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Here comes the bribe, all dressed in white

By Joel Pablo Salud Published Nov 05, 2021 5:43 pm

I was somewhere in my thirties. This cocky, infantile punk with little to go on save a love for words had just filed his resignation. I couldn’t have done it at a more opportune time. After being holed up in my office for four handsomely-paid years, hobnobbing with suit-and-tie familiars, I was dying for a change of scenery.

My boss didn’t take my exodus with the same patience he’d give a badly cooked meal. He bobbed and paced ‘round the office, hard-pressed for the right words to say. I flattered myself with the thought of being wooed back to his corporate arms with a host of precious dowries fit for a lovely bride. He did say once that he valued my work.

Given the circumstances of my departure, however, I had made the decision to pack my bags and go in spite of his counter-offer, with the dream of being a journalist in tow. I have had a taste of it in my early twenties as a freelance reporter for a little-known magazine, and writer for the old, tallboy Manila Standard and The Manila Times.

When one of the country’s oldest political and literary magazines announced that it needed a managing editor, I grabbed it immediately.

I had wanted to be a journalist since I was a boy. Thus, when my boss made a counter-offer to double my salary, topped with the added luxury of a car, a driver and gas allowance, I politely turned these down. Nothing would stop me from pursuing my dream. It was the best decision I ever made notwithstanding the pittance for a salary.

I couldn’t have painted the expression on his face even if I tried. “Hijo,” he said, thick with anger, “Everyone has a price.”

I couldn’t now recall what I did after hearing him say that. But I do remember feeling insulted. I worked hard for my keep, and this was how he treated me? So, all that mutual respect BS was all for show?

I held my tongue for the better part of a few seconds, stood up, and left the office without looking back.

I have always been averse to being bribed because I’ve seen it mangle and destroy what little is left of a person’s principles, if not immediately his self-respect.

It is, however, worth noting that in countries like ours where the powers that be and the system which governs society trap many Filipinos in abject poverty, the bribe is transformed into a means of hope. An escape, for the time being, from hunger, privation, and a largely distressing quality of life.

Which is why to condemn a poor man for accepting a bribe is deemed a vicious attack on his person. The horrible conditions he is forced to swallow leave him with very little choice.

This is where the bribe comes all dressed in white. Since many officials skirt best practices for routine corruption, it is well-nigh an accepted fact that to receive a bribe is no different from getting one’s stolen money back. The money is ours to begin with, as the popular analysis goes. It’s only right that we take it for as long as we vote with our conscience.

The idea justifies the cycle of “give and take,” that what goes around, comes around.

We can all agree that no national or local elections in previous decades have not been marred by corruption. It’s an open secret, practically common knowledge among the electorate.

In the Philippines, it is the rich who robs the poor blind, only to give them back an infinitesimal portion every election year of what had been plundered. This act makes heroes out of thieves.

Very rarely, if at all, that bribers get prosecuted. If truth be told, the buying and selling of the ballot is a much-awaited event no voter in his right mind can do without.

Besides, what could be nobler in a country too poor to make ends meet than to steal from the rich in order to give to the poor? In the Philippines, though, it is the rich who robs the poor blind, only to give them back an infinitesimal portion every election year of what had been plundered. This act makes heroes out of thieves.

Thus, corruption is hardly viewed as a serious felony. Necessity justifies it. Compulsion fuels it. During the polls, the obligation to win requires it.

We’ve reached a stage where the end justifies the means, in blatant denial of existing laws. I’ve come across people who swear that the giving and receiving of a bribe improve the public’s purchasing power, thus revitalizing the economy.

While on one end, it makes perfect sense socially and economically, it doesn’t answer the reality on the moral end of it: that corruption stains everything it touches. When done en masse, it does not only endanger the values of an individual, it seriously exposes the nation to its venom.

It’s a grave injustice for the simple reason that no one, however powerful, has the right to assume that your dignity and consent are for sale at a price that would not buy you freedom, let alone a sack of rice. Public consent makes up the nuts and bolts of political power. To sell something so priceless is no different from being led to the slaughter.

Like I said, it’s the biggest swindle of all to be given a few coins than what your consent and dignity are essentially worth. It is a symptom of a grievous malady: that of a people who had lost all awareness of their value.

Corruption, too, is the death of all empathy. For as long as I can get what is good for me, what do I care if others die of disease and hunger? We have seen this happen in the time of Covid-19.

No one guilty of corruption will be spared its consequences. And I say this not as judgment but a statement of fact. You cannot poison the water supply without expecting to sooner be thirsty, as one author pointed out so well. It is gangrene and cancer rolled into one massive contagion.

Lest we forget, bribery is the gateway drug to more heinous crimes as government negligence leading to impunity and murder. While it may help provide an escape from poverty or hunger for the time being, what would you do when the addiction sets in?

In the marriage between the promotion of corruption and the commerce of consent, escape is well-nigh futile. To be bought for your consent as well as your silence is to assume the position of merchandize. Paid for and at the mercy of the new owners. Slaves, for want of a better slur.

As in marriage as well as science, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. That being said, you may now kiss the bribe.