Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte issued some disturbing statements recently, suggesting that police officers are at some liberty to engage in delehensiya (on-the-side money-making). Shocking, perhaps, but hardly unexpected. Duterte simply follows a tradition of tacit approval for corruption coming from the country’s highest offices. In a country where massive pork barrel thievery goes unpunished (and unstopped), one would expect Filipinos to give this latest “shocking” revelation no more than an eyes-roll to the heavens.
Zero tolerance for corruption has been enshrined in Philippine law since, well, forever. But as with most things, Filipinos aren’t really big on allowing the Law to rule their affairs. This is evident from the bottom rungs of society up to the highest echelons — from the way ordinary jeepney drivers drive up to, well, the evidently glib regard the President himself accords corruption in the police force revealed in his recent statements.
Because the Philippines is a democracy, Filipinos’ leaders therefore reflect their constituents’ popular will. Duterte will get away with these statements not only because he remains popular but because this whimsical regard for corruption — specially in the police force — enjoys a proud and deep tradition in Philippine society.
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The democratic solution to corruption requires an inconvenient approach — making anti-corruption a fashion trend.
At the moment, it isn’t — because those who champion it are failed fashionistas. To get the proper legislation in to create the right and hard solutions in place to combat corruption (like, say, forming and implementing a truly independent corruption investigation agency with real and sharp enough teeth) requires the right politicians with the right motivations. It’s simple, really. Advocacies and, more importantly, the people serving as their poster girls, need to be made politically fashionable before they see the light of day. This means doing what any experienced brand or marketing manager already knows — selling the product to the masses. Perhaps the Opposition need to hire the brains behind brilliant marketing campaigns that turned Perla, Mister Clean, and Colgate into household names.
The trouble with the Opposition is they have so far racked-up a sorry track record of failure in the basic endeavour of engaging the masses. In this year’s election, they suffered nothing short of a catastrophic loss at the polls with not one of the candidates in the key Opposition coalition — the “Otso Diretso” slate — warming a Senate seat today. This, despite the foremost, loudest, and most well-connected “thought leaders” getting behind these characters. Most disturbing of all, they had used anti-corruption, “human rights”, “equality”, and “social justice” among others — all the sugar and spice and everything nice that make up Filipino “liberalism” — as cornerstones of their campaign and, in doing so, dragged all of that along with their ill-fated campaign down the tubes to electoral oblivion.
Actually, I stand corrected. The key here is not to make anti-corruption a fashion statement in its pure sense. The Opposition mob had actually been too successful at doing just that — turning the once-noble and once-accessible concept into the perversely lofty “woke” virtue signalling ornament of the latte-sipping classes and their circles of Instagram “influencers”.
No. Anti-corruption needs to be turned back into a notion that Tito Vic and Joey could run with in Eat Bulaga to the standing ovations of the noontime variety show set. It should be extricated from the kutis Camay clutches of the “woke” crowd and taken back by those who truly identify with the masses. Such a project is a marketing and brand management minefield. The landscape is riddled with two types of landmines — those planted by the “woke” set of showbiz, society, and social media fashionistas and those planted by the tubao-sporting communists disguised as “makabayan” activists and politicians. Both of these represent failed political brands and need to be avoided at all costs by a new breed of anti-corruption advocates.
No less than an upheaval in the way reform is championed needs to be mounted, and it will take losts of imagination, political innovation, and intelligent lobbying to pull that off. We need to cut our reliance on traditional activists (both the “woke” and the commie kinds) and try something new.
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