Miriam Defensor Santiago,
who was given the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service for “bold and moral leadership in cleaning up a graft-ridden government agency”
31 August 1988
I accept this award on behalf of the officials and employees of the Commission on Immigration and Deportation of the Philippines.
When I assumed my position as commissioner in January 1988 the office did not enjoy an unsullied reputation. In fact, it was regarded as one of the most notoriously corrupt agencies in the Philippine government. For a former judge and law professor like myself to accept the post was tantamount to a death wish. But I decided that it was my moral duty to brave the perils of bureaucratic darkness. It was a way of paying my dues to society—for it has been kind to those who like me, rose from the ranks of genteel poverty.
The twin dragons that guarded the door to bureaucratic integrity were corruption and criminality. These two cultures interfaced with and supported each other. Corrupt employees protected alien criminals, who in turn cultivated in the employees a fatal attraction to illicit incomes and flamboyant lifestyles. We set out to slay the double-headed monster.
We arrested and deported members of alien criminal syndicates, with particular attention to those who were busy earning for Manila the reputation of the fake passport capital of Asia. Also high in the order of battle were syndicates specializing in moral damage to Philippine culture, i.e., those engaged in the rape of our people through illegally procuring infants for adoption in Europe, maintaining child prostitution communities for alien pederasts, and procuring “mail-order-brides” and “entertainers” for prostitution abroad. We did not win the friendship of our enemies but, I hope, we earned their fear and respect.
At the same time, we tried to clean up our own backyard, which was infested with “fixers”. The fixer invents or exaggerates a bureaucratic problem so that he can fix it for a fee. He can be either a government employee or a private person who operates as the adjunct of a corrupt employee. The fixer, like a poisonous mushroom, proliferates in an environment of neglect; therefore, we designed an environment to make the fixer obsolete.
To eliminate the role of the fixer as a democratic panacea, we are making basic information available to our constituents through published booklets of instruction, which now include the Immigration Manual Legalization Rules and Regulations, Deportation Rules of Procedure, and, before the end of this year, Immigration Law. To eliminate the fixer’s role as an agent of speed in a milieu of delay, we opened the Express Lane Service, which enables the alien to obtain his documentation on the same working day that he files his application, if he pays a small overtime fee. The overtime fees are accumulated in a trust fund and distributed monthly to employees on top of their salaries. By such means we may not have converted immigration employees to virtue overnight, but I hope we have helped them to see the light.
Have we slain the twin monsters of corruption and criminality? Not yet. Then what have we achieved? Three things:
First, we have sent a signal to the alien criminal community that the Philippine government means to operate under an impersonal system of laws, not a personalistic system of bribery and unethical influence. The Philippines is a developing state struggling with the problem of poverty, but the necessity for “financial aid” ends where foreign exploitation begins.
Second, we have upheld the retention factor in the Philippine bureaucracy. Rather than resorting to the arbitrary mass removal of allegedly corrupt employees, we chose the more difficult path of reorientation concurrently implementing values education and financial amelioration. We seek to energize the bureaucracy by its own moral and political will. We aim to develop a power base, consisting of the best, rather than the worst, in the Filipino character.
Third, and finally, we proved to our constituency that we can effect turnaround in the culture of corruption. The race is worth running, the conflict is worth fighting; this is the good fight. President Corazon C. Aquino, with her shining virtues of impregnable honesty and faithful resolve, deserves the support of all men and women of goodwill. The Filipino people deserve good government.
Once, in my third week in office, I went home at midnight. I tiptoed to the bedroom of my two sons, one of whom is six years old. I had not talked to them for three straight days because I was focused on the most insurmountable problems in the office. I attempted to wake up my boys so that I could at least perform the maternal function of wishing them good night and sweet dreams. But they were snug in their beds, and I failed to wake them. It was then, in the midnight darkness, deeply anxious about the physical safety of my children because of the death threats against me, that I broke down and wept. I felt exhausted beyond human endurance. I felt abandoned in a savaged jungle of iniquity and malice. I confronted that naked face of evil, and although I did not yield, I am not unscarred.
And yet, ladies and gentlemen, I retained my basic faith that I am not alone. This award proves it. The campaign against corruption and criminality is not mine alone; it is carried forward by the Commission on Immigration and Deportation employees, by President Aquino, and by the Filipino people. By the grace of God, and with the help of old friends in the international community, we shall, at the end of the long and tortuous road, claim our just victory, for surely the Infinite Administrator, even now, arranges the universe, in order that immutable good shall triumph over the invincible forces of evil.