Our leaders’ bid for redemption

Yoly Villanueva-Ong
We have yet to see the day when our erring leaders learn to accept responsibility for their crimes

“It would be hypocritical of me to say that I was not motivated by commissions from Mrs Napoles. I was. The mistake was grave and selfish. The decision haunts me with regret. My conscience can no longer take it.” 

These were the regretful words of Ruby Tuason in her opening statement before the Senate. Is she truly a repentant whistleblower who decided to testify for the sake of her grandchildren? Or is she a decoy sent by yet unknown entities to trick or trip the case against the alleged PDAF scammers?

Only time will tell.

But Senator Jinggoy Estrada’s shrill riposte, in stark contrast to former Senate President Enrile’s steely silence – reeked of genuine apprehension that the noose is indeed tightening. 

Thanks to Ruby Tuason, the investigation has crossed the Rubicon.

Even Vice President Jejomar Binay momentarily lost his aspirant-president-cool when he jumped into the fray. Contradicting Secretary Leila de Lima’s enthusiastic appraisal of Tuason’s testimony as “slam dunk” evidence, he dismissed it as a dud inadvertently showing which side he’s on. His spokesperson attempted to repair the Freudian slip, vowing unwavering support of Aquino’s good governance reform.

But by now, it sounds like Binay is talking from both sides of his mouth.

Sadly, corruption is endemic not only in the Philippines. The main difference is how swiftly retribution comes in other countries even for past crimes. Leaders who have succumbed to venality could form a seedy global fraternity:

  • Former French President Jacques Chirac was handed a two-year suspended prison sentence in December 2011, for diverting public funds and abusing public trust when he was the mayor of Paris.
  • Former Communist Party boss, Bo Xilai, son of one of China’s Eight Immortals, was found guilty of all charges of corruption, taking bribes and abuse of power. He was sentenced to life in prison last September 2013.
  • South Korean Ex-President Chun Doo-hwan and his successor Roh Tae Woo were both convicted in August 1996 of bribery and having masterminded a “creeping coup” in 1979, that began with an army mutiny and ended with the massacre of hundreds of demonstrators in Kwangju. Chun’s sentence was eventually reduced from death to life-in-prison, and Roh’s from 22 1/2 to 17 years.
  • Taiwan’s former President, Chen Shui-bian, 62, is serving a 20-year prison term from a 2009 corruption conviction. In June 2013, he attempted suicide. 
  • In October 2009, Former Costa Rican President Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier (1990-94) was sentenced to 5 years for corruption. He was arrested in October 2004 for accepting an illegal commission from the purchase of medical equipment from Finland. 
  •  Former Paraguay President Juan Carlos Wasmosy (1993-98) was found guilty of corruption, betrayal of public trust and causing harm to the state patrimony. He was sentenced to 4 years in prison in April 2002.  
  • Former Mongolian President Nambar Enkhbayar was arrested in April 2012 in a dawn raid broadcast live on national television. Four months later he was sentenced to 4 years (reduced from 7) for misappropriating gifts intended for a monastery, illegally privatizing a hotel and other corruption charges. 

Genuine remorse

But among the damned, some have the courage to admit their guilt, show genuine remorse and ask for forgiveness. Even if crime is rarely excusable and never acceptable – an apology is always forgivable. 

On April 8, 1994, Morihiro Hosokawa became the 4th Prime Minister of Japan to step down due to charges that he received a $952,000 illegal payment from a gangster-tainted parcel-delivery firm. Hosokawa admitted to the questionable transaction as “something for which I must take moral responsibility. I apologize and ask for your understanding.”

Although he was never personally implicated, former South Korea President Lee Myung-bak went on national TV in July 2012 and apologized for a string of corruption issues involving his elder brother and two former aides. “The more I think about it, the more it crushes my heart. But whom can I blame now? It’s all because of my negligence. I bow before the people in apology.”

Before his term ended in 2012, Hong Kong’s leader Donald Tsang was involved in corruption scandals that embarrassed China and led to a probe by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). The arrest of close ally and former chief secretary Rafael Hui, and the 3 billionaire tycoon Kwok brothers of Sun Hung Kai were among the high profile cases investigated for bribery and misconduct. 

“Because of my personal mishandling of matters, in shaking public confidence in Hong Kong’s (civil service) to be incorrupt and honest in performing one’s duties, and in causing disappointment towards civil servants, I once again wholeheartedly apologize to everyone,” Tsang told reporters.

“Sorry” that comes from the heart should be accompanied by deep transformation. We have yet to see this happen in our history. We had a former dictator who never admitted his horrendous crimes; a former president who did say, “I am sorry” then downplayed her misdeed as a mere lapse of judgment; and a convicted ex-President who wants to apologize…to Hong Kong! 

Until the day our erring leaders learn to accept responsibility for their crimes against the nation, let us follow John F. Kennedy’s advice: “Forgive your enemies but never forget their names.” – Rappler.com




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