The natural tendency of a private citizen-taxpayer is to hate everything that is corrupt, from red tape to malversations of public fund; or simply put, blatant corruption in government offices/agencies.
In a speech delivered by President Noy during the recently concluded ADB Summit, he emphasized that corruption, which flourished under GMA’s regime, is over. The positive macro-economic indicators, which are manifesting in the last 22 months are fruits of good governance. Many threw negative criticisms after a copy of the same (speech) was published in a popular broadsheet last week.
I am one who is fully supportive of good governance, but sadly, there is still corruption. It will continue – as long as we tolerate it. Expressing harsh criticisms is one thing, but supporting an act of corruption is another.
I experienced one of the blatant forms of graft and corruption when I arrived at NAIA Terminal 1 last week. It was my worst day in an airport – and it happened right here, on Philippine soil.
I arrived from Paris via CX. I was carrying a two-piece luggage. The customs official asked whether it is true that LV bags are cheaper in Paris. I did not comment. The official, became officials <– ‘s’, in plural form. They held my passport and asked me to open my luggage. They saw 3 LV bags neatly arranged, and they asked me whether I would pay the tax. They saw several Longchamp bags, but they did not mind; all eyes were on the LV bags. There was an opportunity to bribe, but I told them to compute for the tax, instead. They asked me a couple of questions about the bags. I bought 2 of those 3 bags for friends. I couldn’t let them confiscate the bags.
I did not have enough peso bills in my wallet. So they held my passport + luggage, and an officer escorted me to the nearest ATM booth. He was asking why I look so sad – 20 hours in transit + 5-digit tax to pay. I told him bluntly, ‘pakiramdam ko na-hold up ako’ (I felt like being mugged). I was worried about the bags, and what people could possibly insert into those bags. With all the ‘drug frame-up stories’ I heard, at that instance, I was paranoid. I even forgot to call up my lawyer. I can be feisty, or bitchy, but at that point, I was being extra-mindful of my words and actions.
I paid the tax. They issued me an Official Receipt (OR) for the payment. Some people were telling me, I should have ‘given’ the officials 100USD / 100EUROS, instead. I had USD notes that time (but no more Peso and Euros), but still, I won’t tolerate corruption. Period.
I did not feel bad about paying taxes; but what I totally resent is how the officials handled the situation. I was held like a big-time ‘tax evader’, because I was a solo traveler who came home from Europe. They asked me about the trip as I was just out there burning Euros. I felt harassed, like being held up by a mob. They were talking about LV as if it was the biggest luxury item in town…pardon me for the tone of these comments, I’m simply invoking the Bill of Rights.
After I got the OR, I thought the ordeal was over. As I was walking towards the exit door, I was interrupted by another customs official, who was holding a telecom radio. He confirmed whether I was the one carrying 3 LV bags in my luggage. He wanted to see the bags…I was appalled. “How many times do you need to open my luggage??? Can’t you see??? I have an OR already! I paid the tax! What else do you want from me?!” He muttered, “I’m just asking.” I really felt mugged.
If this ‘bribe-or-tip-situation’ is the norm at our international air(port) terminals, then how could we ‘BS’ (ah, help?) the Bureau of Customs to put their act together when we, ourselves, are supporting graft and corruption? I don’t get it.
Another lesson learned: On my way home, I called up my lawyer. She told me, those customs officials were not supposed to search my luggage. Should they inspect my luggage, it has to be in plain view only; no thorough searching, unless, I’m a perceived threat to national security.
The fight for corruption is not only for the government to take up. It is a gargantuan task to flush out cancer, that is corruption. Do we need to bribe traffic enforcers? Do we really need to go through fixers when transacting with government agencies? Is it required to give at least 2USD to airport officials as tip, or what they call ‘pang-kape lang po , sir/ma’am’? (Try NAIA Terminal 2, inbound flights from the US). Would you ever attempt to beat the traffic red light if you are in a progressive country? Would you ever break the 70-75mph speed limit in a US freeway? We know the correct answer, for sure.