about their lives under martial law. The second option of facing reality brings inner discomfort and eventually demands outward resistance against abuse, deception and sleaze.

The good news is many Filipinos are at least not letting themselves be completely hoodwinked. Just ask the 62 percent of respondents to Transparency International’s recent nationwide survey who said corruption stayed the same or got worse in the Aquino years.

Which leads us to the last two questions on Tuwid na Daan, both on what institutions and citizens should do in the face of a resurrection in democratic garb of one man’s rule backed by allies and appointees in co-equal branches of government and constitutional bodies, and cheered by a co-opted mainstream media.

Question No. 19: Which institution can counter the administration’s dominance and hold it accountable? There is just one, really, the same one that stood up against the Marcos dictatorship for 14 years and called out people power to eventually bring it down. With political and government entities mired in corrupt and self-serving politics, the Catholic Church must again play its role as national conscience and leader of resistance against cronyism, injustice, abuse and untruth.

The Church, supported by independent segments of media, sectoral groups and the academe, must mobilize its nationwide corps of religious and lay leaders and workers to expose and oppose excesses by the powers that be. Those sins include the ones highlighted in the 18 questions raised earlier in this essay, from smuggling and jueteng to the obscene P1.2-billion proposed Hacienda Luisita payment and the wholesale dismantling of automated election safeguards by the Commission on Elections.

The resistance must be especially mobilized against attempts to railroad self-serving constitutional changes through Congress and ratify through manipulated computerized elections. Marcos used payola to get the 1971 Constitutional Convention to craft a fundamental law to his liking, then had it approved by dubious barangay meetings nationwide. Now, Aquino’s Congress can simply constitute itself as a Constituent Assembly, rubber-stamp amendments after show debates, then let Smartmatic’s Precinct Count Optical Scan machines to do the rest.

Question No. 20: What about Juan and Juana de la Cruz? What should upright and concerned citizens do?

First, get the whole truth about the nation by going beyond the co-opted mainstream media and sourcing news and commentary from a wide variety of perspectives. By avoiding the rule of one dominant view, one can get a more complete picture of what’s going on. And that fuller truth will go a long way to set the citizen free.

Second, maintain integrity and join hands with upright groups sincerely opposing abuse. Sadly, many entities have been politicized, including one high-profile good governance movement that bizarrely held up the head of a hugely corrupt agency as a paragon of reform. It won’t be easy, but demand fairness and truth, and that will help avoid being taken in by vested interests masquerading as crusaders.

Lastly, one must make ample room for prayer and charity in the fight against abuse, deception and corruption. Not only is the Lord’s guidance and grace indispensable in this battle, as it was in the fight against Marcos. Moreover, the truthful humility that comes from worshipping the Creator and reaching out to His unfortunate creatures is something sorely lacking among the powerful.

Ultimately, prayer and caring will be the keys to national renewal and triumph against corruption and power. So help us God.

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