President-Elect Noynoy Aquino ran his campaign with this catchy slogan. Like all slogans, it has both an element of truth and an element of oversimplification.
Corruption indeed is a cause of poverty. But it is not true that if there is no corruption, there would be no poverty. Poverty may also be due to misguided economic philosophies and development programs. Poverty may also be due to some extent to some cultural factors. Imbalances in the political sphere can also cause poverty. Destruction of the environment causes poverty.
Thus the campaign slogan is only partly true. As such it is unrealistic. It offers false hopes for a long suffering people.
Why is corruption so difficult to eradicate?
Corruption is a sinful attitude of the heart. It is the surrender of the heart to the temptation of power and wealth. Once the heart succumbs to a first temptation and gains access to some amount of money without being punished, it is easier to surrender to the next temptation. This is even more so when the gains in wealth and power are incredibly huge. The repeated acts of sin become an attitude of the heart. God is sacrificed on the altar of mammon.
But corruption is also embedded in social, economic, political structures. It is a social sin, a structural injustice, built up by repeated personal sins. The many personal sins of corruption build a structure within the economic, social, and political structures, embed corruption in it, and facilitate continuing corruption. The structure of corruption is also built up by imbalances in economic and political power. While powerless people can be easily convicted and jailed, this is not true for the powerful. Bribery, threats to life, and extortion are bedfellows in the structure of corruption.
Because it is both a sinful attitude of the heart as well as an unjust social structure, corruption in the Philippines, as elsewhere in many Asian countries, is firmly entrenched. It is also endemic in private and public life. It infects the whole social ladder, from top to bottom or from bottom to the top. Even elections for kabataang barangay positions are now afflicted by extravagant spending because of the promise of more money gained through one’s position.
No Philippine President has ever made a serious dent on corruption. Each presidential regime has its own anecdotal illustrations of corruption incidence, even if only two suffered legal consequences, sequestration of alleged ill-gotten wealth for one and conviction of plunder for the other. For others, various alleged scams were subjected to grandstanding investigations “in aid of legislation” but for this very reason there has been no conviction.
We are a society that in fact turns a blind eye to past grievous lapses of corruption. A quick scan of election winners will reveal how short our memories are and how easily we put aside moral judgments.
Given the nature of corruption as a personal sin and as a structure of sin and given our own propensity to disregard moral judgments, it is clear that corruption is not going to go away easily.
The President-elect needs all the help he can get to make good on his slogan. He would need a miracle to get rid of corruption in his six years of office. Good intention and good example are not enough. We have the example of the Cory Aquino regime to demonstrate this. Will her son have the same experience? He should have people around him who are incorrupt and who can personify his slogan: Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap. The first question then is: who will serve as his cabinet members, his closest advisers? Do they pass the test of integrity?
Of course we believe that with God everything is possible. That is our faith. In Church language, we need contemplation and solidarity, prayer and cooperation.
Solidarity would dictate that in the battle against corruption, all of us have to be united, striving to be persons of integrity in our areas of responsibility and refusing to connive with others in acts of corruption. In solidarity we need to denounce what we see are corrupt systems in public and private life that ensnare and trap people into corruption. In solidarity we need to work with our leaders who want to establish structures of integrity and justice.
If we believe that with God all things are possible, then prayer for wisdom, guidance, and courage and integrity would be necessary. Through solidarity and prayer miracles do happen.
+Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Cotabato
May 30, 2010