SOCIAL JUSTICE AND CORRUPTION–STRANGE BEDFELLOWS

Lately, a survey of international businessmen again voted the Philippines as one of the more corrupt and graft-ridden countries in the world. I have often wondered why that is so. Historically, they say that the padrino system of Philippine politics has something to do with it. In fact, when the Americans started their occupation of the Philippines at the turn of the last century, one of the rights not extended to the colonial Filipino was the right to be tried by a jury of his peers. The other right was the right to bear arms. One could understand the latter because of the exigencies of war. But the other was never explained officially, although rumors have it that the Americans thought the early Filipinos were so tightly knit as families that it was impossible to get a fair trial anywhere in the Philippines. The argument was any jury selection would invariably include a relative of either the complainant or the accused who would then be easily swayed if not bribed to look the other way. Instead, they entrusted the judicial tasks to individual judges. Is the judiciary better off now because of this historical and legal experiment??? Did the experiment bestow too much power on one person to decide the fate of a case on his own , and thus possibly breed the tentacles of corruption that we know now. Of course, corruption is not perceived only in the judiciary but in all levels of government. But parallels can be made with the creation of the first Philippine Commission by the Americans instead of a popularly elected Congress in 1901 because they thought most Filipinos were not yet ready to decide for themselves who should rule the country. Unwittingly, this created the first cronies of Philippine politics since it concentrated power on a group of influential and very regionalistic politicians. This literally put graft and corruption Philippine style well on its way.

I think it was the late Ramon Magsaysay who said that those who have less in life should have more in law. A clever play on words which has been fodder for social justice decisions of the Philippine Supreme Court and pro people legislations of the Philippine Congress. Ironically, however, it is this writer’s belief that social justice or at least the Filipino’s perception of it, is actually the root of corruption in government, especially in the judiciary and quasi-judicial agencies. Take, for example, our labor tribunals, by the Constitution and by existing legislation, all things considered equal they are mandated to rule in favor of the employee because of social justice. There, immediately, the playing field is not leveled and this reality is not lost to the businessman who sees corruption as the only pragmatic recourse to keep the legal footing in equilibrium. Wouldn’t it be a better policy to judge each case on the pure merits without invoking social justice, lest we do a social injustice in the long run?

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