January 2007

By Perry Diaz

The recent indictment of former Justice Secretary Hernando “Nani” Perez by the Sandiganbayan brings, once again, to the forefront of debate the issue of corruption in the top echelon of the government. Cabinet members, who are charged of implementing the policies and programs of the government, are supposed to represent the best and the brightest in government service. They are supposedly the models of good moral conduct to be emulated by their and employees.

Those were days when government officials were the cream of the crop, and when government service had a mystical appeal to the idealists who truly wanted to make a difference. Indeed, what we used to know as “good governance” is now transformed into “kleptocracy.” The public service-oriented government functionaries of yesteryears are gone. Although there are still those in government who are honest and incorruptible, what we have today is a breed of greedy opportunists who use their positions in government to enrich themselves. They are the “kleptocrats.” Wikipedia defines “Kleptocracy” as a pejorative, informal term for a government that is primarily designed to sustain the personal wealth and political power of government officials and their cronies.

The Perez corruption case is one of the most despicable corruption cases because, as the chief guardian of the law, he brazenly broke the law that he swore to protect. He was responsible for the prosecution of law-breakers and now he is prosecuted for breaking the law. The Ombudsman, Merceditas Gutierrez, filed charges of graft, extortion and falsification of public documents against Perez — her former boss — in connection to the extortion charge of former Manila Congressman Mark Jimenez.

In 2003, Jimenez was extradited to the US where he was tried and convicted to 27 months in prison for tax evasion and conspiracy to defraud the US and commit election-financing offenses. Upon his return to the Philippines after serving time in a US prison, Jimenez filed a complaint against Perez with the Ombudsman, claiming that Perez extorted $2 million from him in February 2001 in exchange for dropping him as co-accused in the plunder cased against deposed President Joseph Estrada.

The Jocelyn “Joc-Joc” Bolante case is another high-profile corruption case involving the fertilizer scam during the 2004 national elections. To avoid prosecution, Bolante disappeared for a while only to surface in the US in 2006. Upon his arrival in Los Angeles, he was arrested because of an expired visa. Bolante is now being held in a US jail while his case is pending in a court in Chicago. Coincident — or was it? — with the arrest of Bolante, President George Bush announced the escalation of the war on kleptocracy, denouncing “high-level corruption by senior officials, which is robbing the people of many poor nations of their future.” Although he did not name the Philippines, he probably had the Philippines in mind when he said that.

In 2002, a report titled “The Eight-Point Comprehensive National Anti-Corruption Strategy” was released by then Ombudsman Aniano Desierto which stated that as of December 2001, “the high ranking officials with criminal charges filed in court included 62 armed forces and national police officials, 523 mayors, 18 governors, 6 congressmen, 2 ambassadors, 17 cabinet members, a former vice president, 2 former first ladies and a former president.” I wonder if any of these high-ranking officials had been convicted?

In the same month, the report says, “The Office of the Ombudsman had a combined workload of 13,585 criminal and administrative cases. The number of cases disposed of totaled 9,324 out of which 1,374 was recommended for criminal prosecution, while administrative sanction was imposed on 390 cases.” What is wrong with the picture? It’s either the prosecution staff were incompetent or the accused were too smart for the prosecutors. Clearly, the wheel of justice is slow as a sloth.

In 2004, Transparency International released a list of “what is believed to be the ten most self-enriching leaders in recent years.” In the order of the amount allegedly stolen in US dollars, they are: 1) former Indonesian President Suharto ($15 billion – $35 billion); 2) former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos ($5 billion – $10 billion); 3) former Zairian President Mobutu Sese Seko ($5 billion); 4) former Nigerian President Sani Abacha ($2 billion – $5 billion); 5) former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic ($1 billion); 6) former Haitian President Jean-Claude Duvalier ($300 million to $800 million); 7) former Peruvian President Alberto Fumitory ($600 million); 8) former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazaarenko ($114 million – $200 million); 9) former Nicaraguan President Arnoldo Aleman ($100 million); and 10) former Philippine President Joseph Estrada ($78 million – $80 million). It is interesting to note that the Philippines is the only country with two of its presidents — Marcos and Estrada — on the list.

There was a story during the Marcos years about how Marcos selected the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces. There were two candidates who vied for the coveted position — Gen. Fidel V. Ramos and Gen. Fabian Ver. Marcos interviewed Ramos first and at the end of the interview he asked Ramos, “What is ten divided by two?” Ramos quickly answered, “Five!” “Very good,” Marcos said, “I’ll let you know my decision tomorrow.” Next, he interviewed Ver and asked the same question at the end of the interview: “What is ten divided by two?” Ver paused and scratched his head. Then he said, “Five, sir! Five for you and five for me.” “Excellent,” Marcos said, “the job is yours.” Marcos appointed Ramos as Vice Chief of Staff. In 1986, Ramos teamed up with Secretary of Defense Juan Ponce Enrile and led the People Power Revolution that toppled Marcos from power. In 1992, Ramos was elected President. During the Ramos presidency, the country enjoyed economic growth and stability. Corruption was held at bay.

Today, the kleptocrats are having the grand “shopping spree” of their lives, filling their shopping carts as fast as they can because they don’t know how long the “shopping spree” is going to last. It is sad that the “spirit of service” that predominated during commonwealth years and early period of the republic is gone. What we have today is kleptocratic governance that subordinates economic growth to the avaricious personal interests of the kleptocrats.