Modern Living

Building a nation of whistle-blowers

- Paulynn Sicam - The Philippine Star

A balding man in his 50s delivered his last State of the Nation Address last Monday. He has aged in five and half years. He no longer looks like a lost boy. At the podium in the Batasan, he looked downright presidential. In spite of being under the weather, he delivered his message loud and clear.

Watching him on TV, I realized how difficult it is to be president, especially for one who was only drawn into the fray by popular demand after the death of his mother. He was shy, awkward, distant, then, but he worked hard and aced the election. 

Given his lack of experience, I didn’t expect much from Cory’s son, President Benigno Simeon Aquino III. But he surprised us all with his wit, courage and determination, his simple lifestyle and his focus on his true north. In five years, he has made a lot of palpable changes in how government is run and how we, the Filipino people, think and act towards it.

Most noticeable is the low tolerance for corruption.  The public bought into PNoy’s mantra during his campaign, “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap”  and once elected, the President walked his talk, going after erring officials and legislators, impeaching a Supreme Court Chief Justice and detaining a former president and three powerful senators on charges of plunder, to cite the most prominent cases. 

After decades of wallowing in the culture of corruption, resigned to the fact that the powerful will get their way and the public be damned, that we could do nothing about it because it is part of the human condition, a given in a government of mortal men, the President blew the whistle and showed us a way out of the pigsty.

The medium is social media where everyone has a voice. On social media, people of all stripes have come out of the woodwork, reporting anomalies, demanding accountability from government. Even those who have been shy about expressing their views are speaking out forcefully.

We know where this new consciousness comes from. For starters, the President abolished the use of “wang-wang”, the ubiquitous siren that signals motorists to move aside because a VIP is speeding past. And, more important, he declared that he would be a servant-leader to his “bosses”, the Filipino people.

To be sure, other presidents started their terms with similar promise. Remember Erap’s “Walang kapatid, walang kamag-anak, walang kaibigan” inaugural speech? Well, he didn’t mean it. Soon after he occupied Malacañang, the debauchery, all-night drunken sprees and gambling began. Those were the more innocent of his activities. When he was convicted, it was for something more foul than his infantile attachment to women, alcohol and mahjong.

You’d think that President Arroyo, who took over from Erap, would be more mindful of the people’s expectations of integrity in office, but we all know what happened. I remember, during her oath taking at the EDSA Shrine, someone in the crowd had the prescience to hold up a home-made placard that read, “You better behave. We are watching.”

Even those who don’t like President Aquino concede that he has not taken advantage of his position to enrich himself or his family. Love him or hate him, PNoy has shown that power need not corrupt, that it should be used as a weapon to make things right. And this has given the public the courage to blow their whistles at even the slightest hint of malfeasance in and out of government.

The Binay dynasty in Makati knows this only too well. A cursory review of social media shows how incensed people are over the findings of corruption in Makati City Hall and the mayor’s (now suspended) and former mayor’s (now vice-president and running for president) refusal to respond to them.

The latest to feel the wrath of social media is the Iglesia ni Cristo, now wracked by allegations of corruption in its leadership. Family members of the top leader have been expelled, several pastors are said to be missing, and libel charges galore have been filed against whistleblowers, but social media is on their side.

Would this courageous public display of righteousness have been possible if the President did not set a high bar and blow a loud whistle against corruption?  In the process, he has earned the ire of rich tradpols whose lifestyles he has cramped. They have been on the warpath trying to trip him off, put him on the defensive, and distract him from his anti-corruption campaign by threatening to file charges against him when he steps down from office. But the movement has taken root. The public has found its voice. Its medium is social media and its champion is Noynoy Aquino.

To be sure, much remains to be done. We’ve only scratched the tip of the corruption iceberg.  Whoever sits in Malacañang this time next year will have to contend with the public’s demand for transparency and good governance. The next president will have to equal if not surpass PNoy’s efforts to cleanse government of corrupt practices. 

This is Part Two of People Power, the kind that Cory Aquino hoped would spring from the four glorious days in EDSA in 1986. There is no turning back.












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