Sunday, August 9, 2009

A corrupt and profligate social elite

At last, the news media has regained its sense of balance and perspective. News of the typhoon casualties could be read and heard again. For a while, the real storm that stretched over hundreds of kilometers darkening the Philippine skies was drowned out by the yellow squall. The whirlwinds of spin whipped up “Kris for President” then shifted to “Noynoy for VP or President,” and then the sainthood proposal; but these are all part of the passing emotional surge triggered by that hyped up event. As Edsa I and II proved to be ephemeral sensations in the light of history, reality and truth will catch up and put things in their proper places. The fact is, after Edsa I, the nation is poorer and in deeper trouble, with the threat of dismemberment more imminent than ever.

Edsa I’s luster tarnishes even more in light of the “death” of the National Artist Award. Cecille Guidote-Alvarez, wife of the Edsa I “steak commando” Heherson Alvarez, was quoted as saying, “Before you make a judgment, read my achievements first as an artist. Was I an idiot before I became a national artist?” Now I confess; I am no aficionado of Philippine arts and culture but in the few times I was compelled to watch Cecille perform, I have never detected a hint of talent in her “forced through” performances. From what I know, her recognition as an artist has only stemmed from her political connections. But it is still the voice of the artists’ community that counts; and a community of this caliber can’t be wrong about Cecille’s lack of merit as any layman like me can see.

The headlines today are about the P1-million wining and dining soiree of Gloria Arroyo’s entourage on the eve of her return for Cory Aquino’s wake. But for all of them atop of Philippine society and politics, I do believe this is standard fare. I remember one Metro Manila city vice-mayor identified with the opposition buying 49 tickets to the last Pacquiao fight in the US for his friends, costing P50,000 a piece. But let’s not stop only the politicos. What about the top 1 percent upper class of Filipinos who travel around the world regularly; the oligarchs of the land who would think nothing of spending that amount from the hundreds of millions they have bilked from the people in paying for power and water rates that are among the highest in the world; or lawyers like that partner of the now defunct “The Firm” who easily spent a fortune in one day for his daughter’s wedding in a Palawan resort? Gloria’s callous spending is just more open to scrutiny than the rest.

It’s good that Gloria and her entourage are being put under the spotlight for this. I just want to expand its focus to all the rest who are similarly exploiting the Philippines. In fact, most are working in tandem with Gloria, but unlike her, they enjoy immunity by virtue of being from “the private or corporate sector.” Just look at those “respectable” corporate pals (or cronies) of Gloria who are actually her bagmen, like the Kastilaloy banking clan that took Land Bank of the Philippines deposits to their own bank and bought a building at San Miguel Avenue posthaste, or the other one that charges the highest harbor rates in the world and flies off to the US to catch his favorite NBA games, or the power magnate’s children who give Hummers as gifts. Others don’t even care about public knowledge of their profligacy, like that “notoriously corrupt” Ilocos politician who piles up millions in loses in just one night in Las Vegas.

What we have is a class of corrupt and profligate people in this endemically corrupt and exploitative society, comprising a substantial part of what the National Statistical Coordination Board classifies as the Upper Class--the 1 in 100 families that control 80 percent of the nation’s wealth, whether earned by merit or other means. Unfortunately, wealth earned the hard way by entrepreneurs who set up genuine factories, catch fish, grow food, or export goods, is getting rare in the Philippines while that from exploitative activities is growing. One example of this is the Camp Crame parking lot. Before Edsa II, you’ll hardly find a third of the number of cars there today. Today, police officers are getting awfully rich; same with military generals whose addresses are now at Corinthian’s or Green Meadows.

The corrupt and profligate Gloria Arroyo may soon be out of power if she sticks to what many speculate to be Obama’s advice to her. But would that mean that once she’s out, the corruption will subside to more tolerable levels? It could, if the next president will not be under the thumb of not only the corrupt bureaucrats but, more importantly, the corrupt corporatocracy and criminal mafias that are invariably giving funds to each candidate in the field. It would be just as bad, if not worse, if the next president simply filled up his campaign chest from swindling government. We’ll just get a repeat of Gloria Arroyo who’ll steal as much to bribe his way out of the fixes he’ll find himself in when in power. It seems there’s no escaping the worsening corruption and profligacy in Philippine society while this class of greedy and extravagant spenders stays in place. To change things, we would need a revolution, installing a parsimonious and industrious social elite to restore the nation’s vitality.

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