Every year, the various government departments and agencies compete for the notorious dishonor of the most corrupt government unit. All these government officials know they are viewed as corrupt, but they don’t feel shame. Those who flaunt their wealth and power, those who wang-wang their way around know that people view them with contempt, but these officials don’t care. They’re in power, exactly the same attitude of their colonial Spanish and American progenitors. The more powerful they are, the more shameless they become. “Hindi mo ako kilala?” they’d bark arrogantly to get special treatment or get away from any wrongdoing. Government rogues charged with corruption even run for election. There are occasional convictions of corruption, but the big fish get away, because the culture of corruption has its own code which states that the thieves, grafters, and plunderers protect each other.
This degenerate malformed state with its built-in degenerate malformed culture is what drags our country down. To be sure, there are still honest and sincere government officials and workers, but their dedication is overwhelmed by systemic corruption. Many of our government officials and workers are honest folks in their everyday lives, but when they enter government, they are transformed into thieving and arrogant bureaucrats. A lot of well-meaning reformers, activists, even revolutionaries who join government end up being swallowed by the system, too.
During the conference, a staffer of the Cultural Center of the Philippines happened to mention that when it rains, a waterfall suddenly materializes inside the Bulwagang Pambansang Alagad ng Sining, the venue of the conference. I mention this not because I want to prove that government buildings are rundown, but because I am reminded of a friend who uses the waterfall as a metaphor for government. Government, he says, is like a waterfall. Bring any container to get water as often as you want--a tea cup, a pitcher, a gallon, a tanker. Ironically, those who use a tea cup are the ones caught.
This is common knowledge. We all know about government corruption. Even after a short stint in government, officials suddenly own palatial homes and other properties not only in the country but also abroad. Deep in our hearts we are outraged, but as a people we are totally helpless. For centuries, our people have been disempowered, neglected, and ignored. The bureaucrats do not fear the people as the system makes it so difficult to boot out government thieves. Even government bodies set up to investigate and prosecute government offenders are corrupted and need to be watched too.
And that is the nature of our malformed state and our malformed state culture which continues to produce very negative values among our people. One such negative value is the so-called talangka mentality, the corrupt fruit of state failure. When crabs are put together in a basket with only one opening at the top, they will naturally scramble over each other to get out. The same is true of people. When there are too many people, and there is little food and little job opportunities, especially if it is a persistent condition like in the Philippines, people will scramble over each other to be the first to get food and to get employed. Obviously the solution is not to lecture to the people about values. The solution is to produce more food and create more jobs—or applying it to the crabs, to tear the basket open.
To be continued.
(Prof. Tiu won the prestigious National Book Award in 2005 for ‘Davao: Reconstructing History from Text and Memory.’ A recipient of three Palanca golds for Short Story, he teaches literature at the Ateneo de Davao University. The original title for this piece was ‘Political Genetics: Malformed State Culture and the Philippine Kulelat Syndrome.’ —editor)