The late, great Manila Times owner-publisher Chino Roces once famously warned then President Cory Aquino that the Philippines was fast turning into “a nation of highwaymen.”
He was right. Although the country had rid itself of a hated dictatorship and the administration that took over was led by a decent and honest person, there were still too many crooks in the government.
Don Chino is long gone, but the newspaper he so loved is still alive and kicking. In his memory, we must remind the second President Aquino that the warning is as valid as ever.
Like his mother before him, there is little doubt that President Benigno Aquino 3rd is doing his best to remain untainted by scandal. Halfway through his term, there is not a hint of corruption on his part.
And herein lies the rub. There is not a hint of corruption on the part of President Aquino, but this is not true of the men and women who serve under him. Most may be honest, but they are still wanting.
Where, we must ask, is the delicadeza of a woman who leads a bureaucracy who was recently seen inside a casino? She knew full well that it is illegal for government officials to so much as enter a casino, yet she was caught on video playing the slot machines.
Her excuse that she entered because she had found the lights attractive is just that, an excuse, and lame one at that.
Yet she has not even deigned it proper to submit a courtesy resignation, much less an irrevocable one.
She’s not even the worst of the lot. The head of another bureaucracy was accused by a foreign ambassador of a crime so serious as to warrant his immediate expulsion. Yet all that the President allowed was for the executive to go on leave. We do not have to wonder what the envoy will tell his home country if he is asked to give an account of the full and sordid details of the extortion bid.
If we have become a nation of highwaymen as Chino Roces warned, it is because the political leadership is perceived to be tolerant of wholesale graft and corruption. It is not enough that Mr. Aquino be a paragon of honesty. More is expected of him than that.
The people expect, and deserve, a leader who is competent enough to make sure that the men and women in his official family follow his lead, and that those who tolerate graft and corruption—or worse, take part in it—are not only removed but appropriately charged.
The country’s economic growth under the Chief Executive called Noynoy has been impressive, no doubt. But if government officials continue to enrich themselves by foul means, that growth will remain incomplete. It will not filter down to the poorest of the poor. And there will always be a next generation of government officials who believe there is nothing wrong lining their pockets while in the government ostensibly to serve the people.
The warnings from the political opposition may be ignored by the administration, but certainly Mr. Aquino must listen to civil society, the religious sector, the business organizations, and the academe. All warn that the old ways have not disappeared.
While there may be less graft and corruption these days compared to the previous administration, the level of thievery remains too high for comfort.