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Ethical leadership wanted in 2008

January 18, 2008

 A series of corruption scandals have afflicted the Philippines since September--the government contract to the Chinese company ZTE Corp. for nationwide broadband services, alleged bribes to opposition congressmen by a member of the president's party to support a weak impeachment motion that would have protected the president for a year from a possible stronger impeachment motion and the improper distribution of bags of money to government officials. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo moreover pardoned the conviction of her predecessor, Joseph Estrada, for plunder, overturning his life sentence in prison and disqualification from public office. All of these events signify an absence of ethical leadership by Arroyo and senior officials of her administration.

Commentary: Ethical leadership wanted in 2008

Corruption in the Philippines though is not limited to this series of events but is present as well in the hundreds of extrajudicial killings and disappearances that have plagued the country since Arroyo became president in 2001. This corruption is not necessarily an act of money changing hands or illegal favors being offered. No, this form of corruption is much more subtle. It reveals itself in the investigations and prosecutions of these violent deaths and abductions. More to the point, it is the lack of proper investigations, prosecutions and especially convictions for these deaths that is morally corrupt. How can so many people die or be abducted and so few people be imprisoned for these crimes? The failure to act is at the heart of this form of corruption, a systemic corruption in which justice has little meaning, in which murder and abductions are acceptable.

Corruption in the Philippines is evident in yet another way: the corruption of silence. For years, Arroyo and her administration remained silent while Filipinos were being killed by masked men on motorcycles or taken from their homes in the middle of the night. This silence condoned these deaths and abductions and reflected the bankruptcy of compassion in the presidential palace and the halls of power. It was only in 2006 that Arroyo expressed any concern about these violent deaths and abductions and formed Task Force Usig under the Philippine National Police and the Melo Commission to investigate them. However, the extrajudicial killings and disappearances have not stopped, and there have been few, if any, convictions as noted earlier. Life--the lives of her citizens--has little value it seems for Arroyo and her administration. Again, where is the ethical leadership in the nation?

If the extrajudicial violence is to end in the Philippines, these various forms of corruption must end first--the traditional corruption involving money and the use of power; the systemic corruption of inaction, of poor and inadequate investigations and prosecutions; and the corruption of silence, of simply not caring.

With a new year ahead, President Arroyo has an opportunity to exhibit ethical leadership to correct these deficiencies in her government. If she does not, it will be another disappointing year for people in the Philippines.

Bruce Van Voorhis

(Bruce Van Voorhis is a staff member of the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong whose work often focuses on the Philippines. In addition to working at the commission since 2000, he is also a co-convener of the Hong Kong Campaign for the Advancement of Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines, a coalition formed in April 2005 to respond to the upsurge of extrajudicial killings in the country.)

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