Fighting corruption: Who are the greater fools?
MANILA, Philippines – In the quaint Goesan County of South Korea not very long ago, I stood in front of over 80 young volunteers from more than 30 countries, and I told them that where I come from, volunteers can fight corruption.
After my presentation, a delegate from Cambodia stood and asked me how something as benign as volunteerism can fight something as evil as corruption.
It was both a perfect and painful question.
It was perfect because I work for Bantay.ph, an organization that runs volunteer programs in universities so that college students (some of them haven’t even been inside a government office/don’t even know what illegal fixers are) can experience going to government offices to monitor if their frontline services comply with the standards of the law.
While this exposes them to the reality of poor government service, endless lines, and non-existent facilities, it also allows them to discover unsung heroes in government like the security guard who accommodates clients when they have questions, and doesn’t just brush them off.
But it was also painful because I had to explain the problem of corruption in the Philippines – how we are practically powerless about corruption in the highest ranks, and despite that, there are many organizations that try to fight it from the bottom up.
They send volunteers to monitor if books reach the students who need them, if medicines reach the sick, and if cash transfers reach the families who survive on them.
Bantay.ph monitors whether people can get their licenses, certificates, and permits without having to pay bribes.
Sure, I was able to answer his question, but was that enough? No way.
Is it worth a fight?
There I was, telling my co-delegates about my job working for an NGO that promotes good governance, but at the back of my mind, I was asking myself if my work still made sense.
Why still fight corruption from the bottom when clearly, the people on top get away with stealing taxpayers’ money?
As it is, it is already difficult to convince people to support our NGO’s cause.
We’ve been told that fighting corruption just isn’t sexy enough.
That trying to “change” the culture of corruption by educating citizens and engaging them in monitoring government services just won’t churn out the numbers that will entice funding agencies to support us financially.
A year and a half into doing this, I still don’t know the answers. All I know was that I can’t stop the work I’m doing because that’s exactly what these corrupt politicians want people like me to feel.
They want us to feel so powerless that we’ll just stop fighting.
Clearly, they have the gall to steal from us, and it will be extremely difficult to get rid of them. But let’s make it equally difficult for them to steal.
They have to know that we’re watching, that just because we can’t directly solve big-time corruption doesn’t mean we’ll just sit on our asses and do nothing (or maybe whine on Facebook and Twitter).
I started working for Bantay.ph because I bought the idea of changing the culture of corruption by empowering volunteers to monitor our government, and by educating people that every lagay/kotong (bribe) we pay makes us no different from the corrupt politicians we hate.
I bought this “foolish” idea, no matter how cliché, that starting from the bottom can change this disgusting culture that’s been destroying us for so long.
I don’t know if there will ever be an end to the Napoles issue. I don’t know if anyone will be convicted, if anyone will do this whole country a favor by resigning (because we deserve that much after they stole our money).
Some days, I don’t know whom or what to believe anymore, but every day, I still go to work – encouraging volunteers, talking to students and strangers about good governance, convincing them (and myself) to not lose faith in the Philippines.
Why? Because I am the greater fool, and I’d rather be a greater fool than nothing. – Rappler.com
Angel Bombarda is a project coordinator at Bantay.ph. If you are also the greater fool and would like to volunteer for Bantay.ph, you can sign up on their website.