The Hydra of Corruption

The month of January was quite bizarre. Just as a crime wave seemed to have swept the metropolis culminating in an improvised explosive device being blown up in the streets of Manila bombshells of a different sort were being lobbed in the halls of the Senate. This came courtesy of the Blue Ribbon committee’s investigation into the plea bargain agreement entered into by former Armed Forces chief comptroller Carlos Garcia.

During the course of its hearing, the revelations of Lt Col Rabusa on certain anomalous transactions involving hundreds of millions of pesos implicated former defense secretary Angelo Reyes and several former chiefs of staff. Senate president pro-tempore Jinggoy Estrada who along with his father the former president Joseph Estrada was jailed following the defection of Reyes and the various chiefs of the armed forces during the EDSA Dos uprising seemed to be having a field day. Indeed he later issued a statement promising further revelations that would implicate no less than Mrs Arroyo his father’s chief nemesis.

It is quite ironic that the actors who denounced corruption within the Erap presidency are now being hounded by similar allegations of plunder. The tables have now been turned effectively with the heir of Erap’s legacy leading the charge against corruption in the Arroyo presidency. Then it was corruption in the Philippine National Police involving illegal gambling syndicates that brought down Pres Estrada. Now it is procurement and perks within the Armed Forces of the Philippines that could lead to a similar fate for his successor.

It would seem to an outside observer that Philippine politics is indeed a rigodon of the wealthy who take turns at the trough of the nation’s treasury and feign moral indignation when they are out of power. Such is the multi-headed beast of corruption that confronts the nation which after having one of its heads decapitated, is able to rear two in its place.

It must be recalled that the revolving door policy of appointing successive generals for brief stints at the top military post adopted by Mrs Arroyo following EDSA Dos as a way of maintaining their loyalty to her coupled with the system of pabaon (a generous albeit informal set of rewards upon retirement) was reportedly their just deserts for supporting her extra constitutional rise to power. It was an unintended consequence of People Power, the second kind. It may have allowed her to keep a firm grip on the military, but now it seems the chickens have come home to roost.

Such is the multi-headed beast of corruption that confronts the nation which after having one of its heads decapitated, is able to rear two in its place.

Indeed it now seems that Gen Garcia may have been but the unfortunate scapegoat in all this, tasked with taking the fall for his former masters in exchange for a light sentence and the ability to keep a majority of his amassed wealth under the terms of the plea bargain agreement. During the proceedings he definitely seemed defiant in the face of senatorial interrogation, visibly piqued with the line of questioning posed to him making no effort to conceal his agitation.

Rabusa along with auditor Heidi Mendoza seems to be playing the role of Clarissa Ocampo in this episode of pin the tail on the donkey: a whistle blower who might be responsible for bringing down the reputations of a few mighty people in lofty places. Today the budget secretary Butch Abad promised reforms in the AFP procurement and budget systems as a result of Rabusa’s revelations.

Yet one can but look on with skepticism doubtful as to whether these shady practices within the defense department can ever be brought under control. One only has to look at the legacy of EDSA Dos and the reported persistence of jueteng payoffs to get discouraged. On another front, Sec Abad also promises a winding down of the National Food Authority’s grains importation mandate. This might be a more realistic and achievable goal in the fight against corruption.

There are so many other fronts in this battle: the procurement of textbooks at the Department of Education, the awarding of contracts at the public works department, the granting of licenses and issuance of telecommunications policy at the NTC and much, much more. The hydra seems to be omnipresent and invincible.

At least the silver lining in all this is that the prevalence of corruption did not become incompatible with fast growth under Mrs Arroyo. In fact as she handed over the reins in June last year, Pres Arroyo seemed to have ended her presidential term on a high note with the country notching up the fastest economic expansion in a quarter of a century.

As the P-Noy presidency attempts the herculean task of taming the hydra of corruption, the president himself on Sunday declared that the recent events of January may persist, the result of unsettled elements engaging in dilatory tactics. The present administration needs to be swift but deliberate, not only in decapitating the multiple heads of corruption within each agency, but in ensuring that they do not resurface in some other shape or form.

Similar to the successful method employed in ancient Greek mythology, it needs to find a way to cauterize the wounds it inflicts to prevent the disease from re-emerging if it is to succeed in its mission to weed out corruption.

Doy Santos aka The Cusp

Doy Santos is an international development consultant who shuttles between Australia and the Philippines. He maintains a blog called The Cusp: A discussion of new thinking, new schools of thought and fresh ideas on public policy ( and tweets as @thecusponline. He holds a Master in Development Economics from the University of the Philippines and an MS in Public Policy from Carnegie Mellon University.

  • UP nn grad

    One can only hope, but then one also has to be realistic — that the “pabaon” is not going on right now in the Noynoy Administration. One can only hope, but one also has to take pains to protect oneself from being laughed at, that in the Noynoy adminisration, the procurement of textbooks at the Department of Education, the awarding of contracts at the public works department, the granting of licenses and issuance of telecom and other public works contracts — are not tainted by campaign-donation payback and the usual hydra of kamag-anaks and college and other best friends.

    PROOF will be in the pudding — convictions, say, of that Lamborghini guy that Malacanang paraded to the media a few months. And, of course, the international rankings. Plus the bottom-line : that lifestyle checks catch plunder — media parades count a bit, convictions count a lot. Then the bottom line of metrics — pesos saved from a 10% plugging of leakage from plunder, corruption, smuggling and tax-evasion. 10% by 2012, 30% by 2015. That will be enough for me to say amend the Constitution so that Noynoy can run for a second term.

    • UP nn grad

      Candidate Noynoy has talked about Pilipinas corruption.

      Candidate Aquino vowed he would not spare anybody in his campaign against corruption and would show political will by personally pursuing the cases against corrupt people in the government. Candidate Aquino said the 18 percent cnviction rate of corruption cases in the country is relatively slow compared to the 85 percent in the US .. 95 percent in Japan.

      Candidate Aquino said he already has the tools for his mission to eradicate corruption. “We know who the smugglers are, we know who the evaders are. The people who provided us with the information were those who were asked to run after them but were told to stop,” candidate Aquino said. “So that gives me the confidence that within the first two weeks of my administration, we would be able to do something,” he said.

      “(I will make sure that) his or her trial is forthcoming within hopefully a month,” he said.

      Candidate Benigno Aquino said he would recover the P280 billion lost annually to corruption and use the money to provide better services to the people and attract more investors to the country.

      See the Feb 21/2010 ProPinoy blogthread with title :
      RP after EDSA: We’re back with the same old problems
      By admin ⋅ February 21, 2010