Taking small steps to fight big problems

Althea Gonzales
We need to shift the mindset of “it’s always been that way” to “it doesn’t have to be that way,” because we deserve better

I remember the first time I attended an orientation for Bantay.ph, a civil society organization dedicating itself to fight for good governance. I remember sitting inside a seminar room while two twenty-somethings talked about what students like me could do to address the troubling problem of corruption in this country.

They asked the room two questions.

“Do you think the government is corrupt?” Hands from all across the room shot up. No surprise there. 

“Do you think the people are corrupt?” Only two out of the many students present raised their hands, and I was one of them.

Needless to say, I signed up for their volunteer program. Although I was fully aware I had to sacrifice at least 4 weeks’ worth of Fridays (and when you’re a college student you learn to value your days off), I had vowed to do my part in reducing corruption in this country — or at least try to.

Pounding the pavement

In three sessions spanning 3 weeks, my group mates and I visited the Philippine Regulatory Commission (PRC) in Sampaloc, Manila to survey clients availing of the public office’s services and to fill out a checklist of things stipulated in the Anti-Red Tape Act or ARTA. It seemed like a tacit job to do, but it was more than that.

We got to talk to real people who experienced real problems with the system. I’ve personally never availed of any service from the PRC. I’ve only ever heard stories from my relatives. My mom, upon learning of my volunteer work, only had one thing to say to me: “PRC? Palaging masikip ’dun.”

The first time I visited the place for volunteer work, I can’t imagine ever going to PRC to get my license looking at the apparent hassle everyone was seemingly going through.

Waiting in vain

We’d hear of people checking up on their requests for months although documents should take no longer than 10 working days to be processed. We’d come across clients who still believed fixers were of help and what they’re doing is okay. We’d see firsthand the cramped waiting spaces, the confusing queuing system, the employees not wearing their identification cards…yes, we’d even see the comfort rooms under maintenance.

We’d take notice of the good – those who commended PRC for more efficiency in their services, the bad – those who complained of poor ventilation in the area, and the ugly – those who were just short of protesting because of the office’s employees and chairs (or lack thereof).

All of this we scrutinized as per requirements of the ARTA checklist. And all of this we made sure to relay to the proper authorities, all the while questioning ourselves how such facilities would pass when more than half of the requirements weren’t fulfilled.

After a couple of weeks and 3 visits to PRC, I attended what would be my last meeting with Bantay.ph. It was a debriefing session, and we were asked about what transpired and what we learned from our experience.

A volunteer shared her thoughts about the matter. “What we see in the big-scale also happens in the small-scale,” she said. And it was, undeniably, true – we see corruption every day, of limited extent or otherwise. It all boils down to whether or not we actually do anything to eradicate it.

Small things matter

If the big things like plundered money and vote buying matter (and enrage the nation, even), then the little things like uncomfortable waiting areas, impolite government employees and bad frontline services should matter too. Because if we tolerate the corruption prevalent in the small-scale, then we’d have absolutely no problems with tolerating those in the bigger picture as well — even though more lives are at stake and bigger amounts of money could be used for more pressing needs.

And it just grows and grows until another large-scale corruption case surfaces and causes an uproar and the smaller things are left even more untreated and unnoticed.

What we’re fighting is definitely small-scale in comparison to the corruption we see on TV every day – the type that comes in the form of the pork barrel scandal and lack of transparency in other government funds, among others.

But that’s how it all begins. It all boils down to whether or not we do something about it, and Bantay.ph aims for precisely just that – it begins by shifting the mindset of “it’s always been that way” to “it doesn’t have to be that way,” because we deserve better.

We’re very good at criticizing the government for the wrong things we see them doing on evening news, but we fail to realize we’re part of what’s wrong in the system as well. For every single time we see something wrong and pass it off as “usual” because “it’s been that way ever since I could remember,” we contribute to the problem. Perhaps what’s badly needed by this country, in addition to better public service, is better cooperation of the citizens. That’s what I learned from my Citizenship and Governance class — that one can only truly attain the “ideal” if there was direct participation from a nation’s constituents.

Yes, I do believe that corruption can be seen in the people – and that it is rampant among them, even. There is corruption because we let it materialize right before our very eyes. There is corruption when we pay small bribes, when we make use of fixers. There is corruption when we see something wrong in the system and we stop there. The next step to recognizing corruption is to take a stand against it. – Rappler.com 

Althea Gonzales is a student from the De La Salle University and a volunteer for Bantay.ph.

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