Admitting Guilt: A Korean Lesson (2)

An examination of the route that led to former Korean President Roh Taewoo’s public disgrace suggests that the initial investigations did not immediately target him.  Rather they zeroed in on his close associates and members of his Cabinet, who were later convicted.   The trail of illegal transactions in which these associates were involved  led to his doorstep.

That these convictions could be accomplished while Roh Tae-woo still wielded considerable influence is in itself remarkable.  That Roh Tae-woo would later find himself so cornered as to virtually force him into a public confession during the presidency of someone  he had anointed as his successor is incredible.    All this was taking place in a country that is just beginning to rediscover democracy.

In contrast, in democratic Philippines,  a country that dramatically ended the rule of an autocrat by a popular uprising nearly ten years ago,  no member of the family of Ferdinand Marcos nor any associate of his has been sent to prison for involvement in the grand looting for which the Marcos  regime gained global notoriety.  Why?  The answer cannot be because we cannot find sufficient evidence to convict him or his cronies.

In 1992, 2 Japanese scholars, Mamoru Tsuda and Masaki Yokoyama, compiled 5 sets of documents detailing the corruption that attended the administration of Japanese ODA (Official Development Assistance) in the Philippines during the Martial Law.  That work was published in Japan with the title: “Japan, Inc. in Asia — A Documentation of its operations through the Philippine polity.”

The most explosive materials in that anthology of Philippine-Japanese corruption are: (1) the Marcos Honolulu Papers, documents seized by the Honolulu Customs from the Marcoses when they landed in Hawaii in 1986 and which were turned over to the US State Department; (2) the Oscar L. Rodriguez Papers, papers obtained by visiting Japanese parliamentarians in March 1986 from former Deputy Minister Oscar L. Rodriguez who served as Implementing Officer of the RP-Japan Project Loan Assistance Program; and (3) the Baltazar A. Aquino Papers, “perpetuation of testimony” of  former Secretary and Public Highways Minister Baltazar A. Aquino, who admitted receiving kickbacks from Japanese firms in Marcos’s behalf and depositing these in numbered Swiss accounts held by  Marcos.

I am aware that several cases based on some of these documents have been filed and are pending before the Sandiganbayan.  What I find distressing is that none of these “ill-gotten wealth” cases has been successfully concluded after nearly ten years.  Except for one — not even the most important — which led to the conviction of Mrs. Marcos for irregular disbursements at the PGH Foundation.  That case is still on appeal.

The peasant leader, Jaime Tadeo, was hounded by President Aquino’s officials until they could put him away in Muntinlupa on a dubious estafa case.  Yet they could not nail down even one big crony for the grand theft committed against the Filipino people.

Was an entire nation wrong in judging the Marcos regime to be corrupt? Whatever it is, our seeming indifference to past iniquities and our penchant for quiet settlements prevent us from occupying any moral ground from which to pursue the new crop of thieves under every new administration.

Take the issue of the “behest” loans.  Private companies, mostly owned by cronies, obtained behest loans under Marcos and were subsequently foreclosed by the Development Bank of the Philippines  and the Philippine National Bank for non-payment  of debts.  In 1987, more than 400 of these assets, together with their liabilities, were transferred to the Asset Privatization Trust for disposition.  Their stated value was P98 billion.  The APT has realized P38 billion from the settlement and sale of these assets and expects P12 billion more from the remaining 59 corporations, for a total of P50 billion.  Their obligations, however, amount to P140 billion, for a clear loss of at least P90 billion.  Through their taxes, the Filipino people continue to pay for these originally private obligations.

I suspect that most of those who took power after Marcos failed to pursue the cases against his regime because they were intimidated by their complexity or were afraid of opening an entire Pandora’s box that could incriminate nearly everybody in government and the business community, a possibility that incidentally now threatens the serenity of Korea’s business conglomerates and President Kim Young-sam himself.

For a variety of reasons,  the post-Marcos governments seemed content to seize some  crony properties through sequestration and use these for their own purposes while the status of these assets awaited resolution.  I cannot think of any other reason why these cases have not been resolutely pursued by government.

Alternative explanations must  point out the cynicism and plain opportunism of the lawyers who are hired to get these elite criminals off the hook or to permanently delay their trial until time shall have sufficiently blunted the public’s anger and blurred the collective memory of their crimes.  Equal blame must be laid at the door of the courts that have allowed these cases to languish in limbo.

I can think of only one antidote to this chronic amnesia about corruption: an urgent crusade for morality in public office, a crusade led by credible and unblemished persons,  staffed by the best lawyers and researchers,  endorsed by the most patriotic of our elders, and moved by angry young Filipinos who care for the future.  I believe this is what South Korea has today.   It is what drove the once invincible Roh Tae-woo to bow his head in shame  before the nation he betrayed and to ask for its forgiveness.  It is what we need.


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