Despite Miriam Defensor Santiago’s outburst—and patronizing “apology”—the Chinese did not invent corruption. Since the so-called People’s Republic abandoned socialism in favor of unbridled capitalism, its corporations have been spreading havoc all over the planet, corrupting the elites of the countries they’re trying to profit from and not caring one whit for the impact of their projects on the world’s peoples. But the Chinese didn’t invent corruption. The Spaniards did– at least in this country.

Upon landing in what’s now the Visayas, Portuguese adventurer Ferdinand Magellan, who had gone over to Spain after a falling out with the king of Portugal, began the conquest of these islands for Spain and Catholicism by pitting the locals against each other.

To conquer Mactan he entered into an alliance with Cebu’s Humabon against Mactan chieftain Lapulapu, but was killed in battle. Humabon, his wife and some 800 of his men had been baptized as Catholics. Expedition chronicler Antonio Pigafetta’s account of that event was understandably effusive, and neglected to mention that having a powerful ally was no doubt among the inducements, along with visions of paradise in the after life, that had convinced Humabon to convert.

Magellan’s death set the Spaniards back, and it was not until over a century later that they were able to establish themselves in what was to be the Philippines. Using local conflicts against the often warring communities in these islands so they could prevail—that is, dividing so they could conquer—guaranteed eventual Spanish dominance despite their relatively few numbers.

But it wasn’t only in terms of the various inducements they offered the warring groups and tribes in this archipelago that made the Spaniards the inventors of corruption and its expert use in these islands.

They’d come, in the first place, in search of spices, gold, silver and other riches. They were no more than privateers in the service of the Spanish Crown, although they did claim to be conquering the world for Catholicism.

In the second place, Las Islas Filipinas were, for scores of adventurers, scoundrels and criminals, not only a refuge but also a source of plunder. And that is why the post of governor general, assignments in the colonial bureaucracy, as well as commissions in the Spanish army and the civil guard were for sale.

The end of Spanish colonialism was the beginning of a new one. US colonialism, however, did not put an end to corruption; it added to it. Remember that the United States had made it a goal to train future Philippine leaders. What it did was to train the descendants of the principalia in the intricacies of ward politics and backroom deals.

By 1946 the Philippine political class had learned enough from their US mentors to generate one corruption scandal after another. But it took Magellan’s namesake Ferdinand Marcos to put the country in the global corruption map. Things have since been going steadily downhill, with at least two Philippine presidents (Marcos and Joseph Estrada) in the Transparency International list of the world’s most corrupt leaders.

TI also recently listed the Philippines as the 131st most corrupt country in the world out of 179. The Arroyo regime immediately took offense at this ranking, down from 121 in 2006, and from 117 in 2005. But apparently corruption’s not only growing. Its practice has also become the particular expertise of the political class the Spaniards enlisted in their service during their 300-year occupation of the Philippines, and which the US nurtured during the period of “tutelage in self-government.”

What triggered Defensor’s outburst—the Senate hearings into the US9 million National Broadband Network project—should go down somewhere as a case of corruption worthy of the adjective “world-class”, together with allegations during the Estrada impeachment hearings in 2000 that certain senators including Her Honor were getting Php200 million to acquit Estrada.

The amounts involved in the NBN scandal are enough to make anyone hyperventilate. Php200 million in alleged bribes for former National Economic and Development Authority Director General Romulo Neri; and US million ((Php500 million) for persistent NBN bidder Jose de Venecia III to “back off” and allow China’s ZTE corporation to implement it without competition. And that’s just what’s been made public, the amounts that have made the Arroyo regime so ZTE-friendly being anybody’s guess.

But it’s the web of opaqueness and outright lies in regime efforts to see to it that, first, the project pushes through, and second, that ZTE gets to implement it, that puts the NBN project in the same company as the projects Chinese corporations have hatched with the Burmese junta. (TI lists Burma as the second most corrupt country in the world, a distinction made possible by the junta’s utmost secrecy when it comes to government contracts.)

Antithetical to democratic governance, the Arroyo regime’s sustained campaign against transparency gives the lie to its most recent claim that the Philippines is the most democratic country in Southeast Asia.

Make no mistake about it. The NBN deal, like the other corruption scandals the regime has tried to hide, involves not only one person or two. It‘s driven by a cast of shady characters, experts in the arts of corruption, straight out of a Halloween movie. That’s because, while the Spaniards may have invented corruption in these isles of fear, it’s our very own political class that’s perfecting it– and savaging this rumored democracy in the process.


Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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