Buencamino is a fellow of Action for Economic Reforms. “Fire the Driver” was published in the Business Mirror on November 26, 2008, page A6.

Let’s grant that those who advocate Charter change love their country as much as those who push for impeachment. Both groups believe the country needs reform, but they disagree on the means.

Charter changers, like the communists, blame the system. They say we stand a better chance of getting to where we want to go if we change the form of government. Simply put, we’ll get there faster if we had a better car. Impeachers, on the other hand, believe that not even a Rolls Royce will get you there if you have a monkey at the wheel.

Last Sunday, I read an article by Patricia Evangelista, a columnist for another daily. It was the story of one Raymond Manalo, a suspected communist sympathizer who was abducted, detained, and tortured by the military.

Here are excerpts from his story:

“Sometimes, when the soldiers are drinking, they take you out of your cage and play with you. The game varies, but it is usually the same. Two by fours, chains, an open gardening hose shoved down your nose. You crawl back to your cage, on your hands and knees. You wake up to screaming, to the sound of grown men begging, and you wonder which one it is this time. Sometimes, one of your cellmates will disappear. Sometimes, they don’t come back.

“Then they take you away, and there is a doctor, pills, antibiotics, a bed. They tell you they are taking you home to see your parents. You meet the man they call The Butcher, and he tells you to tell your parents not to join the rallies, to stay away from human rights groups, that they would ruin your life and your brother’s. He tells you, this small man in shorts, that if you can only prove you’re on his side now, he would let you and your brother live. He gives you a box of vitamins, and tells you that they are expensive: P35 per pill.”

Thank God for tender mercies.

But it gets better.

“And in April 2007, you hear a woman begging, and when you are ordered to fix dinner, you see Sherlyn, lying naked on a chair that had fallen on the floor, both wrists and one tied leg propped up. You see them hit her with wooden planks, see her electrocuted, beaten, half-drowned. You see them amuse themselves with her body, poke sticks into her vagina, shove a water hose into her nose and mouth. And you see the soldiers wives’ watch.”

What sort of human being would invite his wife to witness such atrocities; what kind of woman would go and watch her husband dehumanize another woman?

Torture is now entertainment. How will changing the system without replacing the one who called a torturer “my hero” stop human rights abuses? Charter change will be nothing more than putting a different gun
in the hands of monsters.

There is a direct link between human rights abuses and corruption. One flows from the other.  Human rights abuses become rampant when people impoverished by unabated corruption begin to demand reforms. Free speech
is curtailed through intimidation; discontent and dissent are suppressed
through extrajudicial detentions, disappearances, and killings.

Will Charter change put a dent on corruption if the same crooks remain in the driver’s seat?

Corruption is the ugly part of human nature. It can never be totally eliminated, unless you want to eliminate all humans. The most one can hope for is to keep corruption at a minimum. But that does not mean we adopt Romulo Neri’s fatalistic philosophy of “moderating greed.”

Instead, we need to make sure everybody understands that those who steal are guaranteed severe punishment. That’s the only way to raise the cost-benefit ratio of corruption.

Asking crooks to amend the Charter so they can hang on to their position is like buying a new car instead of firing a reckless driver. Let’s change the driver before we even begin to think about tinkering with the car because, more often than not, the problem is with the driver and not the car.

Impeaching Gloria Arroyo is a more effective game changer than changing the system but keeping everyone in place.