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CHOSEN LAND (Prototype Website)


Speech delivered during the Combatting Corruption Conference on September 21, 2004

Let me start by congratulating the Makati Business Club; the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines and its social action arm, NASSA; the Coalition of Development NGOs; the National Citizens Movement for Free Elections; Bishops-Businessmen’s Conference, and the Transparency and Accountability Network for starting this movement today.

This Coalition Against Corruption is a movement whose time has finally come. It is a movement which I wish we had all started with great fervor many, many years ago.

Corruption has become our cancer. Left untreated for so long, it has grown like a tumor spreading through the body of our society and tearing at and eating away the muscle and tissue of a nation. Left unattended, it has spread to the far reaches of our country, directly and indirectly affecting many sectors of society, regardless of age and religion, social status or gender. And whether one is directly participating in it and involved in its machinations or one is merely victimized by its effects, it has become a blight on us all.

The treatment of cancer requires radical procedures and drastic changes in lifestyle. It starts with early detection. Just as small tumors grow to larger ones, little and early indiscretions have a nasty habit of becoming bigger scandals in the future. Unless identified and excised at an early stage, corruption too will grow until it has become so embedded in a system that its removal becomes a threat to the very system it feeds on. Beyond its initial removal, its treatment requires medication and attention to prevent its return and spread. It requires constant monitoring and screening to check for its return. For many patients, this becomes a way of life, a routine difficult to accept at first but acceptable nonetheless in the face of alternatives. It requires patience and commitment and, above all, discipline, to live these changes on a daily basis.

This is the way we must treat the cancer that is corruption. We must engage in early detection. No infraction should be considered too small or too early to be insignificant. The petty briber today may be tomorrow’s influence-peddler. The cutthroat entrepreneur who cuts corners and bends rules today may be tomorrow’s tax evader. Today’s minor infraction at the street comer or curbside may be tomorrow’s case of grand larceny.

After detection, we must move quickly to isolate and remove the source of cancer. Infractions should be penalized appropriately and immediately, regardless of one’s status in life. Beyond criminal charges, there should be administrative means to deal with this disease in the public and private sector to arrest its growth, isolate it, and stamp it out. But beyond all of that, we should exercise our common-sense and our old-world sense of community and national values to ostracize instead of lionize those who have made a success of themselves through corrupt practices. We need to regain and re-learn the good, old-fashioned ethics of hard work, honesty, and integrity to succeed in life rather than practice the ethics of lagay to get ahead. We need to recapture the sense of pride in an honest day’s work and defeat the notion that success can come only to the corrupt. We need to believe once again - and practice - not the corrupted values of tax evasion, price-padding, and under delivery of public goods, but the Filipino values of honesty, industry, and community. These were the values I am sure we were all taught as children by our parents, teachers, Church, and elders.

Even after’ early detection and removal, constant screening and monitoring is necessary because corruption, like cancer, may come back and attack a different organ. This requires discipline and persistence, something we Filipinos are not always good at. While we are said to be at our best in moments of crisis, our passion, fervor, and commitment are not always maintained at peak levels- when situations become less critical. Yet it is at those moments when our vigilance drops that corruption returns to attack us all once again. We cannot live constantly in a state of crisis just as we should not awaken only from crisis to crisis. Instead, we need to maintain constant vigilance with periodic and systematic checks to see how our vital signs are performing. To do this, we will need to shift our paradigm of time and sense of urgency from crisis management to proactive preventive care.
We will need to redefine our notion of People Power.

I have believed in People Power for a long time, not simply in its political dimension as we have seen it exercised but in its social and economic dimensions as I continue to see it carried out on a daily basis by people and organizations. It is a power harnessed by people pulling in one direction, with a common vision and common goal. It is a power built by the accumulation of many small efforts which add up to a sum far greater than the total of its parts. And it is a power which takes a life of its own and becomes larger than you and me. It is a legacy. It is a beacon which I hope future generations will look to for guidance and direction.

But like all beacons, it needs to be re-energized from time to time so people get the sense of revisiting and reliving its original meaning. Like the Olympic torch which is passed from person to person across boundaries of race and religion, we too must pass our torch and touch others so that we all eventually share a common value of what we want this country to be. Our torch is People Power and our battle is corruption.

For the last several years, I have personally witnessed how People Power has transformed people’s lives and united communities through the quest for the common good. Through the People Power People Movement which I launched last year on the 20th death anniversary of Ninoy, I have seen how people banding together can channel their energies and bring about change against all odds. Discipline, cooperation, and belief in themselves and their vision were their common hallmarks.

Today, I salute all of you for coming together and joining forces to exercise People Power against one of the greatest social ills of our time - corruption. Your move is timely for many of our people have become more cynical about governance and about nationhood. Let us just bear in mind that every movement for fundamental change can only prosper if it begins with the self. Over a century ago, our esteemed heroes emphasized the need for kalinisan ng loob (purity of self) in every patriot for the emergent Filipino nation to earn their redemption as a free people. Today, let us demand of ourselves no lower standard.

The roots of corruption run deep, for the scourge is embedded in our culture. Unfortunately, before we Filipinos were introduced to democracy, a warped colonial upbringing ingrained in us the concept of government as a means to enrich oneself and to dispense patronage. We have to change the paradigm. Before looking elsewhere, let us make sure that we pay the correct taxes and that we are above board in all our dealings and actions. That would give us the moral right to demand from government transparency, accountability and the political will to prosecute tax evaders, smugglers and those who disgrace public service. Falling short of these, we risk further loss of faith in public institutions, deeper erosion of values, and the exacerbation of the cynicism, despair and mutual distrust that shackle our nation. That would mean resigning ourselves, tragically, to corruption as a way of life.

Such is the magnitude of your mission, and I urge you to steel yourselves for the long battle ahead. Your challenge will be to keep the beacon lit, to pass the torch across sectors and through generations to show that there are people who still care about this country to stand up and do something about it. Your challenge will be to enlarge your group beyond your already formidable alliance because this battle will be won only by the positive energy of a critical mass pitted against the numbers who either benefit from corruption or are merely resigned to it. As in all genuine People Power phenomena, I believe the combination of the just cause and public support will win when powered by discipline, passion, commitment, cooperation, and trust and faith in each other.

In carrying out your mission, you will be hit by many detractors, some of them may even be your friends. They may say that your projects aren’t big enough or bold enough. They may say you are too naive. They may say nothing can be done. Listen politely but do not let them discourage you. The power of People Power is the accumulation of small, seemingly insignificant victories; fought on many fronts, until it forms a pattern, eventually a habit, and ultimately a value for all to share and cherish. The battle against corruption will not be won overnight or by a single case. It will be won through constant vigilance and the courage to do what is right.

Fight the right battles, analyze the defeats, and celebrate all your victories so people will know that they are not alone in the war against corruption. I am proud to stand with you in your courageous battle, and I call on all concerned Filipinos to give of their time, their talent, and their resources and be part of this, our coalition and our crusade against corruption! I have no doubt that, as a united People, we will prevail! Thank you.

Joint Press Statement
Call to Action Against Corruption

1 December 2008 - Corruption is the gravest threat to Philippine democracy and society today.

In the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s just released Philippine scorecard for fiscal year 2009, the country failed to meet the performance standard in the control of corruption category, with its percentile ranking falling to 47% from 57% in fiscal year 2008.

In the 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index released by Transparency International in September, the Philippines placed in the bottom quarter of 180 countries. The country tied for 141st place with Cameroon, Iran, and Yemen.

The country’s poor performance in these corruption ratings is not surprising given the litany of scandals that have hounded the current Administration since 2001: the IMPSA kickbacks, the AFP comptroller hidden wealth case, the Jose Pidal scandal, the COMELEC-MegaPacific computerization deal, the fertilizer scam, the North and South Rail projects, the cheating in the 2004 presidential elections, the distribution of cash gifts in Malacaņang, the NBN-ZTE bribery scandal, and now, the PNP “euro generals”. No one has been held accountable. We have not witnessed corruption of this magnitude since the years of the Marcos dictatorship.

Contrary to her pronouncements, the President has shown no intention of using the considerable powers and resources at her disposal to get to the root of all these scandals, and has in fact allowed the misuse of her power of executive privilege to hinder investigations into acts of official corruption.

The unchecked rise of corruption is seriously hampering efforts to reduce poverty in the country and affecting our economic competitiveness. But most alarming is the moral impact of this virulent cancer on our citizenry, especially the youth. Not only is it fostering a sense of cynicism and desperation, the greater tragedy is that it may be engendering the adoption of the corrupt’s disoriented moral compass among our people.

In their call to action, the group of bishops led by Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo asked, “But, who, who will pick up the broken, shattered pieces of our country, hurting from poverty and corruption, to make it whole again?” We say, we Filipinos are our own liberators. Despite the dire situation we are in, we believe that we are not powerless to defend the integrity of our institutions and values. We urge all Filipinos to join us in challenging our political leaders to immediately undertake the following reforms:

Implement citizens’ participation in local development planning and budget reviews. We urge our public officials to recognize their constituents’ right to participate in governance. Citizens should know how public funds are being used in their barangay, city, and province.

Strengthen the civil service. We need civil servants who will build quality and integrity systems in government agencies, and spearhead the campaign against corruption from within the bureaucracy.

Punish the corrupt, not the whistleblowers. Except for General Carlos Garcia, no one has been held accountable for their misdeeds. We strongly urge the Ombudsman to act on pending high-profile corruption cases, to increase the office’s pool of competent field investigators, and most importantly, to uphold her mandate to serve as protector of the people and not of the powerful.

Let us end the culture of dishonesty and impunity in our country, especially in government, and take the war against corruption to the forefront of the national agenda!


Ateneo School of Government
Barug Pilipino
Bishops-Businessmen’s Conference for Human Development
Caucus of Development NGO Networks
CBCP-Sangguniang Laiko ng Pilipinas
CBCP-National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace
Integrated Bar of the Philippines
Makati Business Club
Management Association of the Philippines
National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections
Transparency and Accountability Network

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