The more poignant of the tributes to literary great Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who died at 87 last week, covered a broader range and adequately touched on his often-overlooked short stories. The tributes were spot on. Indeed, to those raised in societies with varying shades of darkness, depravity and bankruptcy, what Garcia Marquez wrote in the short stories do not belong to the canvas of magical realism but are brutal realities in places grossly backward and wanting in civic virtues.
“One of These Days,” one of the better known of his short stories, is about a theme that is definitely our own, astoundingly relevant and timely in this new century and in our own context of orgiastic corruption and impunity. After reading the short story, you will perfectly understand these three cultures in the Philippine bureaucracy:
• The culture of corruption that drives legislators to think that PDAF funds belong to them
• The culture of corruption that makes local government executives think that the IRA is their own money
• The culture of corruption that makes executive officers feel that department funds are their own And, why the P10 billion pork barrel scam happened.
A New Yorker tribute to Garcia Marquez summed up “One of These Days.”
“In the story, the town mayor, a military torturer, shows up in absolute agony at the office of Aurelio Escovar, ‘a dentist without a degree.’ The mayor is in so much pain from an abscess in his mouth that he is unable to shave half his beard. Yet, he still announces that he will shoot the dentist if he refuses to help him. The dentist, seeing an opportunity to avenge the recent death of 20 of his neighbors, tricks the mayor into letting him pull the diseased tooth out without anesthesia. But the dentist does not get quite the revenge he seeks. When he asks the mayor whether he should send the bill to him personally or the town, the mayor exclaims, “It is the same damn thing.”
Notice the last phrase “the same damn thing.” I am the power in my town and what belongs to the town belongs to me.
We can all agree that that was the same rotten pathology that made the SARO-for-Cash exchange easy to execute, with no remorse or tinges of guilt on the part of the guilty senators and congressmen. It was their PDAF. It was their own. So exchanging the SAROs for hard cash with the barest of documentation was perfectly ok.
The culture in the fictional town of Garcia Marquez, where personal funds and public coffers were one and “the same damn thing” was the culture that undergirded 100 percent of the Napoles transactions, as well as the transactions with the other scam groups that preyed on the congressional funds.
The blurred or non-existent demarcation lines between public money and private funds, sad to say, are the norm in the entire government bureaucracy. The PDAF scam was just a more hideous representation of that practice.
Executive offices unnecessarily splurge on public funds, including foreign junkets, topped by presidential trips of zero value or of very little value to the country and the citizens. Officials of the executive branch wine and dine (and shower their gel prens with gifts) on the account of the public treasury. Remember the drunken orgies on imported wines that cost $9,000 per bottle in the center of power in the recent past?
The officials of the executive branch move around like the royals of pre-Bolshevik Russia, in case you have not noticed.
Mass-sending of chocolate and flowers on Valentine’s Day? No problem. Mass-sending of gift packs during the Yuletide? No problem. The maids and handymen, recklessness with public funds has no limit, are often on the payroll of the offices.
Mayors and governors use their IRAs to issue hundreds or thousands of so-called Jos, or job orders to pay off ghost employees, mostly political cronies and followers. They pay their meals, pamper their mistresses, and sustain their lifestyles with their towns’ or provinces’ IRA share. The IRA is treated as the personal piggy bank of the mayor and governor.
The military’s top brass, think of the sordid saga of Carlos Garcia, is just as cavalier with public money as the legislators, the officials of the executive branch and the LGU leaders. Want a house in the ritzy side of California? No problem. The public money is the money of the generals. “It is the same damn thing,” as the character of Garcia Marquez states without hesitation.
Janet Napoles, take note of this, had her “career start”—and first major windfall—from a supply order of helmets for the military.
What the western world has generally praised Garcia Marquez for his “magic realism,” those in the underdeveloped world has generally recognized as the literary giant’s realism, period.
Corrupt men and decadent women. Love, war and cholera. Solitude, despair and deprivation. Hopes and dreams for a better life.
Will the Philippines end up like Jose Arcadio Buendia? Planning to move on but with nowhere to go.