"But they are Filipinos, and this is the Philippines."
Isidro Lapeña and Nicanor Faeldon Jr. are Filipinos. As far as I know, they have lived their entire lives in this country. Accordingly, they have not imbibed the culture of any other country. The only culture that they have familiarity with is Filipino culture.
Messrs. Lapeña and Faeldon are not citizens of Japan, and because they are not Japanese, they are not highly familiar with the culture of the Land of the Rising Sun. They know little—or at least appear to know little—about the Japanese people’s attitude toward the body of traditions, customs and practices that make up Japanese culture.
Why am I pointedly making this distinction between Filipino culture and Japanese culture and between the Filipinoness and non-Japaneseness of Lapeña and Faeldon? Because of the recent series of events involving the tenures by former military officers, of the position of Commissioner of Customs. President Rodrigo Duterte fired Faeldon and then appointed Lapeña as Faeldon’s successor. Lapeña was subsequently fired as well.
The firings were for the same reason. During Lapeña’s and Faeldon’s incumbencies massive quantities of an illegal drug—methamphetamine or shabu—were smuggled out of South Harbor, virtually right under the nose of the Commissioner of Customs. In Faeldon’s case it was a little over six tons; in Lapeña’s case the quantity was in excess of 11 tons. In both cases the Office of the Commissioner appears to have had advance warning from the Customs intelligence personnel about the probable entry of shipments containing shabu. Witnesses who testified before the Senate indicated that their warnings were ignored. In Faeldon’s case, the illegal shipment was eventually traced to a warehouse in Valenzuela City. In Lapena’s case the illegal shipment, which was detected by the South Harbor X-ray equipment, ended up in a Cavite warehouse.
What happened after the discovery of the two massive shabu shipments is the reason for my having brought up the matter of Japanese culture. In keeping with Filipino culture, the reaction of both Isidro Lapeña and Nicanor Faeldon Jr. went something like this: “I have done nothing wrong. My conscience is clear. I had absolutely no knowledge about the entry and release of the illegal shipment. I serve at the pleasure of the President of the Philippines and I will resign the moment he indicates that he has ceased to have trust in me.”
Upon hearing the facts about the two infamous shipments, President Duterte showed his loss of trust in Lapeña and Faeldon by firing them. But a Duterte firing is not the same as a firing done by other Philippine presidents; after giving an official his walking papers, Mr. Duterte usually gives him another appointment, often to a position with a higher rank. Faeldon was appointed director of the Bureau of Corrections, and Lapeña was made the Director-General of TESDA (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority), with the rank of a Cabinet member. Not bad for a couple of notoriously malperformig officials.
What troubles me about all this is not President Duterte’s way of dealing with instances of official malfeasance, although that is certainly a cause for very serious concern. What alarms me is the absence of an it-was-during-my-watch-so-I-am-accountable mindset among Philippine government officials. When something bad happens in their official domains, Philippine government officials do not immediately accept command responsibility and tender their irrevocable resignations; they wait to be either fired—and given another, better appointment—or be forgiven by the Chief Executive.
It’s different in Japan. When something bad happens in a Japanese ministry, department or agency, the highest-ranking official loses no time tendering his firm resignation to the Prime Minister. Not too long ago, the crash of an airline triggered the prompt resignation of the Minister of Transportation, notwithstanding the fact that the only connection between the crash and the Minister’s official domain was that transportation was involved. In another instance, the Minister of Railways was quick to tender his resignation upon the a train derailment that caused the loss of many lives. Again, by no stretch of the imagination could the minister be held directly responsible for the occurrence of the train disaster.
In the earlier part of Japanese history, Japanese government officials were known to disembowel themselves—the Japanese word for the ritual is seppuku—out of shame and embarrassment for the bad things that happened in the ministries, departments and agencies that they headed.
Which brings me back to the title of this piece. If Nicanor Faeldon Jr., Isidro Lapena and others like them were Japanese, they would not have waited to be fired by President Duterte and to be subjected to humiliating Congressional hearings; they would have adopted an it-was-during-my-watch posture and promptly resigned.
But Faeldon and Lapeña are not Japanese. They are Filipinos. And this is the Philippines.
(Erratum: An alert reader has pointed out that I failed to mention Clark Field, Burnham Park, Kennon Road and Dalton Pass among my November 7 “Reminders of US Colonial Rule: Place Names.” Thank you, reader.