The events of the past week have impressed upon me this very basic lesson in life – that you really do reap the consequences of your past actions.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a former president, a sidekick, a bishop, a warlord or an NGO worker. At certain points in our lives, we have to reckon with the good or evil that we have done.
My state of karmic contemplation was triggered by the death last Sunday of my good friend Perry Calara, who succumbed after an eight-month bout with pancreatic cancer. Perry was a good man. He was a mentor of sorts in college, being my editor in the student paper.
Perry was not your usual fire-breathing activist. He was quirky and funny and I think was more at home performing in the theater than in the streets. He was… theatrical. Yes, that’s the word. Always animated in his discussions, whether it be on science, corporate social responsibility, or dialectical materialism.
After college, Perry ventured into community development work, became a high school science teacher, a consultant for various development projects, a columnist/publisher and cyberactivist. His last stint was as executive director of the Syngenta Foundation, where he struggled to rationalize his activism with the fact that he was working for one of the biggest multinational corporations in the world. Ahh, the ironies in life.
Through his various phases in life, Perry kept true to the basic tennets of our activism – serve the people, live a simple life. And so in his death, he had no enemies, no rancor to hold him back. He died resigned to his fate and in peace with himself and his fellow human beings. He’ll probably reincarnate as a small white flower on the foot of the Himalayas, content and happy with the cool wind on his petals.
It was in this state of mind that I joined my colleague Rep. Neri Colmenares on Tuesday in filing graft, malversation and plunder charges against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and former Philippine Charities Sweepstakes Office general manager Rosario Uriarte in relation to P325 million in PCSO funds illegally converted to intelligence funds and eventually malversed.
No doubt Arroyo and Uriarte combined helped more people and probably did more for their country than Perry could ever do even in twice his short lifetime. But what Perry did not do was steal people’s money. No, what Perry did not do was abuse his authority to steal money from the poor, which is what you do when you steal money from a charity institution like the PCSO.
Likewise, unlike some bishops who felt it right to ask and receive sports utility vehicles (SUVs) from the PCSO’s charity funds at a time when Mrs. Arroyo was being hounded by serious legal and moral controvsies, Perry got his mid-range SUV under plan from the company he worked for.
On the same day that we filed the complaint against Arroyo and Uriarte, news broke out about former ARMM Governor Zaldy Ampatuan’s offer to testify against his father and brother on the Maguindanao case. Insisting that he was innocent, he sweetened the pot by offering to give damning information and evidence about the massive cheating that happened in the 2004 and 2007 elections.
During their heydays under the Arroyo regime, the Ampatuans of Maguindanao were like gods – untouchable and wielding the power of life and death over their constituents. Now, they are the most reviled political clan in the country. Despite Zaldy’s attempt to extricate himself from the crime of the century, he will never be believed. He is merely reaping the years that he and his family lorded Maguindanao with impunity.
Make no mistake, the reality is that in the Philippines, the corrupt often reap what they do not sow, even as the public reaps the evil that they have sowed. The bad press they get can be managed, and the lawyers, judges and witnesses intimidated or bought off. Just look at the Marcoses and their cronies.
And so we are thankfull for weeks such as these, when the bad get their just desserts and the good rest in peace.#
*This article came out in my ‘Man in the Mirror’ column in the July 15 issue of Good Morning Philippines newspaper.