COTANGENT – By Daphne Cardillo
Corruption hounds in our society today in cases so astounding that I’ve been trying to understand how the phenomenon reached to such great proportions. The use of public funds for personal use is the one that has been highlighted lately, as in the case of the AFP scandals and other such stealing of people’s money in the high offices of government. Other corrupt practices of the different kind as in circumventing simple laws and rules and procedures also proliferate, spreading like cancer cells in the social fabric.
I was wondering if Filipinos are by nature wayward, and that doing things that are considered corrupt is something we can get away with without remorse or disgust. Or maybe our natural way of doing things is simply so outdated with the modern concept of democracy and the rule of law. We are inherently personal, and negotiating with a traffic officer on the road or asking a friend to facilitate the processing of our papers in their office seems like an instinctive and spontaneous act, and not even thought of as a wrongdoing or a form of corruption.
The imposition of laws for the protection of everyone in a democratic setting has created a web of restrictions in the conduct of public affairs. Rules and procedures are set to prevent the strong from taking advantage of the weak. So for those of us who are used to moving in accordance with the narrow interest of self or the family or clan, any small violation to the principles of fair play is now considered a corrupt act. The problem, however, is that most of us nowadays cannot delineate corrupt practices from the legally and morally acceptable ones. How, then, can we define corruption?
My understanding of corruption is also quite a limited one, but at the very least, it was instilled to me at an early age that somehow I can still see its signs in the maze of our present day set-up. It was instilled to me by my mother who was very strict with ethical conduct. It came naturally with her moralistic attitude and her ardent desire to live a Christian life. And it also came at a time when corruption in public life was not so rampant that one can readily notice a fraudulent act when it arises.
Her first lesson to me on corruption was about properties. Mother was strict in delineating private and public property. And she had this rule that it was alright or even commendable to donate or offer any private property for public use but never to use what is owned by the public for a private purpose. Our sense of what is public then in which we had to deal with more often was the local evangelical church and the public school where she worked. Her command was simply not to steal or use other people’s property without permission.
That lesson, however, was applied in the smallest of terms. Mother was a demonstration teacher, teaching other teachers in other schools how to teach English, Math, and Music. She had school supplies allotted for the preparation of her instruction materials brought to the house. Through the years, my brothers and later I helped her make her illustration materials, but we were never allowed to get the pens and other supplies for our own individual use. Not a piece of bond paper. Much more the larger cartolina or Manila paper.
Unless we desperately needed to borrow something, mother didn’t like using other people’s things. She would check anything that gets into the house and sometimes ordering the bearer to return an object to its origins.
It seems that shame was attached if something was not acquired honestly or through credit, and this applies not only to tangible objects but also to positions and other rewards. She was quick to denounce paying money (bagsak) in order for my siblings to pass the board exams. And derisive of anyone who acquired a position in work or public office through bribery or connections (kapit).
At that time, the public school system where she worked was the showcase of corrupt practices that appeared before her eyes, albeit unobtrusively. There was this parent who gave food gifts to a teacher in order for her child to land at the top of the class. Then there’s this teacher – a lackey of the school principal – who was given a position and in effect by-passing another teacher of a higher rank. But what was least known by many was the school principal who did research work (as in intellectual dishonesty) for his supervisor taking higher studies.
Corruption, indeed, takes many forms, and in our present structures, takes a more sophisticated nature. Since the rules have become more complicated, circumventing these rules has also become a complicated act. A culture of impunity, likewise, has encouraged these acts. So for those trying to fight corruption at its fundamental levels, one has to address the internal control of the different structures in public and private governance, call for the democratization of wages and other benefits and rewards, and punish those who betrayed the public trust. And most of all, teach each child good manners and right conduct.
March 11, 2011