I'll start with the president!

Last July 3, I had my J-1 visa interview for my Hubert Humphrey-Fulbright Fellowship Program. I arrived at the US Embassy just past 6 AM, medyo marami na ring tao, at iilang mga fixers sa labas! Madali lang, kahit sa entrance. One can easily notice that Fulbrighters are given special assistance. The Embassy staff were already alerted of our names and appointment. I got into the pre-screening at the pavilion, no sweat likewise. The officer by the window checked all my documents, and facilitated my next steps. Good there was no problem with my DS 2019, 156, 157 and 158 though I prepared several photocopies to be sure. Then I got to Window 12 (non-immigrant section), no sweat. The officer was very courteous. Sans the waiting and queuing, I finished all my preliminary transactions in just about 10-15 minutes. Then I was asked to just sit and wait. Mas matagal pa ang antayan; matagal dumating ang staff assigned for finger scanning. Matagal din dumating ang interviewer. My call time was supposed to be 7:30 AM. Before 7, I finished all my preliminaries, had my fingers scanned by about 8:30, asked to wait again, and had my interview just past 9 AM, and left the Embassy just before 9:30 AM. Not bad!

My name was called at Window 11, the consular officer was an American lady I met during our Fulbright fellowship dinner. The interview went fine. We had the usual queries about my purpose in going to the US, where I will be assigned, what I will study, etc etc. Then the consul asked me what I'm doing here in the Philippines, and when she learned that I'm into anticorruption work, she interestingly asked so many questions about corruption in the country. She asked about the Ehem program of the Jesuits, and likewise inquired about the Ehem sensitivity seminars.

So the interview became a discussion on the issue of corruption. She also shared her experience about her son's recent visit in the Philippines, and the son commented on why there's so much corruption in the country and why people ask money in his transactions (maybe referring to rent-seeking and lagayan). Maybe in exasperation, she asked how and where do we start curbing corruption in the country, whew!

So politely and profoundly, I responded by saying that there's a lot to do in the area of systems reforms, of course we need to continue working on people's values and ethics, the need to reform the elections and the judiciary, review the power of political appointments, enhance monitoring and oversight functions, increase transparency in ODA spending (foreign-funded projects), the need to depoliticize the police and the military, work on the education curriculum, seriously implement antigraft laws, involve more the civil society organizations, and the need to get good people elected into office, etc, etc, etc.

But there are so many of these initiatives, where should we start?, the consul pressed. I said maybe all this boils down to political will. How is that? How do we begin on that? Maybe we need to get our government officials to behave! But who will do that? How will that be brought to happen? I was compelled to really reflect. After some pause, I declared that maybe I'll start with the president of the Philippines!

That struck me, but yes I'll start with the president, whoever the person is!

I believe the presidency is the first step in curbing corruption in the country! With the vast powers and influence bestowed upon the presidency, the president can create big ripples and waves that will percolate down the line in the entire bureaucracy! Imagine, a Philippine president can appoint people to about 10,000 positions in the government! Imagine the extent of influence exerted by the president over Congress. One can even imagine the influence peddled by family members and friends who are close to the president. This could be Machiavellian pragmatism, but Niccolo Machiaveli was correct: "what are we in power for?"

The upcoming 2010 elections is a critical crossroad for the Philippines! The newly elected president will chart the future of the country, and set the directions of many lives and institutions of the land. If the new president really wants it, we will be able to effectively curb corruption in the Philippines. Ashleigh Brilliant was very categorical: "we either want less corruption or more chance to participate in it!"

I pose this to the incumbent, and to all the presidents past and future!

It is all about leadership! It is all about ascendancy!
It is all about sincerity! It is all about credibility!
It is all about being a role-model for the citizens of this country!

Yes, I will start with the president!
(photo courtesy of Inquirer.net)