Column: Crooks in the “daang matuwid”

Published on April 12, 2011.

AFTER THE filing of charges against the former crown prince Mikey Arroyo, the former court jester Prospero Pichay and the former Palace tribune Merceditas Gutierrez, hopes are rising that the all-out campaign against corruption—the standard under which the Aquino presidency’s election mandate was won—has finally been launched. The Inquirer editorial yesterday spoke of the possibility of a genuine “momentum” in the war on corruption, but only if the charges and first legal victories are closely followed by others of the same kind.

I think, however, that more people will see the momentum as real only if President Benigno Aquino III also applies the same pressure on political allies who either violate the law or are guilty of grievous under-performance.

I was not able to see for myself colleague Anthony Taberna’s disquisition on the dismissal of Deputy Ombudsman Emilio Gonzalez III, having read about it only in Ernie Maceda’s column. The rankly political Maceda loads the dice in his columns, perhaps even without realizing it (for instance, I would be keenly interested to know whether his Binay vs Roxas scorecard will ever allow Roxas to outpoint Binay, who is after all only Maceda’s political ally). But I have heard the engaging, lightning-fast Taberna often enough on his popular radio show (with the redoubtable Gerry Baja) to recognize that he may well have said what Maceda said he said. To wit: That if President Aquino fired Gonzalez because of his role in the Aug. 23 hostage-taking crisis, then he should also fire Undersecretary Rico Puno and other Manila and police officials “found culpable” in the incident.

I agree, up to a point. Some decisive sanction must be imposed on Puno, Manila Mayor Fred Lim and other erring officials. I think we can observe the real distinction between Gonzalez’s alleged culpability (excessive inaction on the hostage-taker’s administrative case, leading to the hostage-taking in the first place) and those of Puno, Lim and others (gross mishandling of the incident, leading to the tragic deaths of the tourists from Hong Kong)—and still agree that more sanctions are called for.

The target of the all-out war on corruption must be whoever is corrupt or who enables corruption through gross incompetence, regardless of political affiliation. The Aquino administration, in fact, should expect much higher standards from its own officials. When a district superintendent throws her weight around because she is, by her reckoning, a neighbor of the President’s; or rumors spread that the new chairman of a government corporation ordered official vehicles for the use of his family, the Aquino administration should share the public’s anxiety and investigate and resolve the problem immediately.

That, it seems to me, is how momentum is built too, before the filing of the first big case against her former highness, Gloria Arroyo.

* * *

The First Quarter 2011 survey of the Social Weather Stations had a most interesting and timely rider, about “genuine Filipino heroes.” To the question asking survey respondents to nominate as many as five persons they considered “tunay na bayaning Pilipino,” the SWS found an overwhelming 75 percent naming Jose Rizal. Andres Bonifacio came in second with 34 percent, and Ninoy Aquino third with 20 percent.

Numerous implications can be drawn from this particular survey finding; many thanks to SWS for the gift that keeps on giving. Allow me to focus today only on the missing context of President Aquino’s inaugural address.

We remember that defining speech for its war on the wang-wang, that flashing symbol of the arrogant and the privileged. But that speech, genuinely refreshing as it was, was also marred by its scanting of Philippine history. In the days when presidents took their oath of office on Rizal Day, there was inevitably a reference to Rizal and the emergence of the Filipino nation. That is only right. I thought then, and still think now, that President Aquino should have used his inaugural address to link his parents’ heroic virtues with the nation-forming heroism of Rizal and Bonifacio. The national narrative began well before 1983.

* * *

RIZAL 150 NEWS. The Philippine book industry is a-churning with new and old titles by and about Rizal, to mark his 150th birthday on June 19. I thought I’d keep tabs on all this activity in the run-up to the anniversary, beginning with Anvil. The industry leader is issuing 150th Anniversary Editions of National Artist for Literature Virgilio Almario’s Filipino translations of the “Noli” and the “Fili,” which feature new annotations by Almario, The Poet Also Still Known as Rio Alma.

Anvil is also printing anniversary editions of three bestselling books by Inquirer columnist Ambeth Ocampo, prominent Rizalist and the new chairman of the history department at the Ateneo de Manila University. The books are “Makamisa: The Search for Rizal’s Third Novel”; “Meaning And History: The Rizal Lectures”; and “Rizal Without the Overcoat.”

Not least, Anvil is distributing new editions of “Rizal: His Legacy to Philippine Society,” by Cecilio D. Duka and Rowena A. Pila; and Leon Ma. Guerrero’s “The First Filipino”—in my view, and despite its less-than-skeptical account of Rizal’s alleged religious conversion, still the best Rizal biography available.

* * *

Harold Augenbraum was kind enough to confirm the news: May 31 is the publication date of his Penguin Books translation of Rizal’s lesser-known but more subversive second novel, “El Filibusterismo.” Copies should be available in the Philippines around that time, he said. The Penguin book, as far as I can tell, is the first new English translation of the “Fili” since Jovita Ventura Castro’s “The Revolution,” in 1992.

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Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Politics, Readings in Rizal

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