THE Philippines is not a hopeless case. But it will take generations for an ingrained culture of corruption to disappear, if that is possible. From day one, Philippine governance was already wallowing in dirt that was condoned by both the governors and the governed.
A budding reporter of Manila Chronicle, Celso Cabrera, documented in January of 1949 what Jose Avelino, the first Senate President of this Republic, said in a caucus of party leaders. His exact words in Spanish were “Para que estamos en poder?” or “What are we in power for?” In the Cabrera news story, Avelino reportedly “lectured” that if the leadership could not condone corruption, it should at least tolerate it. (Incidentally, the Aquino Administration in Proclamation No. 759 has just declared August 5 this year as a special non-working holiday in the three provinces of Samar to mark the 124th birth anniversary of the first Senate President Jose Avelino who is also known as the “Father of the Philippine Workmen’s Compensation Law.)
Of late, it was Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle who, in the face the worst corruption cases that this country ever encountered, saw hope and opportunity for reform in Philippine governance. In a forum held in Novaliches last June 14, the good Cardinal announced his conviction that good governance is still possible. He said, “Institutional communitarian governance is man-made, which means that man can also change it…we cannot excuse a bad system just because it has always been so…It has to change for the better.”
But the reform has to begin with everyone else—with the voters most especially. According to the Cardinal, Filipinos have to create a culture of good governance which will be second nature to everyone. To do this, he exhorts every citizen, institutions, including the Church, to choose leaders with competence, integrity and commitment to the common good.
In a CBCP Statement titled “Pastoral Exhortation on the 1998 Elections” the bishops said, “In choosing our leaders in the political community it would be most logical to look first at the platforms and programs of the different political parties. But unfortunately in our country there are practically no differences in the platforms and programs of the different parties. Proof of this is the ease with which candidates even for the highest offices transfer parties or form alliances when their personal interests suit it. We need to focus our attention on the qualities needed by our elective public officials...We ask you to vote into office, especially as President and Vice-President, candidates who have exhibited COMPETENCE, PERSONAL INTEGRITY and COMMITMENT TO THE COMMON GOOD.”
While the rumor mill says the PDAF cases were filed to bury strong candidates for the 2016 elections, it may actually be the start of a cultural change that everybody has been dreaming of—a culture that will gradually give birth to good governance.