A taxi driver on corruption

Whenever I take a cab in Manila, I find it most interesting to talk to the driver. Some of them are so eloquent, with a remarkable grasp of our national issues and smart solutions to some of our political dilemma as a nation, they could be great radio talk show hosts and positive consensus builders.

While stuck in a traffic jam last month on my way to our medical mission in Asilo de San Vicente de Paul Orphanage in Paco, I asked the cab driver named Mario, who was in his 70s,  “Ano ang pinaka malaki nating problema sa Pilipinas? (What is our greatest problem in the Philippines?).

I was expecting him to say the high prices of commodities or gasoline,  or poverty, but he blurted out “Kurapsyon po!” (Corruption, sir!) and, as if I touched a raw nerve, he continued his long serious diatribe citing the pervasive culture of corruption in our government from the top to the bottom and how disappointed he has been for half a century of his life that none of the obviously guilty elected officials rotted in jail. “Kahit na si kurap Erap, na jail, pero parang 5-star hotel ang kanyang preso, at madaling nakalabas…Dapat sa plunder, habang buhay sa kulungan.” (Even the corrupt Erap – referring to Philippine ex-president Joseph Estrada – was jailed in a prison cell like a 5-star hotel, and was released too soon…For plunder, it should be a lifetime of jail.) “At kahit na napatunayang kriminal na siya at nakulong, nakatakbo pa siya at nanalong alkalde ng Manila” (And in spite of his being a convicted criminal and having been jailed, he was still able to run and won as mayor of Manila). “Walang pinagaralan at istupido ang mga bumoto sa kanya at ibang kurap na officiales sa gobyierno” (Those people who voted for him and other corrupt officials in the government are uneducated and stupid).

The pervasive and massive culture of graft and corruption in our government at every level is indeed a tragedy, a national cancer destroying the integrity and dignity of our nation and devastating the Filipino people, an international disgrace. Although I have heard the same ugly things from other drivers, I truly believe that there are some officials in all branches of government, especially in the Supreme Court and in the Military who are honest and patriotic.

Easy to prove

            It is indeed not difficult to show who are guilty of corruption, plunder,  amassing unexplained wealth, if only the president and our legislators honestly and earnestly want to find out. But if what Mario alleged, that the corruption is “from the top to bottom,” then its is easy to understand why there is no serious move to expose the guilty amongst them for fear of finger pointing and opening the Pandora’s box of snakes and rats. Mario claimed billions of pesos per district on the so-called bidding (actually bogus) for public constructions are lost to kickbacks to legislators/local leaders year after year after year…and that there are countless other ways corrupt government officials amass illegal wealth from. None of them, he said, are masochistic enough to hurt themselves and their fellow criminals who are protecting each other… shameless bastards!

If all these were true, the money and paper trail could be traced. Even an unschooled person can easily prove unexplained wealth, plunder, and other forms  of corruption. The only questions to ask the suspects are: Did you inherit the hundreds of millions (or billions) in your assets today or did you win your net worth from lottery 1000 multiple times? If yes, where are the documentation and proofs?  If not, how much income did you make in grade school, in high school, in college, and all the way to your present job in the government? Any net worth in excess or beyond what the expert computation would show is unexplained wealth, and most obviously amassed ill-gotten wealth. And if the excess is P50 million or more, it is plunder…and punishable by life imprisonment.

A more formal way of proving unexplained wealth and plunder is to employ a prestigious international assurance and financial audit service, an actuarial service company, an independent SOX-compliant body from another country, who would interview the subject and inspect all of his/her financial records, bank accounts in the Philippines and abroad, investments, real estate and business ownership, etc. to get a global picture of the assets and liabilities of the official in question. The evaluation should start from the top, the nation’s president and his cabinet, all the legislators in both houses. This is the only way to find out the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

But who shall cast the first stone? And then there are the legal technicalities to hurdle: the privacy and immunity laws, taking the “fifth,” self-incrimination law, and other maneuvers to evade the law and protect the rich and powerful criminals walking in the halls of Congress, laughing inside on their way to their multiple banks, relishing the fact that We, the People, are all gullible and stupid.

Nobility and honor

The most noble and honorable way is for the head of state to volunteer himself to be the first one to be fully audited, and through an Executive Order, mandate that all government officials, elected and appointed, follow and submit to comprehensive auditing and evaluation by this hired actuarial company auditors. That act alone will show that the President is himself beyond reproach and not involved in any graft or corruption, much less plunder.

Reclusion Perpetua

Before Arroyo’s term, the ultimate penalty for plunder was death. Since the country eliminated the death penalty, Reclusion Perpetua (permanent incarceration or life imprisonment) is now the maximum. Actually, the same new law also permanently forbids a convicted plunderer from running for office. But many of our laws are not enforced by the authorities and therefore flagrantly violated by the powerful filthy-rich politicians.

Guilty of treason

In China and other countries, convicted corrupt officials face the firing squad expeditiously. Obviously, in the Philippines, they are rewarded handsomely. Sadly, We, The People, are not doing anything proactively and enough about it, so the politicians continue to bastardize the people. Technically speaking, this makes us guilty of treason because one of the definitions of treason is “the crime of helping your country’s enemies,” and plunderers and corrupt government officials are definitely NOT friends but enemies of the Philippines and the Filipino people. Looking the other way is tantamount to helping them continue to rape our nation.

Mario elaborated to say “Hindi lamang si Erap, lahat sila kurakot at mandarambong” (It is not only Erap, all of them are corrupt and grafters.) “Kung hindi mag-aalsa ang mga Pilipino sa korapsyon at abusong ito, wala na talagang pagasa bayan natin, pati na kalusugan ng ating pagiisip bilang isang bayan,” (If the Filipinos will not revolt against all these corruption and abuses, we will certainly be a hopeless nation, adversely impacting our mental health as a nation.)

I was so impressed with Mario I gave him a hefty tip. With more Filipinos like this erudite and wise taxi driver, the Philippines would, perhaps, one day, become a nation of justice, integrity, dignity, and pride, and escape the shameful and demeaning international condemnation as being a most corrupt country.

Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, a Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus based in Northwest Indiana and Las Vegas, Nevada, is an international medical lecturer/author, and Chairman of the Filipino United Network-USA, a 501(c)3 humanitarian and anti-graft foundation in the United States. Websites: FUN8888.com, philipSchua.com   Email: [email protected]