Monday, October 02, 2006

Lost opportunity

http://opinion.inq7.net/inquireropinion/editorial/view_article.php?article_id=23730
EDITORIAL
Lost opportunity

Inquirer
Last updated 00:11am (Mla time) 09/29/2006

Published on Page A14 of the September 29, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

FROM Bangkok comes the news that the ruling junta has decided to perform a thorough audit of the wealth of deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The purpose being to determine how much of it can be attributed to corruption and be seized by the state. Filipinos can’t help but wonder, wistfully, how once upon a time, we had hoped to pave the way in terms of governments being able to reclaim what officials squirreled away due to corruption.

The first official act of the Corazon Aquino government was to create the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG). Though it almost immediately got caught up in controversies, for a time it served as a model for other newly restored democracies. The South Koreans, for example, who had been allies of Filipino oppositionists, and who continued to hold Philippine democracy in high regard, sent people to Manila to study the efforts of the PCGG. What they learned, they implemented in turn, with spectacular results. The South Koreans sent two of their former presidents to jail.

And that was within the first decade of democracy’s restoration in South Korea. It’s been 20 years since the PCGG was established, and the most that has been achieved is some compromises with Ferdinand Marcos’ cronies, and the recovery of a small percentage of the estimated Marcos billions. What assets have been sequestered have, on the whole, been squandered, allowed to deteriorate, or turned into opportunities for political favoritism, if not outright state-sponsored abuse of perks and privilege.

Our country is littered with gutted and looted properties allegedly owned by the Marcoses or their friends, seized by the state, or interminably stuck in litigation. Companies continue to exist, not to serve as genuine vehicles for economic growth, but instead to provide opportunities for presidents to appoint their supporters and friends to the boards of these firms.

These companies have proven to be such a temptation that no administration, since the PCGG was established, has mustered the political will to sell them. Instead, they have contributed to maintaining or even reviving the very things once considered obnoxious about the dictatorship -- government’s access to multiple TV stations being just one example.

Not even appointing some of the most respected names in government, from Jovito Salonga onwards, to head the PCGG, managed to keep its eye on its mandate. And so, whatever its motivations, the inquiry of the Senate into whether there remains any justification for the continued existence of the PCGG is a valid one.

Were the value of the assets seized, but undisposed -- and perhaps even worthless by now -- to be calculated in terms of lost financial opportunities for the State, and in terms of the corrosive effect the PCGG’s lack of achievements had on public trust in government, the net cost would surely be colossal. But the largest of all is the fact that while every president since Aquino has been accused of massive corruption, none has ended in jail. As for the Marcoses, they never had to pay more than a tiny fraction of the vast sums they are accused of having stolen.

And there lies the tragic lesson: the Thais would junk democracy for increased honesty; Filipinos have had plenty of democracy but precious little honesty -- and justice.

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