One major problem in Philippine society is not so much the flawed system like what some have claimed. It is actually the fact that most Filipinos don’t have foresight or are unable to see problems that might arise in the future as a result of their actions. It most likely has something to do with our “come what may” attitude or in the Filipino vernacular bahala na mentality. This is especially true with Filipino public servants.
Most of the senators who convicted former Chief Justice Renato Corona for instance, exhibited bahala na mentality during his impeachment trial. Despite the human rights violations committed by the prosecution and some agencies who gathered damning but false “evidence” against Corona, the men and women of the senate who acted as “judges” turned a blind eye to these. Obviously, in their haste to provide a “guilty” verdict, they did not think their decision would create a problem for them or anyone in the future. But now we see that it is, of course, creating a problem.
Unfortunately, it is not only the senators who will suffer the consequences of their actions. The rest of Philippine society will have to bear the cost of the damage to the country’s institutions as a result of Corona’s unfair and undignified removal from office. If the laws of the land could not protect the country’s Chief Magistrate, then ordinary citizens do not have a chance if they get in trouble with any of the powerful people in the land who can manipulate the system.
To be sure, the Philippine lawmakers’ total disregard for the rule of law and disrespect for the country’s institutions then had set a precedent for the continued mockery of the country’s democracy in the years to come, because they had shown that the system in place failed to protect an individual from abuse of power. Since Corona’s impeachment trial was a very historical event in Philippine society, a lot of Filipinos saw how the system could be corrupted and are probably thinking that it is acceptable. That gives people a license to emulate the behavior of the characters involved in that event.
Over a year after Corona’s removal from office, the senators have admitted as true Senator Jinggoy Estrada’s claim that those who convicted Corona received Php50 million extra priority development assistance funds (PDAF) or pork barrel funds from the office of the Philippine President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino. Now we know why lead prosecutor, Congressman Niel Tupas could not wipe the silly smile off his face even when he received regular berating from Senator Miriam Santiago. He knew that Corona’s conviction was already in the bag and it was just a matter of going through the motion of the trial.
While Senator Estrada in his recent privilege speech may have given us some “explosive” revelations, one still gets the feeling that he and the rest of his colleagues are still telling half-truths. He may have confirmed that the Senators received extra funds for convicting Corona but he still insisted that he voted “guilty” independently from what he said was a cash “incentive”. It was as if he was incriminating himself and others in the scam but also absolving himself and others from their decision to remove Corona. Evidently, he is another one of those who think that the Filipino people are stupid. Estrada’s disclosure says a lot about his lack of remorse, indeed. He didn’t even have a defense; he probably thought that since he is going down anyway, he might as well bring every body else down with him.
Even Senator Franklin Drilon maintains that Senators voted according to their conscience. One wonders though if the senators do have a conscience at all. Where does someone like Drilon get his credibility even when he has a face and an arrogant attitude that’s hard to trust? How did someone like him make it to the Senate in the first place? His pork barrel funds must be quite the voters’ magnet.
Since Estrada claims that members of Congress need cash incentives or bonuses to do their jobs, one wonders as well if some of the senators in the Blue Ribbon Committee investigating the P10 billion scam likewise received additional bonus or “incentives” for crucifying the senators who have been implicated in the scam – those who happen to be from the political opposition. It seemed so strange the way Senators Teofisto Guingona III and Allan Cayetano acted like mad dogs during the hearing. It’s as if they are exaggerating their disgust over revelations made by whistleblowers involving some of their colleagues in the Senate. It’s as if they do not receive pork barrel funds themselves.
Senator Guingona also felt outraged by Senator Drilon’s decision not to “invite” alleged pork barrel scam mastermind, Janet Lim-Napoles herself to the hearing. While it’s understandable that some people might consider Drilon’s decision as quite suspect considering he has been seen partying with Napoles on several occasions and also allegedly received a Mont Blanc pen from her, one can agree with the notion that calling Napoles to the Senate hearing “would prejudice her investigation into plunder charges against the alleged brains of a P10-billion pork barrel scam.”
If there is anything we can learn from the appearances of “persons of interest” in the past in front of senators is that it is never a good idea to accept their invitation in the first place. For one thing, many senators ask silly questions that will make you look guilty in the eyes of the public. Who can forget the way Senator Antonio Trillanes humiliated Angelo Reyes during one of those senate hearings, which compelled the latter to commit suicide? Trillanes was a disgrace, indeed.
Second, whatever you say in the Senate hearings can likely be used against you in a court of law and since people who get invited to senate hearings are not actually on trial, they shouldn’t have to answer any questions. Most of these senators don’t know how to conduct themselves, specially when in front of a camera. They just act like braggarts and show-offs trying to outdo each other. Their worst behavior was when the then senator-judges acted like prosecutors during the impeachment trial of Corona. When the prosecutors were failing in their “duties”, the senators took over.
Third, Senate hearings hardly result in prosecution and jail time for alleged criminals. It’s just another opportunity for Senators to earn points with the viewing public. They can’t even claim these hearings are in aid of legislation because no new legislation of consequence comes out after every hearing. This again lends credence to some calls for the Senate to be abolished for wasting the people’s time and money.
Some people think that we should move on from Corona’s impeachment trial. They don’t seem to understand that the violations committed against Corona’s right to due process is a slap in the face of true democracy – that Filipinos will never achieve success as a society if they don’t regard their laws as sacred. Unfortunately, that concept is just too difficult for most Filipinos to understand. They simply shrug off the cycle of retribution as part of the system or what they refer to as pana-panahon lang because that’s what they have come to accept as part of Philippine society’s dysfunctional culture.
So what would it take for the Philippines to move forward? The country’s political leaders need to rise above the bickering and put the needs of the people first before their own. The grandstanding and posturing in front of the camera needs to stop along with the padrinosystem that favors only allies of those in power.
Sadly, the incumbent President BS Aquino does not want to put an end to the cycle of retribution. He reinforces it instead with the way he uses all his available resources, which includes giving away people’s funds as “incentives” to help crucify his enemies. Now that Congress has approved the 2014 budget, he’s got an estimated presidential pork barrel of P964 billion to dangle in front of the people he wants to control. But if there ever was a person with lack of foresight, his name would be BS Aquino.