“We have some honest men in government, but, I am sorry to say all reformists in government almost do not last long”
Graft and corruption remain the bane of every government administration as far as I can remember, having been a journalist for over seven decades. Why is this so, Santa Banana?
There are many factors that contribute to this phenomenon, for one thing, insofar as local politicians are concerned, it’s the people themselves who make this possible.
Because of poverty, people tend to elect politicians who they believe can help them in times of need, more than their qualifications and credentials.
A perfect example of this is what happened to a former colleague who ran for Congress and won.
I would visit him in his house for a cup of coffee after he got elected, as we used to do when he was in the media.
Soon enough, I saw more and more visitors come to his house from the provinces, who I noticed just simply lingered around.
When I asked my friend who they were, he simply smiled and told me his problem was how he could feed them because they just lingered, waiting for something.
I suggested he could solve his problem by putting up a tent in his backyard and having tables under it, which he did.
My friend confided this was what happened to every politician in the provinces, to mayors and to governors and congressmen.
He told me they usually asked for money for their families back home, at times money for a burial, and for a lot of other things, like a birthday gift, money to buy uniforms for a basketball team, etc.
He even told me with a smile he even knew some of his constituents had sought burial expenses for a husband and a wife twice or three times.
But, that‘s how it is when you are a politician.
I then asked him, “Where are you getting the money for all these?” He then smiled, and said, “You know where.”
Well. Santa Banana, that’s how it goes when you are a politician and you want to get re-elected.
There are so many opportunities for a politician to make all the money that his constituents ask for.
That’s also the reason why running for a political or public office is now especially for the rich and members of political dynasties.
More often than not, a politician has to become corrupt to have all the money to spend around.
And there are hundreds of ways of making money in government, from contracts, transactions, from public biddings, and many others, if a politician is corrupt.
Santa Banana, that’s how it is for the simple reason of permanent poverty.
In a county like the Philippines, a saint can win a public office.
But sooner or later, even somebody with good intentions may become corrupt if he intends to last in the world of politics.
With the kind of structure in government we have, people in government soon enough get corrupted.
Under this system, how can anybody in politics last unless he becomes corrupt?
It’s a cycle difficult to erase.
People tend to vote for somebody they believe they can get something from in return.
It’s a vicious cycle for corruption, especially these days with millions of people jobless and with so much poverty.
Graft and corruption
If there are grafters and much corruption in government, it all boils down to greed, thinking that when officials and employees in government steal money, the temptation is there with so many opportunities to commit graft.
A perfect example is the Bureau of Customs where the opportunity is always there to connive with smugglers.
In my younger days as a journalist, one of my beats as a Business Editor of the defunct Philippines Herald was Customs.
I knew that smugglers would not be brazen enough to smuggle anything without the connivance of corrupt Customs personnel.
I also learned that when smuggling through Customs got out of hand, Customs people usually resorted to a trick like raiding a Customs warehouse somewhere in Bulacan, Cavite or Batangas accompanied by the media to allegedly apprehend some smuggled goods, to win some “pogi points.”
If the Bureau of Customs earned the brand as “the most corrupt agency in government.” because it is.
I recall during the presidency of then President Magsaysay, Customs was so corrupt that the President tried to stop it by replacing the bureau with some 300 cadets from the Philippine Military Academy.
Soon, Santa Banana, the PMA cadets were themselves corrupted.
And the reason for it is that in the importation of goods, there is so much discretion on the part of Customs on how to value the imports.
I also recall when an IBM machine was installed at Customs, would you believe that some Customs people had a bag of salt thrown into the IBM machine, which destroyed it?
There was also that time when the government hired the well-known SGS (Societe Generale de Surveillance) to pre-inspect imports from source.
That worked for a while until some politicians and senators started to complain about the expense which amounted to hundreds of millions of pesos.
These were politicians who had some hidden interests. The SGS was soon stopped.
There are thousands of ways for corrupt people to make money at Customs.
I also recall that time when a well-intentioned finance secretary had to replace Customs desks to ones without drawers.
It may be funny, but some Customs people had desk drawers always open for some clients to put money in them.
This was true at offices belonging to freight handlers where they were all known to be corrupt.
Corruption is prevalent at procurement offices, like the Procurement Service at the Department of Budget and Management.
Of course, we know that case of the procurement of antiquated and overpriced laptops for the Department of Education, and the recent graft case involving Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corporation which supplied overpriced health supplies to the Philippine Health Insurance (PhilHealth) during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The case involved plunder, but the Ombudsman called it graft.
These and a thousand other ways are endlessly being committed in government.
At times they get exposed in the media, but most of the time they are not.
Recall the corruption at the Bureau of Corrections which resulted in killings and murder.
There are also cases of human trafficking by POGOs, like that POGO hub raided by the police in Pasay.
As I said, there are a thousand and one ways to enrich oneself in government.
Some get away with it, others don’t.
How can government reformists stop them?
I say, they cannot. It is all part of the system.
They can only be minimized, by starting at the top, by having honest and well-intentioned people in government setting the example.
But then, how many are they in government?
We have government regulators and departments to check graft and corruption.
Sometimes they work, but not always, like the Commission on Audit.
Other grafters are convicted, others are not.
At times corrupt government people resort to killing.
This is the bane of all administrations as far as I can remember.
Yes, we have some honest men in government, but, I am sorry to say all reformists in government almost do not last long.
They, too, soon become part of the system.