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Thursday, February 11, 2010


My mother was a Certified Public Accountant who went into private practice. She didn't start with her own accounting office at first. She was once employed at the Department Of Public Works & Highways (I don't know if they called it DPWH then) after graduating and having passed the Accountancy Board Exams in the mid 50s. Her stint in government service was short lived because she was witness to certain anomalies and had refused to be party to these or affix her name to such transactions, she being a member of the auditing team in one of the regional offices. She quickly resigned, after attempts to bribe her, and became a private practitioner of her vocation.

While growing up, my mother had instilled in us a loathing to corruption in government. She had preferred us to seek employment in the private sector once we started working -- fearing we would be sucked by the corrupt system in government offices.

In the early 80s, a family friend whom I will now refer to as Banker X, was shot dead on Christmas Eve a few meters from his house. Banker X was a hard working man, a devoted husband and father. He was known for his integrity and fair dealings with clients and friends. Banker X was a senior auditor at a government bank and hushed whispers were spread that he discovered some anomalous transactions at the bank where he worked amounting to millions of pesos and that Banker X had refused to 'alter the figures' to cover up for the anomaly. He stood his ground despite several threats on his life and family. It was said that on that fateful Christmas eve, he received a phone call. He was quiet and listening intently on what the caller was saying. After the phone call he excused himself and told his family he was stepping outside to buy some cigarettes. It was while outside that he was shot. The perpetrators made it appear it was a robbery/hold-up. There were no eye-witnesses. No hard evidence to pin down the masterminds. No case was filed. It was said that Banker X had purposely gone out to 'buy cigarettes' after the phone call so as to spare his family from harm.

My first brush with corruption happened in 1999. I was working on my second film as a full-fledged Production Designer. Joseph Estrada was still in his first year as president. Our Field Cashier had accidentally related to me that once or twice a month she (and a host of other people) would be bused to Malacanang Palace and sign the vouchers that came with their 'paychecks'. It did not occur to me at first that she was a 'ghost employee' of the palace.

This Field Cashier of ours was of course not connected to Malacanang but worked full-time in the Film Production Outfit of the President's brother. I had naively joked her "Wow! Bigtime ka ha! You get your salary all the way in Malacanang, pa?!" I said in the vernacular. You see, we production people get our weekly pay during a film project right there on the film set, and this Field Cashier, I had thought, got her pay as a regular employee of the film outfit from the main office/studio along Shaw Boulevard.

When it dawned on me that she was a 'ghost employee' she instantly turned defensive. She must've seen the unbelieving, shocked, disgusted expression on my face. Then she said she didn't get any amount of money by signing her name in the vouchers anyway -- she agreed to the scheme because she was only after the benefits (like SSS, GSIS, PhilHealth, etc.) that she was entitled to as a "government employee". Her name and personal details and signature were after all in the documents. She did not reveal who recruited her or who received all the money from these ghost employees.

There was a gnawing feeling in my stomach for a few days after. I did not want to empathize with her because deep down inside me I knew I had the moral strength (as instilled by my parents) not to engage in such activity. There was also a feeling of helplessness. As much as I was turned-off by that information -- what could I do? Was I willing to be a whistle blower? Who would believe me? Go to the media with the story/expose? What proof did I have? It would be my word against hers. I was helpless indeed. I also wondered, would it be worth all the trouble? Still it left a bitter taste in my mouth.

Through the rest of the project we had civilly avoided each other since that day. I remember thinking whether Erap knew of this, if he condoned it, if it was his idea to begin with, and if he received a percentage from all these if not the entire amount. I also wondered how many other 'ghost employees' there were in other government offices, and for how long had this been going on?

Recently I posted a shoutout on Facebook that went something like this: "I wish that in the future Filipinos will get to trust their government and the people running it". A friend who is now based in the U.S. commented: "I hope that those elected in government will truly serve the people and not only their immediate family".

I was mulling this over and I now have a theory why Filipinos are more family-centered than their western counterparts -- because here in the Philippines, the Family as a social unit works. While our system does not.

In the West once a child reaches adulthood, he is expected to leave the home to be on his own and earn his living. There is no law that dictates this, it is the norm. In the Philippines, single children still live with their parents because for majority of Filipinos who enter the workforce for the first time, the income is not enough for one to live on his own (get a house, provide food for himself, etc.) but more importantly, he is expected to contribute to the family income as well. Unemployed adults in the West may go on welfare while in between jobs. The unemployed in the Philippines are known as 'tambay'.

In the West, student loans are available to those who have the drive to get a university degree. While here our parents sometimes have to rely on our older, employed siblings or generous relatives to help out with tuition fees and other school expenses. Student loans in the West may be paid way after one graduates and is already working. Here, tuition fees must be paid in full before students are even allowed to take their final exams or risk wasting a whole semester.

Divorce is legal in the West and it works to the benefit of both parties. One gets his freedom, the other gets alimony. Both parties make arrangements for an amenable child custody agreement. Life goes on. In the Philippines, there is no divorce because of the predominant Catholic view amongst the populace and law makers. Therefore Filipino men can have mistresses galore, not pay alimony, forget about child support and yet receive communion when they go to church. Life goes on and becomes miserable for the aggrieved party/ies.

Most poor families in the Philippines have more children than they can afford to take care of, provide food for, or ensure a good education. For one they have little or no access to birth control methods. But oftentimes they prefer to have more children, because more children means more hands to help in the farm or in fishing. Sometimes parents pin their hopes and aspirations on their children that someday one of these may become a professional, an OFW, or heck, be pretty enough to marry a foreigner and help ease the entire family out of poverty. In the West, couples think twice before having children asking themselves: Can we afford to have a child financially? A husband might ask if he is willing to take on two jobs to provide for his wife and child? A wife might ask if she's willing to sacrifice her career for raising a family. She will even ask if she really wants one.

Most of us take care of our parents when they retire. A very good trait if I may say so. The eldest or sometimes the most affluent among siblings takes their parents into their homes. The grandparents help out in taking care of the grandchildren. To the upper middle class who can afford it they hire a caboodle of caregivers, nurses, drivers, cooks, maids -- an entire household staff actually -- to take care of their parents in their parents' house as they themselves have their own household staff to see to their needs. They then pay regular visits to them. Sometimes these staff are extended relatives or poor relations whose parents and grandparents have served the same family through the years. For the middle class, sometimes in-laws living in a household may be cause for marital woes. In the West, they bring their parents to homes for the aged -- a growing practice among Filipino migrants as well.

Is it any wonder why political dynasties proliferate in this country. From Luzon to Mindanao it is generations of the same families running their respective local governments. Older members pass on the torch to their progeny who in turn will do the same to their children. Alliances between families and inter-marriages secure the status quo for the future. Feuding families pass on the animosity. All the while, whoever is in power, dips into government coffers to, dare I say it, keep themselves in power.

The Filipino Family is the one we trust. The social unit we choose to believe in and choose to work with. This is because our families take care of us. Our system does not. Our educational system is awry. The free education provided is sub-standard. Ditto Health Care. Our Judicial system is a joke. The Police/Military are the last people we seek help from. The bureaucracy is incompetent. And all because of corruption. We saw the "family spirit" of Filipinos during Typhoon Ondoy and the floods. We also saw the ineptness of our government.

In the book Connected by Nicholas A. Christakis, MD, PhD and James H. Fowler, PhD -- they extensively cover how social networks shape our lives. From obesity, smoking, SARS, suicide, Facebook, elections, altruism, etc. -- social networks are a determining factor to all these. Individuals make up these social networks and contribute and affect how these networks behave. Take for example obesity in the US -- "Germs are not the only things that spread from person to person. Behaviors also spread, and many of these behaviors have big effects on your health... It turns out that we do not only imitate the people sitting next to us in a classroom or a dining room. We also imitate others who are much farther away. Similar to spreading germs, health-related phenomena can spread from person to person and from person to person to person, and beyond".

Could this explain corruption in the Philippines?

The Filipino Family is where values are passed on from one generation to another. Sadly, along with these is the propensity to be corrupt.

It has got to stop somewhere, somehow and sometime.


  1. Very good blog. On my last visit to the Philippines a family friend asked me how can things get better here. Until there is little to no corruption things will never get better was my answer. Sometimes bad choices are made out of desperation, but often it is greed.

    Often I ponder the history of the Philippines, wondering if certain aspects could have been different, what might the country be like today.

  2. we've got a long way to go... but the journey starts now...

  3. overpopulation. there's too much sayote vying to get into the pinikpikan pot.

    no matter how honourable a large percentage of the population wish to act, because of sheer scale, there will always be a sizeable number who will fuck it up and undercut the good intentions.

    we can't stop people from having sex, because sex is pleasurable and abstinence is unnatural, so we must educate.

  4. hmm... I agree... but I'm wondering how exactly were you reminded of 'sex' by this latest post on my blog?

  5. oh I get it... the painting?! hahaha

  6. Nice post Martin. I've always wondered about the duality of corruption and Catholicism in the Philippines. How could such a strongly Catholic country be so corrupt? I always attributed it to the fact that Catholicism provides a nice out. Say your penitence and everything is forgiven. Your thoughts on social networks may be on the right track though. Power corrupts and money buys power. If that combination runs in the same social circles, well, it's an unhealthy alliance - for everyone else.

  7. @Rory -- thanks for posting a comment -- nothing excites this blogger more than reading comments and being reinforced that I share similar values. ideas, thoughts among friends CHEERS! Tweet! Tweet! Woot! Woot!