Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive!
Let’s imagine you are engaged in some enormous scam. Let’s also assume it is about something improbable; hmm, how about manure?
You are huli (caught). Would you rather your evil manure schemes were judged by a jury of honest men and true, or by a group so hopelessly compromised that to find you guilty would be to open themselves to prosecution?
This of course is exactly the situation facing the House panel investigating former agriculture undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc Joc" Bolante’s involvement in the P728-million fertilizer fund scam.
Although the absurdity of distributing funds for agricultural fertilizer to congressmen representing districts in Quezon City and Bolante’s flight from justice might seem to a jury of honest men and true evidence that something stinks in all this, the panel is expected to hold its nose and clear Bolante for the simple reason that, as Rep. Teddy Casiño points out: “more than a hundred administration representatives benefited from that scam in 2004.”
Bolante’s smelly dealings lead me to a broader issue.
It seems to me that the current set-up in the Philippines helps to criminalize virtually all of us, limiting our capacity, and even our desire, to support justice.
Do you pay all your taxes? If you run a business, have you waited patiently for the endless licences the state requires, or have you “eased” the process with a few hundred pesos? What about that time a cop pulled you over for swerving, did you hand over your licence quietly or slip him a couple of hundred?
I won’t go on, but even you have stoutly answered “yes” to all of those questions, what about your family? Is your dad’s business 100% legal? Your mother works in government service, are you sure everything she does is by the book?
The fact that almost all of us are forced or at least encouraged to commit these misdemeanours is an enormous advantage to the high rollers in the grimy game. To return to Bolante, the real beneficiary of the fertiliser fiddle was not the congressman who received an addition to his election war chest, it was not even Joc-Joc. The spider who wove the web was the president, who through this and similar schemes managed to manufacture an unlikely election victory and to ensure that everyone along the way was caught in her trap.
Those of us in the outer circles of the web are not caught as tightly as those in the middle, yet still we can’t quite kick ourselves free. Even businessmen and women who support a fair taxation regime baulk at the idea of even more BIR interference in their companies. At a philosophical level, our enmeshment breeds a kind of resignation, almost a kind of solidarity with the playmakers.
If convicted plunderer “not one centavo” Erap were seen as an aberration, his interest in another run at the presidency would surely be laughed out of court. As it is, although I doubt whether he is quite as popular as he thinks he is, Erap benefits from a sense of hopelessness that no one else is any better. He, Gloria, and the other king pins may sit at the centre of the web, but we have all been caught in its sticky embrace.