Last of Two Parts
As explained in the first part of this article, published on Wednesday, the current anti-corruption crackdown, like other campaigns engendered and no doubt exploited by politicians for partisan ends, is but one more instrument in the top-level, no-holds-barred, winner-take-all battles for ultimate power.
Once on top, winners protect their own, even the corrupt among them, while demonizing and persecuting real or imagined opponents. In the pork barrel investigation, for instance, only papers tarring mostly opposition stalwarts were given by Secretary Florencio Abad’s Department of Budget and Management to the independent Commission on Audit.
And only after much prodding did Senate President Franklin Drilon subpoena alleged pork schemer Janet Lim-Naples. The administration fears that she may reveal her ties to President Benigno Aquino 3rd, perhaps including election campaign contributions and disbursements of his Priority Development Assistance Fund allocation as a senator.
Hence, rather than another bout of political warfare in the guise of fighting corruption, what truth, justice and reform really need is a legally empowered commission where grafters can give full testimony about their irregularities, help in probing other anomalies and crafting reforms. For their cooperation, offenders can be given full amnesty, plus a settlement recovering part of their ill-gotten wealth.
No, no, no! many an upright and justice-minded citizen may cry. No amnesty, no settlement, no deal. Every corrupt official must be unmasked, prosecuted, convicted, and punished, and every illicit centavo he or she has looted returned to the state. The nation must never, never let grafters and abusers of power to go scot free.
Well, in fact, the nation has in the past allowed even confessed offenders go unpunished if they have been instrumental in ending excesses and advancing reform.
Recall the two EDSA People Power uprisings. In the first back in 1986, then-Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile, whose security operations kept dictator Ferdinand Marcos in power, not only stayed out of jail, but even kept his job for some months during the first Aquino presidency.
A decade and a half later in 2000, Ilocos Sur Gov. Chavit Singson disclosed that he had collected and delivered hundreds of millions of pesos in jueteng payoffs to then President Joseph Estrada. Singson declared his willingness to go to prison with Erap. Months later in January 2001, Estrada was out of Malacañang and on his way to jail, while Singson was an EDSA hero, enjoying freedom and keeping his jueteng millions.
Plainly, the nation is willing to forgive the corrupt and the oppressive if they show true repentance by putting themselves on the line to uncover and end the venality and abuse they were part of. That is not only the Filipino character, it is central to the majority Christian faith (maybe Islam, too, but this writer isn’t competent to say so).
From the banishment of Adam and Eve, who were promised a savior, to the forgiveness of the good thief on Calvary, who was assured of Paradise, the Holy Bible is replete with narrative and wisdom extolling the mercy of God toward the penitent sinner. Just last week, in a Mass reading from the Book of Jonah, God spared the city of Nineveh when its king and his subjects repented of their evil.
This week, homilists commemorated Pope Saint Callistus I, martyred in 222, less than two centuries after the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. As a young slave, Callistus fled his community after losing money entrusted to him by his master, widows, and other brethren. He was caught and condemned to hard labor, but was freed and eventually, put in the service of Pope Victor I.
Callistus then rose to become an archdeacon and eventually Pope. As one who found forgiveness and a new life after grave sin, the former fugitive showed mercy toward erring Christians. That example was crucial in resolving the early Church controversy about what to do with believers who fall into sin.
Today, we have the same controversy as the nation again grapples with the centuries-old scourge of corruption. Most Filipinos want to see every grafter imprisoned and dispossessed. But despite crackdowns, most of the corrupt continue their merry way.
Why? Because every administration inevitably finds political and pecuniary advantages in allowing kickbacks, bribes, jueteng, smuggling, tax evasion, crime, and other unlawful acts to flourish, while mounting selective crackdowns to impress the people and take down enemies.
This must stop. Instead of another purported campaign stage-managed by politicians driven by ambition and power, the nation must establish a nonpartisan mechanism led by unblemished moral figures, like the commission set up by South Africa to compile accounts of rights abuses in the decades of conflict over racial segregation. That body was led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his campaign against apartheid and violence.
The envisioned National Truth and Reform Commission could also be headed by a prelate, like the outgoing president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, or the incoming one, Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas. The NTRC should have committed, expert reformers like Christian or Solita Monsod, Leonor Briones and Vincent Lazatin. Legal luminaries are essential, too, the likes of former chief justice Reynato Puno and constitutionalist Fr. Joaquin Bernas.
With focus on PDAF and other multibillion-peso allocations, the NTRC should render a full report on its investigations, with transcripts of testimonies and draft measures to institute systems and procedures preventing, uncovering, neutralizing and punishing corruption in future. While the state can fund the body, there are enough volunteer lawyers from the tens of thousands in the country to staff the NRTC many times over.
The law creating it should grant amnesty to those who testify and cooperate fully with the Commission in investigating graft and devising reforms. The pardon is conditional: it is voided if the pardoned offender returns to his old ways or helps others commit or conceal sleaze. Once some grafters come forward, others will fear exposure and cooperate as well. And when the nations knows how graft was committed, we can do a far better job of stopping it.
Will President Aquino and Congress establish the NTRC? Public outrage over pork barrel got them to grudgingly suspend releases and abolish PDAF next year. If another million marchers nationwide demand an independent non-partisan National Truth and Reform Commission, the powers that be must also listen.