• Must we aim for ending corruption and poverty?



    CORRUPTION and poverty are two sides of the same coin. Ending one can help end the other. Must we aim for it? What is the solution? Change the leadership or the system of government?

    From selecting the right people to govern, to design policies and strategies to develop and grow the economy—this has for ages, defined our identity as a nation. Take for example national elections, staffing the bureaucracy, from the simple choice of communication assistants, to the complex issue of changing the 1987 Constitution, introducing political reforms such as federalism, BBL, or carving out a foreign strategy to win the disputed West Philippine Sea.

    Today, we see these changes taking place in our land. It is safe to say that all these are meant for the good of our country. The TRAIN law is a good case. Certainly, there is wisdom in some parts of TRAIN that must be pushed. However, there are claims that the law will ultimately impact harmfully on the poor; and, that there is no need for it if only we could rid our country corruption, simplify the bureaucracy, and improve revenue collection.

    All election campaigns are marked by great promises for change. America, a rich nation flowing with milk and honey, is facing her own challenges, geopolitical, a variety of domestic ones, including spiritual. Former President Carter said that current developments violate the essence of what made America a great country in its political system. “Now it’s just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the elections…so now we’ve just seen a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want and expect and sometimes get favors for themselves after the election’s over.”

    In many ways, Philippine politics is not far different from America’s. Both are going through challenges that are not simply geopolitical and cultural but can be transformational. The change in leadership in both countries was marked by unorthodox styles. Donald Trump won a truly historic victory with his vulgar, intemperate and unorthodox style. Rodrigo Duterte’s unorthodox demeanor, boldness in speaking his mind, even to the extent of testing the limits of so-called “civilized” behavior, won by a plurality vote from 16 million desperate and impatient voters clamoring for change. His campaign promise of “Tunay na Pagbabago,” or Real Change, focused on the evils of illegal drugs, crime and corruption. Both appeared to be more “genuine” than the “decent” candidates.

    Duterte wishes to build on the stellar accomplishments that transformed the Philippines from being “the sick man of Asia” into “Asia’s rising tiger.” However, he intends to depart from PNoy’s legacy of instituting slow but steady macro-economic reform. Instead he seeks an agenda that will upgrade, accelerate and expand the reforms to an all-inclusive economic growth. He felt that a Real Change must correct the structural dissonance of a non-inclusive economic growth.

    He declared he is the first leftist president. Payoffs subverted the supposed sanctity of democracy. He has brought in leftist leaders to occupy key positions in his cabinet. He wants an end to the decades-long communist and Muslim insurgencies. He had a joint meeting with leaders of the MNLF and MILF. Finally, he wants to change the 1987 Constitution, overhaul the unitary-presidential system and shift to federalism.

    In his haste to do all these complex changes, he showed, early on, signs of ruling by fear and intimidation. Anyone adversarial to his plans is considered a barrier, an enemy of the state and must be taken out. Hence, a senator was jailed and the likes of VP Leni Robredo was removed from his cabinet. Impeachment proceedings are ongoing against the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the Ombudsman. Media, like Rappler, the Inquirer and ABS CBN are under threat of closure. His demeanor has contaminated and is contaminating not only his minions but other citizens as well.

    Curiously, we have a president who told Filipinos not to believe in religion, particularly the Roman Catholic Church, whose leaders he called “hypocrites.” He has also cursed the beloved leader, Pope Francis, calling him a “son of a bitch” for causing traffic jams in Metro Manila when he visited in January 2015. And yet, just recently, he signed Proclamation 24 declaring January 2018 and every year thereafter, the Philippine Bible Month. He said that the 1987 Constitution mandated the national government to promote the decent and spiritual values of the citizens and to help improve their morality.

    To some, Duterte is god sent. To others, he is a tyrant, unfit to lead a nation of 100 million plus. Duterte sees his style succeeding. He continues to enjoy a high trust rating of 92 percent. No other president has worked as hard and shown as much political will as Duterte. On the other hand, I have never seen a president as adversarial, rude, unpresidential and as confusing.

    “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap” was not just a mantra during the time of PNoy. While corruption persisted, the Philippines did well, breaking record economic growth rates. But obviously, it was not enough.

    Duterte, on the other hand, is aggressively pursuing his Real Change agenda. He has been sending mixed signals, quite confusing to the people. Can his leadership be trusted to push for his agenda the way he is doing now?

    Note the contrast between gradual, deliberate reforms and rapid, hasty reforms. Either way, no one will ever want to see a disruptive anarchy. A leader seeking Real Change must eventually aim to end corruption and poverty. If that is the aim, the Filipino must first seek a servant leader committed to “follow relentlessly the ways of God.” A departure from this aim will result in a choice of a fake leadership.

    Ruben C. de Lara is co-founder, president and CEO of Serving Humanity through Empowerment and Development (SHED), Inc., an NGO with a grand vision to help end poverty and all forms of exploitation.


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