Friday, July 18, 2008

Confusion and Hypocrisy

"Mental confusion is a change in mental status in which a person is not able to think with his or her usual level of clarity.

I remembered this when I was reflecting on the past week of very intense roasting of the newly appointed Romulo Neri to the top executive post of the SSS (Social Security System) in connection with his testimonies in the ZTE-NBN hearings. I was comparing this treatment of the simple civil servant Neri and another personality who had a really larger role in the ZTE-NBN scandal.

Neri, like thousands of other civil servants, cultivates a nondescript and quiet career in the government bureaucracy and survives on a policy of "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil."

Confident because of his deep credentials, Neri has quietly and competently served government for the past 20 years, 12 of which were in Congress as head of the Cepo (Congressional Economic Planning Office) and the rest at the Neda (National Economic Development Authority). At the Congress, Neri would have been witness to countless shenanigans of the congressmen over the years, but he escaped controversy by keeping a low profile as any civil servant does. His stint at the Neda would have gone on as quietly as in the Congress had it not been for the immoderate greed of political bosses spilling over.

Immoderate greed has a way of spilling over. I remember the other celebrated corruption case of the Gloria Arroyo regime, the Impsa deal. The total kickback was $20 million and, as Mark Jimenez initially testified, the then Justice Secretary Hernani Perez was said to have gotten $2 million but, as the tale went, when Perez found out that Mark Jimenez pocketed much, much more than he got, he rushed to confront the latter and demanded a bigger share. That's when ill will eventually led to Mark Jimenez exposing the Nani Perez's corruption to the public. Mark Jimenez has since apparently been fixed to keep quiet about the case, and he's gone on to become a religious preacher although no faithful has yet flocked to see him except when he hands out money. He hasn't been prosecuted for the Impsa scam either.

Romulo Neri, the middle-aged civil servant, still lives in his parent's house, evidence he has invoked that he has never engaged in graft and corruption while in government. After months of grilling in Senate hearings, it is apparent that Neri has indeed practiced personal honesty in his service in government. Coming face-to-face with the corruption of the system and the best he could do in response was to give the now famous or infamous advice to the deal makers to 'moderate their greed.'

During the Senate hearings, Neri clearly answered all questions as honestly as he could which, as Linggoy Alcuaz says, "at least tagged the Comelec culprit Abalos' which is already a huge service to the public; but when 'executive privilege' was invoked, he was bound by the law to keep to his limits.

The SSS post is a huge leap in remuneration and prestige for Neri. What career civil servant would pass up the chance? But for Neri to do any evil bidding of Gloria Arroyo in the SSS, the probability is almost nil because whole SSS community is on alert , particularly the Alert and Concerned Employees of SSS (Access) union which has a track record of effective fiscalization of past SSS CEOs. In 2001, Access helped kick out the Citibank nominee Vitaliano Nanagas who was pressing for the privatization of the SSS in behalf of finance oligarchs waiting to use the employees pension funds for their market investments. Besides, the whole nation is watching Neri and that's the best insurance against any anomaly, such as some controversial asset sales to a Taipan during Corazon de la Paz's low keyed time.

Instead of Gloria bossing over Neri, I would think that Neri has Gloria Arroyo's balls in his hands. The day that Neri is ready to resign his career is the day he can tell the full story of the ZTE-NBN and Gloria Arroyo's involvement. The huge retirement package of the SSS CEO position may help Neri to reconsider his compliance with 'executive privilege'. But let me get on with my main point now, Neri is really a small fry compared to other politico-business oligarchs. Why is no one hounding them the way they are hounding Neri? I asked this of the venerable Alejandro Ding Lichauco and he answered: "They have the clout to hurt and harm, Neri is a small fry". Maybe it's not national mental confusion; maybe its just plain national double standard and hypocrisy.

The national double standard and hypocrisy pervades the country and its institutions. Yesterday, the Supreme Court handed down its judgment on the petition for the entire Jpepa documents, denying the said petition. There is one standard in the Constitution and another in what the Supreme Court decides. What could be more double standard and hypocritical in a so-called democratic society with its constitutional priority given to the right of the people to information than this decision shielding the billions in the Jpepa agreement from pubic scrutiny? They have put the privilege of the powerful over the right of the people to know. This SC decision foreshadows what is to come from it in the coming years until the 2010 elections. It is time we junk this Supreme court along with Gloria Arroyo in a regime change.

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