Il Papa e io: A politician’s lament

Patricio N. Abinales

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'I swear to God that when the Pope said reject corruption, he was staring at me! What to him is corruption is, to us, simply sharing the wealth with everyone.'

I should have anticipated this! 

The fellow is a Jesuit and, going by what our local Jesuits have been doing, Pope Francis would be pretty much true to form. 

So there we were, trying to look as pious to him as we could. (My wife even brought her 24-karat diamond rosary so Pope Francis could bless it!) And then he reminded us that we must “reject every form of corruption which deprives resources from the poor”! I swear to God that when he said those words – oh, sorry for cursing – he was staring at me! I am damned!

Why are Jesuits always a pain in the butt?

But, wait, I should have insisted on Pope Francis that this “every form of corruption” is a far more complex thing. Sure, sure, I will admit some “excesses” in my way, my family’s way of governing. My eldest son’s company got the DPWH contract to build a “market road” between Talisay and Borbon, even if there is already a road there (but, hey, that was under the rival’s term).

The Asian Development Bank is funding the project, and if those Japanese send in teams to assess the project, no problem – my people can dig up the pavement in 12 hours tops. When the Quawatans built the road, they laid out a very thin layer and pocketed the rest of the funds. De-paving that road will be a walk in the park. We can just roll the thin cement like a ribbon and then do our own paving! 

And true, the wife and her sisters set up a holding company to be the “private sector” partner that would run the collection of fees at the pier. We needed to set up this cooperation with the private sector under then President Gloria Arroyo’s build-and-transfer (BOT) schemes.

Well, there was no one among the local businessmen ready to do business with the local government. So what can I do? The budget was already allotted and the World Bank was running a tight ship. That was an emergency situation; so I turned to the wife’s business as private sector representative!

These projects did benefit the people! Look how beautiful the palengke looks now! So swanky! What, where did the paint come from ‘ka mo? Well… My daughter has a start-up business – building support materials. Again, this was an emergency, remember that! So the city government ordered from her store. And we have the receipts to prove it!

And look at what else I have done to improve the town. We have a new basketball court, the plaza is painted, there is now a McDo franchise (yes, I admit, my youngest son has the franchise).

Next year, I convinced my kumpadres and paisanos from the government party to finance the building of a new auditorium here so we can sponsor the next regional Olympics. What? You want to know where the money will come from to sustain the infrastructure? Let’s cross the Rubicon when we get there, hijo. Worse comes to worst, if funds are tight, we can turn the auditorium into a second palengke. Our Rustan’s to the other old market’s Shoemart. Smart, eh?

So I think the Pope is a tad unfair to those of us politicians who were there to listen to him when he warned about corruption. I steal, but I also get things done! The family gets to improve the residence with some support funds from the pork barrel (hey, the congressman’s and city mayor’s house must look nice for the people to be proud of), but the town is also on its way to modernization!

Someone really has to explain to the Pope that things are always gray in this country; there is no black and white. What is corruption to him and his fellow Jesuits is, to us, simply sharing the wealth with everyone, especially to those who worked the most to generate it (that would be me and my family). 

Maybe I should go see that Bishop K Raquot when I go back home and ask him to convey this to the Pope. They both speak Spanish and Latin, so they can understand each other. I will even pay for the bishop’s plane ticket to Rome if he wants to go there – first class all the way.

But if some of my critics – including you, you nosy journalists – insist that this is corruption, then you will see me first in line for Saturday afternoon confession. I will even bring my wife. I will go confess to Father Duhaypamilya all these shenanigans –  alleged shenanigans to qualify – that I mention here. He will forgive me, maybe make me pray 3 Our Father’s and two Hail Mary’s. I think that would be sufficient. And he can’t penalize me with more and become an ingrate: dammit I paid for his tuition and board at the seminary and even donated a lot to the office of the CBCP that gives priests their assignments.

So I think we have all that covered, ha, bata? I hexed the Jesuit attempt to instill guilt in us. Of course, the wife got the Pope to bless her rosary. He was passing by giving blessings to everyone and she gently shoved off Imelda Marcos, who was also trying to reach out to Pope Francis to have her golden scapular blessed.

Vive il Papa! –

Patricio N. Abinales is professor of Asian Studies at the University of Hawaii-Manoa. In this essay, he is trying his hand at fiction.  



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