HomeCommentaryMagalong: Has corruption become the norm?

Magalong: Has corruption become the norm?

Baguio City Mayor Benjamin B. Magalong worries about the P14.1- trillion national debt. “Did the borrowings benefit us Filipinos,” he asks. “Since we, even newborns, are now each in hock for P113,000.”

It’s unclear where the Marcos Jr. admin spent P1.3 trillion in new debt in just one year. That’s on top of the Duterte admin’s P6.9 trillion, 2016-2022. Of that latter amount, P42 billion was wasted on pricey but faulty pandemic supplies. Some P12.5 billion went to the Pharmally of Chinese national Michael Yang, Duterte’s special adviser.

Before them, the country’s debt was P5.9 trillion under 11 presidents: Roxas, Quirino, Magsaysay, Garcia, Macapagal, Marcos Sr., C. Aquino, Ramos, Estrada, Macapagal-Arroyo, B.S. Aquino, 1946-2016.

Today’s P14.1 trillion debt has breached the threshold of 60 percent of GDP, Magalong warns. Can Filipinos still repay?

Leakages, money lost to corruption, and incompetence, worsen the burden. Experts say it’s P1 trillion a year, one-fifth of the national budget.

The effects of non-payment are dire. Two-thirds of today’s population was yet unborn when it happened twice before:

• Lenders shut the fund faucet on unearthing in 1984 the Central Bank’s bloating of dollar reserves and understating of losses.

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Records reveal why. The Central Bank was hiding Marcos Sr.’s kickbacks from loaned projects like the westing house nuclear plant, and behest loans to cronies by PNB, DBP, GSIS, and Veteran’s Bank. Also the first lady’s shopping sprees and the children’s extravagance abroad.

Philippine credit standing melted. To keep power plants and transport going, officials paid suitcases of cash to petroleum producers. Buses, jitneys, and cars lined up for expensive gas rations. The economy shrank, businesses collapsed, and workers lost jobs.

• Cory Aquino was honored but couldn’t repay Marcos Sr.’s dirty debts. Lenders like the International Monetary Fund imposed austerity.

The government couldn’t expand electric facilities. Blackouts halted industries and employment. Civil unrest persisted.

After graduating from PMA in 1982, Magalong was then a young Constabulary officer. Like Lieutenants Fidel Ramos and Jose Almonte three decades prior, he must have asked himself and “mistahs”, the roots of communist insurgency and Moro separatism that they were fighting.

The present admin threatens fiscal collapse. Ballooning veteran retirement pensions, P56 billion for 138,000 this year, supposedly have become untenable. Supermajority lawmakers will thus slash pensions and even deduct from the salaries of active-duty soldiers, policemen, coastguards, and jail guards.

“We’re willing to sacrifice,” Magalong says of fellow MUPs, military and other uniformed personnel. “We’re used to sacrificing life and limb.”

But then he wonders why no legislator – with multibillion-peso pork barrels – has offered to sacrifice as well. DPWH engineers confide to him the rackets. Lawmakers not only take 40-percent cuts from public works but also act as contractors-suppliers.

Congress enacts yearly flood controls and unmeasured dredging of rivers and lakes. Ex-senator and PNP Chief Panfilo Lacson said dredgers run only for photo-ops. Lawmakers divvy up the fund, P183 billion this 2023, more than triple the P56 billion for MUP pensions.

Whenever Magalong shares experiences mayors are all agog. When he shifts to good governance and anti-graft, they zone out and stare at mobiles.

“Is corruption now the norm in government?” Magalong asks. “Shouldn’t Filipinos demand accountability from their officials?”

But how, when those officials – political dynasts all – shut them out of the Executive and Legislature, national and local positions? Members of the political elite protect only each other’s interests:

• For pork allotments, legislators grant the Executive, even the politician-education secretary, multibillion, no-audit confidential/intelligence funds.

• They ignore cries against government-sponsored cartels in sugar, transport, and utilities.

• Congress hastily rubberstamped Malacañang’s Maharlika Investment Fund with no clear purpose other than to launder plundered loot.

• In the wake of the “Love the Philippines” fiasco, 62 lawmakers and related local officials purported that the politician-tourism secretary was sabotaged.

European teens are rioting against cruel, opportunistic officials, mostly social/liberal democrats who have moved to the conservative right. The Philippine opposition has joined Congress’ supermajority; only 16 of 312 congressmen and two of 24 senators remain minority.

Instead of rioting, disgruntled Filipino youths emigrate. Left-behinds can get impatient with slow change.

Best to heed Magalong’s alerts. Proven in depth and integrity, he headed the investigation of the 2015 Mamasapano massacre of 44 police commandos. He was the pandemic contact-tracing chief, and review panelist of 954 PNP generals and colonels.

Baguio wisely elected Benjamin Bañez Magalong, the good BBM.

Jarius Bondoc is an award-winning Filipino journalist and author based in Manila. He writes opinion pieces for The Philippine Star and Pilipino Star Ngayon and hosts a radio program on DWIZ 882 every Saturday. Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

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