By BENJIE OLIVEROS
What is legal may not necessarily be moral.
Morality is about a code of conduct that is considered right and acceptable; it is about ethics; and ethics could be based on religious beliefs or a set of principles that a society or a group of people adheres to. For example, paying low wages may be legal and may also be moral from the point of view of the government and of course, capitalists; but it is immoral for workers and advocates of the worker’s right to a decent wage.
The Aquino-Cojuangco clan may think it is legal for the Tarlac Development Corporation to evict farm workers from the land they have been tilling because it is purportedly not part of the agricultural lands of Hacienda Luisita that the Supreme Court ordered to be distributed. Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio Delos Reyes may even certify to the non-inclusion even if these are choice agricultural lands in the middle of the hacienda. The Aquino-Cojuangco clan may even think that their claim to a portion of the planet, which they did not help create, is moral.
However, advocates of agrarian reform could cite the original loan agreement entered into by Don Jose Cojuangco with the Central Bank of the Philippines (CBP) and the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), which included the whole property under the Tarlac Development Corporation and not only Hacienda Luisita.
Agrarian reform advocates and peasant groups assert that the Cojuangco-Aquino clan should have turned over all of the lands decades ago and they have earned more than enough from the toil of the farm workers. Furthermore, farmers have the right to the land they have been tilling.
Of course the question is, who has more right to the land – the landlord clan of Cojuangco-Aquino who has a tenuous legal claim to a portion of the planet that they did not help create but has been enriched by the toil of farmworkers who made the land productive or the farm workers who have been working on the land for generations while living in abject poverty?
Likewise, the management of Government-Owned and Controlled Corporations (GOCCs), most especially the Social Security System (SSS) and the PhilHealth, may think that it is perfectly legal and moral to award themselves with millions of pesos in performance bonuses. SSS president and CEO Emilio de Quiros justified the bonuses citing their supposed excellent performance last year. The Aquino administration even agreed and defended the bonuses. Malacañang reasoned out that GOCCs are allowed to do so – to attract qualified individuals to work with GOCCS – and that the bonuses, which SSS president and CEO Emilio de Quiros awarded to themselves, were not taken from members’ contributions.
However, workers, minimum wage earners, and rank and file employees, whose SSS and PhilHealth premiums are automatically deducted from their meager income every month and who have to suffer the delays in the payment of claims, do not agree, nay vehemently oppose it, especially since they are now being asked to pay higher premiums to cover the unfunded liability of the SSS in the amount of P1.1 trillion ($25.581 billion) and to prop up PhilHealth funds.
The question is: How could the performance of these agencies, such as the SSS and PhilHealth, be deemed excellent when both will be raising their premiums next year and even the government’s own Commission on Audit pointed to problems in the delivery of services of both agencies? By what standard do we measure the performance of GOCCs in general, and these agencies in particular? There must be something wrong if we measure it by the profits these agencies supposedly earned when they are supposedly performing essential services that the government should be providing. If we measure it by the quality and quantity of services they are able to provide members, then excellent performance would mean efficiency in the processing of claims and being able to increase the benefits of members without having to increase the premiums they pay. If that is the case, then the SSS and PhilHealth failed.
It could be remembered that in his first his state of the nation address, President Aquino lambasted the board of the Manila Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) for granting hefty bonuses for themselves, but defended the same this July, claiming that the agency has been earning, even if consumers suffer from high water rates amid hardly-improved services. Does this mean that it is wrong to do so if it was done by officials appointed by the previous administration, but it is perfectly alright when the same is being done by officials who have been appointed or who have pledged loyalty to the current administration?
It is worth noting that appointments to the board of a GOCC has been a means of government to reward former civilian and military officials who have been loyal to the administration and also those who have helped the ruling party win in the elections.
Is what the Aquino government doing at Hacienda Luisita and what the appointed officials of SSS, PhilHealth and other GOCCs did i.e. granting themselves millions of pesos in bonuses, legal? Probably yes.
Is it moral? From the perspective of the government and those who benefited from these it is, but from the perspective of the people it is not.
Does it constitute corruption? Certainly the Aquino government would not think so especially since it is supposedly legal. Corruption is being defined by Transparency International as “abuse of entrusted power for private gain.” You decide.