EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales (The Philippine Star) - August 16, 2018 - 12:00am

Early Tuesday evening, inside the glittering Rizal Hall of Malacañang, some harsh truths were told and retold. Nothing new. In fact, it’s such a shame that decades after the Marcos era of cronyism and graft ended, we’re still suffering from rampant corruption in government. Succeeding administrations either failed to fix the problem or only worsened it.

Inside that room with tycoons, taipans, oligarchs, government officials, a past president, and old and new cronies, President Duterte talked about his frustration.

Corruption is so endemic he doubts he could make a dent, he said. This piece could fit right in the pages of old, old newspapers. It seems the problem — as old as time — just keeps coming back, if it ever was resolved at any moment in our history.

President Duterte is on point. Yes, corruption in this country is so endemic and entrenched in almost every step of the bureaucratic process. It’s present in the barangays and goes all the way to the august halls of the white palace.

When I was covering the Bureau of Customs, a lion’s den known for its deeply rooted corruption, there is a joke going around the Aduana on how to solve the problem.

All Customs officials should be invited to a party and when everyone has arrived, the building will be locked down and razed to the ground. It will crash and burn and hopefully, everyone dies and their charred bodies will end up in bits and pieces.

Grotesque, isn’t it? It sure makes for a good thriller, but genocide or ethnic cleansing will not work.

Let’s not forget that those who came to kill the ogre — the legendary hideous monster — became ogre themselves. It’s sad, strange, scary, and we’re seeing it everywhere.

The problem is in the system, this labyrinthine netherworld we call the bureaucracy. There is always a parallel way of doing things and we see it everyday, administration after administration. Contractors complain of how the costs of right of way acquisition go up when government officials do the negotiations; power players sigh in frustration over the grease money they need to shell out every step of the way. There’s also patronage politics. In government revenue agencies, officials are those recommended by our congressmen and senators. In Customs, people talk about how some commissioners and district collectors build additional homes to store wads and wads of cash. 

Indeed, it’s every man for himself in this country we all claim to love.

It’s not surprising that the President is getting exasperated. But maybe he shouldn’t look too far. Perhaps the godfathers of some dubious contracts are just around him, if not in the Philippines’ D.C. — Davao City.

Maybe firing people is no longer enough. Bringing corrupt people to justice — fairly and fast — should happen, too.  It’s a shame that cases upon cases filed against erring officials and unscrupulous individuals are languishing in the courts or at the justice department. 

It’s tiring, frustrating, and deeply ingrained in the system, this malaise we call graft. But it shouldn’t end there.  Who knows, maybe someday there will be no more ogres to kill because those who came to fight them came back victorious?

Pilipinas, Angat Lahat

Tuesday’s event in Malacañang was not really about corruption, but about poverty alleviation through successful entrepreneurship. But the two are related and winning both wars will really help the country move forward. I hope it happens.

Captains of various industries graced the launch of the Pilipinas, Angat Lahat Alliance, an initiative led by presidential adviser for entrepreneurship chairman Joey Concepcion.

The formal alliance, Joey explained during the well-attended launch, is an initiative to integrate and accelerate all government and private sector programs and initiatives geared toward poverty alleviation and job generation through the development of micro and small enterprises.

It sounds promising and I hope it works. Filipino entrepreneurs are very creative and hard working. But what they really need is to get the necessary support from the government and big business, especially during these difficult times.

“It is our mission to help every Filipino achieve prosperity – not just for the select few, but for all. We, in the business sector, must equip and empower our brothers and sisters to accelerate the achievement of economic prosperity. We believe that through this alliance of business organizations, we can make inclusive growth a reality,” Concepcion said.

Money, market, mentorship

Many business groups have joined the alliance and I hope their members will walk the talk and help micro and small businesses by providing actual support such as including them in the supply chain.

In his welcome remarks, Joey used the terms money, market and mentorship – as anchor elements for the alliance. I agree – financial support, wider market reach, and mentorship programs can really help small entrepreneurs move up the ladder.

Alliance members will also advocate for jobs generation and poverty alleviation through digitalization of micro-enterprises, agribusiness development and island tourism, Joey said.

Kudos to Joey and to the alliance members! It was a privilege to witness the launch of an initiative which has the potential to really help small entrepreneurs. 

Among those spotted during the event were corporate tycoon Manuel V. Pangilinan, Ayala Corp. president and COO Fernando Zobel de Ayala, GT Capital vice chairman Alfred Ty, JG Summit’s Lance Gokongwei, taipan Lucio Tan and his son Michael. 

Iris Gonzales’ e-mail address is eyesgonzales@gmail.com

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