Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.
— The Gospel of Saint Matthew, 3-5
When Jinggoy Estrada followed fellow actor-senator Bong Revilla to jail in Camp Crame on Monday, the Mass reading from Saint Matthew’s Gospel quoted Jesus’s famous warning against passing judgment–“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged”–followed by the above-quoted admonition to mind one’s failings before telling off others.
Considering how many Filipinos, whether prominent or pedestrian, joined the nationwide chorus excoriating the two accused along with Senator Juan Ponce Enrile and alleged pork barrel operator Janet Lim Napoles, our Lord’s words were most apt.
For countless people were not just judging Johnny, Jinggoy, Janet, Bong, and other accused among the 51 charged with the Sandiganbayan. They were also failing to see the forests in their eyes in their thundering condemnation of the alleged scammers.
One lady saw Revilla’s televised caravan to the Sandiganbayan last Friday while working out in a Greenhills club. She made her anger at the senator plain, wishing aloud that he rot in jail for what she judged was his thievery.
No doubt many thousands, if not millions of Filipinos feel the same: fuming at the monumental sleaze, and fired up over the comeuppance that accused grafters look set to finally suffer. Serves them right!
The logs in our eyes
Unfortunately, while the nation can rightly feel outraged and vindicated over the pork barrel investigation and prosecution, in the flurry of headlines, we may be missing or dismissing some big logs, so to speak, which have long burdened our governance and perpetuated sleaze.
For starters, there’s the age-old double-standard, partisan justice, which spares allies while jailing rivals. That’s one big reason why corruption persists, since scammers just move to the winning side every election and continue fleecing the nation.
Thus, certain quarters in the administration are keen to see public rage at “Pogi” (slang for handsome, Revilla’s reported nickname among pork barrel operators), “Sexy” (Estrada), and “Tanda” (old man, for Enrile) be catharsis enough for the people. Then the great majority of legislators, who are mostly in the ruling camp, don’t have to be investigated and prosecuted so swiftly like the ones now charged.
Moreover, seething at Estrada and Revilla, people would forget or dismiss their accusations, privately corroborated by other lawmakers, that Malacañang used the Priority Development Assistance Fund as well as the patently illegal Disbursement Acceleration Program as inducements for senators and congressmen to vote for Palace bills and impeach then Chief Justice Renato Corona.
If burning hatred for a few pork barrel defendants makes the nation forget about the mass of lawmakers yet to be investigated, not to mention the practice of monetary inducements for Congress, then corruption wins even if Pogi, Sexy and Tanda lose.
The biggest log: culture of corruption
More than the administration’s double standard and Congress inducements, however, the biggest log most likely to be missed is the one lodged in the eyes of millions of Filipinos from all walks of life: the culture of corruption. While many of us are quick to condemn sleaze, probably the same number would pay a bribe, ask a favor, skirt a law, jump a queue, evade taxes, and otherwise participate in sleaze for personal benefit.
Some justify small payoffs here and there, arguing that the amount is minuscule. Let’s turn that reasoning around: Who’s worse — a pork barrel mastermind tempted by billions of pesos in illicit gains, or the motorist who slips P100 to the traffic cop just to avoid a P1,500 fine? If we commit corruption for small amounts, it’s hardly surprising that others succumb to far greater temptations.
And of course, to rephrase a parable of our Lord, those who are unfaithful in little things are on their way to infidelity in greater things. The little sleaze ordinary citizens and civil servants engage in today open the door and smooth the way for million- and billion-peso indiscretions.
So even as we cheer laudable and long-overdue probes and prosecutions of pork barrel anomalies, let us not forget the little things we do that contribute to the culture of corruption pervading our land. For the thinking that says it’s alright to cheat, steal, lie and bribe, as long as it’s “within reason,” “not too much,” “unavoidable,” and otherwise excusable–that attitude is the thickly greased slope to the ravine of rapacious graft.
Can you do me a favor?
The road to sleaze may not even start with money changing hands. Often, it’s just good, old pakikisama–good personal relations. We make use of family or friendly connections for favors and advantage. Others regularly gift people in positions to cultivate good ties. And declining tokens of friendship and keeping an official distance are seen as un-Filipino officiousness.
So most Filipinos get cosy and grant small favors, just to avoid being seen as unfriendly. And that opens the door to more and bigger requests coupled with bigger inducements. A good number quiet their consciences and those of others by reasoning that payoffs are fine if one doesn’t ask for them.
As a public highways official once told then Minister Vicente Paterno, “there are three kinds of people here: those who ask, those who accept, and those who are fools.” In our culture of corruption, it’s okay to accept, and that paves the way for asking later on. Meanwhile, those who say no and stay straight are ostracized as nincompoops or nasty do-gooders going against “the way things are.”
Today, that culture goes far beyond the confines of Congress. Big conglomerates, even those purportedly upright, use connections to get juicy contracts and concessions. Lower down the food chain, parents pull strings to get children into schools where test scores and grades don’t qualify them. Some religious personages even lend dubious entities a veneer of moral rectitude in exchange for hefty donations.
As we point condemning fingers at the pork barrel accused, let us also beat our breasts in mea culpa and raise our arms to root out the shady ways, small and big, feeding our culture of corruption. Otherwise, we have no right to cast stones.