AS EASY AS ABC - The Philippine Star

In one unusual flash of brilliance, my professor way back in college said that the real problem of the country is this: Ang mga mabuting ginagawa ng Pilipino, sinisira ng mga masasamang ginagawa ng kapwa Pilipino! This resonates with the line in the Luna biopic where Luna said: “Ang pinakamalaking kalaban nating mga Pilipino ay ang ating mga sarili!”

This resonates even more today where the government does what it can in its power to lure tourists and investors into the country, putting up a P10-billion budget even for APEC activities, only to be undermined by the incomprehensible evil perpetrated by airport “security” personnel on foreigners and their countrymen alike. In worldwide news, and in television spoofs of different countries, the incident is condemned and the country’s airport made a mockery of. The real victim of these Filipino bullet planters is the entire Filipino race.

Months ago, there was shameful news of a Japanese couple who paid the taxi cab they got from the airport. As they went out to get their stuff from the trunk, the taxi driver drove away with their luggage. They swore to spread their ordeal. Perhaps isolated, perhaps nothing can be worse. The answer came quickly by way of this airport bullet scam. What this recent scam academically thought us aside is the difference between bribery and extortion.

In those real cases in the airport where a bullet—a contraband item—was really found in the passenger’s possession, the passenger commits a crime. If, in order to get out of it, he initiated the move and paid off security personnel, that is bribery. If the security personnel was the first to make the move (“pay up or we will detain you”), even if the passenger was really at fault, that is extortion. If the security personnel planted the poisoned evidence themselves, that crime is “imputing to an innocent person the commission of a crime”. By the nature of the crime that not only violates human rights but damages our image internationally, it could easily have been one of those economic sabotage crimes declared as such by special law.

Can the victims sue the government? Isn’t the government vicariously liable for the damages done by its employees? This is where the government is figuratively bulletproof because the government cannot be sued without its consent. The erring government employees can be sued criminally for the unauthorized acts and for damages as reparation, but not the government. The principle behind this legal policy is that if everybody is allowed to sue the government, it would not be able to discharge its functions. Multifarious suits and legal remedies against the government can make it virtually inutile or nonexistent.

No excuse, however, for a government in good faith not to make amends. It should not only relieve those personnel. They should be prosecuted and placed behind bars. They discredit the country. The government should offer free legal assistance to the victims and even go so far as reimburse at least the amount extorted from them if only to repair tarnished relations and damaged perceptions.

Perception in the real world is almost as important, although not as lasting, as the real thing. I most respectfully disagree for instance with the views that the efforts of the government to facelift the metro (clear the roads of parked cars, stalls, and junk; hide the street dwellers by making them transients of designated resorts or lodging places) during the APEC is objectionable. Show our worst side as well is that school of thought. If you invite guests into your home, don’t you honor them by preparation and an orderly reception? Or would you rather show the worst days of your house to imply that they are not welcome? I would rather look at this as aspirational. The cosmetic improvements during APEC should continue, and the extra efforts to clear roads and take care of homeless should be done with more substance and permanence to avoid the perpetration of a hoax.

We can choose to be constructive and never give up on our most important resource—hope. We can aspire to make our best practice as everyday practices—even as we sculpt a positive image at a painstaking, daily process. We can aspire that the world sees the country for its true worth, not only airports that are bullet-free—but a country where business flourishes, where the beaches are white, where people are talented, warm and free, where families stay together, and where visitors take a deep, convinced breath to say: this is the place to be.

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Alexander B. Cabrera is the chairman and senior partner of Isla Lipana & Co./PwC Philippines. He also chairs the tax committee of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP). Email your comments and questions to aseasyasABC@ph.pwc.com. This content is for general information purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional advisors.

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