February 15, 2008
Speech before the Rotary Club of Downtown Manila, Corregidor Function Room, Century Park Hotel, Manila
Once a Japanese ambassador told me there are 3 most common lies on earth. No. 1 lie, is when an American tenant tells his landlord, the check is in the mail. It is not to be believed. No. 2 lie, when a Japanese lover tells you that he is more romantic than a Frenchman, don’t believe him. And the 3rd most common lie is when a politician tells you he’s about to deliver a short speech. Ladies and gentlemen, my fellow Rotarians, don’t worry. This is going to be a short speech.
Let me first thank president Henry for giving me the opportunity to be here and share my views on corruption, poverty and what 2010 should mean for all of us.
Fellow Rotarians, as a public servant who has dedicated all of 37 years of my life to serving others, I know that government’s efforts to provide access to basic services for this nation’s poor will be in vain if we continue to live in an unjust society and be led by an unjust government.
Listen to the president’s speeches nowadays. It is a long litany of successes: a strong peso, rising GNP, increased job creation and stable consumer prices all equal to a progressive economy. But progress for whom?
Certainly not for a jeepney driver or a pedicab driver or a factory worker whose family subsists on rice and instant noodles every day of their miserable lives.
Certainly not for a labandera who cannot even afford to buy the needed medicine if she or anyone in her family gets sick.
Every time President Arroyo steps on that podium and talks of economic successes, she is talking only to a select few and, I’m sure, is being applauded only by the same select few.
When did prosperity become exclusive?
Before, ambition was enough to get you anywhere and everywhere. Ngayon, abot kaya ang mga pangarap kung kaibigan ka ng Malacañang.
This is why there should be a keen interest this early in how 2010 will unfold.
The next administration must ensure an economic development that is shared by all and benefits every Filipino.
But promoting fairness is easier said than done.
In fact, what these recent weeks have taught us is that there are individuals in government who are willing to lie, cheat and even abduct to protect what they already have.
I am talking about corruption and how it evolved from a mere bad memory of our colonial past to the profitable business of today.
So profitable that moderating some powerful people’s greed doesn’t seem to be acceptable as a compromise anymore. Worse, to some people, it is no longer considered corruption unless it is a $200-million overprice in a $329-million deal.
It is important then that before we can talk about reducing poverty, we must first focus on corruption.
Corruption as the unchecked use of power for private gain has been the only stumbling block in alleviating poverty.
It is time to put a stop to this corrupt government of the few, by the few and for only the few.
It is time to put an end to corrupt practices and grant equal opportunities to all.
So what needs to be done?
It is time to revert to the concept of public service with discipline. It is time for government to be afraid of its people, not the people being afraid of their government. It is time for us in government to act like real public servants. Yes, the people may not be our masters but definitely we are their servants.
Seven years ago, in her first SONA, Mrs. Arroyo promised to rid this nation of corruption and to serve us selflessly. That should have been her legacy:
But barely days into her post, the Arroyo government signed a power project contract that had previously been refused by her predecessor, former President Estrada, as too anomalous and debilitating to the Filipino interest.
I refer to the 470-million US dollar power contract granted to the Argentinean company IMPSA, which earned her and her key players, among them former Sec. Hernando Perez, a 14-million US dollar payoff.
I personally tracked Mr. Perez’s two-million US dollar bribe to a Hong Kong bank whose account is under the name of one of Mrs. Arroyo’s operatives, Ernest Escaler.
Mrs. Arroyo is not above extorting from foreign corporations. Recorded conversations between German firm Fraport and her aide Gloria Tan Climaco can attest to her attempt to extort from the firm 20-million US dollars in exchange for legal favors. Fraport partly owns the Philippine International Air Terminals Corporation (Piatco), which won the bid to construct the overpriced NAIA-3 terminal project.
She has also been busy on the home front.
By buying the support and silence of congressmen and other elected officials with 500,000 pesos in bribe money, she managed to thwart moves to impeach her.
Mrs. Arroyo is also busy inventing more money-making schemes for her and her associates.
In 2004, the implementation of a fertilizer fund that saw its 728-million pesos budgeted to help small farmers increase their profits go to an intricate scheme of profit sharing: 25 percent for local government proponents, 25 percent for the so-called “runners,” 30 percent for politicians and 20 percent to suppliers – all of which are known allies of the Arroyos who, as we all remember, was running for the presidency and obviously needed the fund and support at the time.
Nothing is heard of the fertilizer fund scam because its main architect, then DA undersecretary Joc-Joc Bolante, is now in a US jail, conveniently out of reach to the Philippine authorities.
Conveniently out of sight and out of mind.
As what could have happened to Jun Lozada, a key witness to the 329-million dollar ZTE deal that siphoned funding from the urgent AFP and PNP housing and the Angat Dam projects to, once again, line the already overflowing-to-the-brim pockets of insatiably greedy Malacañang and even non-Malacañang officials.
Ladies and gentlemen of the Rotary of Downtown Manila, this is what corruption has done to us.
This is how corruption has carved out so much of the pie that could have gone to educating our children and building more hospitals for our poor.
And despite claims to the contrary by the present tenant of Malacañang, the problem of our country is government. Not the Filipino people but government. It is government that collects our taxes, it is government that spends our money, it is government that implements and enforces the rules of the land.
Yet, the solution can be found in, and must start from, the government. How? Through leadership by example. There is no other way I know.
I have said it many times before, and I will say it again. If you lead by example, everyone will follow. But if you do not practice what you preach, your subordinates will find no reason to follow your orders. I should know, I led by example when I headed the Philippine National Police. I never stole money from the funds of the PNP. I did not accept bribe money from gambling lords and other illegal activities.
In this sense, around the presidency should revolve our hopes for a secure future.
In it should rest the most crucial decisions on issues that will not only affect our past generation, but this one and the next.
Come 2010, we have the power to press the reset button and stop being what Bishop Ted Bacani calls as the “people of the lie.”
In 2010, we have the power to change how our life to how it should be, according to the great Filipino dream.
And what constitutes the great Filipino dream?
I believe it is not about owning fancy cars or large tracts of land or having large bank accounts, or even getting a Harvard diploma.
The Filipino dream simply means the opportunity to be what you want to be.
Let me end my speech with a short story.
Once, there was a brood of eight born to a family of modest means like most families are nowadays.
The father was a jeepney driver and the mother worked in a dry goods market. They never finished school but they worked hard, saved and managed to make all eight children finish college.
More than a college diploma, what their kids fondly remember is how their parents got them through life through honest work and determination, not the corrupt practices that we see today.
Ladies and gentlemen of the Rotary Club of Downtown Manila, I am the fourth child of that brood of eight and a proud product of the great Filipino dream.
Thank you for listening.