Column: What ‘daang matuwid’ does NOT mean

It’s a process, not an end-state. Published on February 8, 2011.

THE AQUINO administration’s pledge of right conduct and good governance does not mean the repeal of human nature. In my understanding, the promise of daang matuwid (the straight and narrow path, in biblical terms) is not a guarantee that all corruption will be eradicated. Rather, it is a commitment to honest public service, with an assurance that, when corruption does rear its fetching head, the government will not stand transfixed, but will move immediately to cut it off.

The right biblical analogy, in other words, is to the reality reflected in the first Psalm, which speaks of two ways of life: that of the upright and that of the wicked. It is not an analogy to the Apocalypse, which speaks of the final days and the overthrow of the old.

We should not confuse the two. This may seem like an idle exercise in theological nitpicking, but in fact the difference can spell life or death for those conflicted souls, like George Rabusa, Antonio Lim or Heidi Mendoza, who despite very real risks decided finally to blow the whistle on corruption.

Consider, for instance, something that both Rabusa, a retired colonel, and Lim, a colonel in active military service, said under oath last week. They said they resolved to tell the truth about the corruption in the military they were once a part of because Noynoy Aquino was elected president last May. This, I must emphasize, is not analysis, but mere reporting: Both Rabusa and Lim made their statements before the Senate blue ribbon committee.

I have seen very few references to this remarkable claim, but I think it places Mr. Aquino’s daang matuwid in the right perspective. Rabusa and Lim reached their decision individually; they managed the burden of their conscience in their own way. But they both realized, a few months after Mr. Aquino took office last year, that the right time for speaking out had come.

I realize, of course, that there are those who either question the sincerity behind Mr. Aquino’s daang matuwid, or define it in ways that he could not possibly have meant. The Jan. 29 editorial of the Daily Tribune, for instance, asserts the hypocrisy of the Aquino administration on the basis of, well, the laws of probability. “Chances are high that the ‘practice and tradition’ of the armed forces, both in the PNP and the AFP, continue to this day—and under the claimed ‘matuwid na daan ni Noynoy.’”

But the very notion that whistle-blowers were emboldened to speak out because of dramatically changed circumstances is slighted. Chances are equally high, or even higher, that Rabusa and Mendoza were responding precisely to the quality they found lacking under the previous presidency: sincerity.

Bayan’s Carol Araullo, writing in BusinessWorld, sees the daang matuwid as the ideal end-state. “Justice will certainly not be served and there can be no real ‘pagbabago’ or ‘daang matuwid’ until all the rot that has festered so long in the AFP—and above it—is thoroughly exposed and exorcised.” If this is true, then we are all sunk. But in fact the daang matuwid, as I understand it, is process, not nirvana.

I do not mean that we should not aim to expose and exorcise all the rot in the military, but this cannot be the meaning of daang matuwid. The daan is meant to bring us to that desired end-state; it is not the destination itself.

In other words, one single formerly corrupt military officer, like Rabusa, can make an essential difference. By doing the right thing, by telling us all he knows of the rot he was once a part of, he can already begin the exposure and exorcism necessary to rid parts of a massive organization of its debilitating rot.

Doesn’t this particular approach to understanding the daang matuwid mean lowering our expectations of the Aquino administration? I do not think so. In fact, I think the exact opposite is the case. Precisely because we’ve taken its full measure, we can demand specific results from the daang matuwid. No hazy talk, no vague assurances, but specific outcomes.

When, for instance, we read Pat Evangelista’s account of an unexpected encounter with an abusive policewoman, we should not immediately conclude that the abuse is proof that the daang matuwid is mere sloganeering hypocrisy. Rather, and like many others (and I assume I would find Pat in these ranks too), I will hold his administration to account, through Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo, for its response to the incident.

Pat had written: “’Isulat mo ito,’ she said. It is difficult to describe on paper the degree of resentment that came with the answers. ‘Police Superintendent Emma Libunao, chief of the CIDG?s Women and Children Protection Division.’ And she cocked her head. ‘Ako ?yun!’”

But as it became immediately clear, when Libunao said write this down, she meant the exact opposite. So when Pat proceeded to write down details of the questionable circumstances of a friend’s arrest, an enraged Libunao moved to attack her.

“And this is when Superintendent Emma Libunao, chief of the CIDG’s Women and Children Protection Division, drew her arm back and lunged. I do not know if she meant to punch or to slap, but I saw my director’s hand snapping against hers, saw her face thrust against mine, the hand stopped just short of my neck. And the seething woman said, ‘Kanina ka pa!’”

The daang matuwid policy commits Aquino, Robredo, even PNP Director General Raul Bacalzo, to get at the truth of this situation.

Will Libunao be placed under investigation, or sanctioned, or sent back to school to research the meaning of “women and child protection”? Is there a pattern to her conduct? Does she conduct herself in this way because she has political connections? Did she order the unsuccessful raid? These and similar questions demand a quick and forthright answer.

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