Written by my IPD Co-worker, Aya Fabros in a jarringly eloquent flurry of angst

The past couple of weeks, we’ve been bombarded with news of one government
scandal after another. From the ZTE-NBN deal and golf meeting offers to
the impeachment vote bribes, to the Malacanang brown paper pabaons, this
unfolding series brings together a cast from various government units, as
it bares exchanges among powerful players including appointed and elected
officials. It’s not just the scale of corruption and the amount of bribes
and kickbacks that make the cases shocking and explosive. It’s also the
way that the cases are insidiously interconnected, rather than separate,
isolated incidents. We bear witness to a trail of kickbacks and bribes,
one deal spawning, requiring, demanding yet another, underscoring the
critical engine that actually drives this government: grease money.

The ZTE-NBN project alone demonstrates the kind of grease going around
these days. If we go by Joey De Venecia’s statement, the project was
overpriced 100%, with at least $160 million dollars alloted for the
pockets of Mike ‘Mystery Man’ Arroyo and other related ‘items’ such as pay
offs and bribes to competing firms (Amsterdam Holdings, 10 million
dollars), possible collaborators (NEDA chief Romulo Neri was offered 200
million pesos), and close cohorts (COMELEC Commissioner Abalos, ? ) The
Chinese government provides a soft loan to cover the bloated cost of the
project, under the condition that a Chinese firm bags the deal. ZTE gets
the broadband project, Mystery man and Co anticipates its cut, Comelec
Commissioner goes around offering bribes to swing officials in favor of
ZTE, a competing firm proposing a BOT scheme is told to ‘back off’ and we
almost end up with yet another anomalous debt.

The dimensions of this sort of plunder is so incomprehensible, it has to
be spelled out. We’re talking about officials incurring loans, with our
names on it, that only serves to fatten their bank accounts. We’re talking
about $ 160 million dollars worth of grease that adds to our national
debt, which we end up paying for, with our taxes. The three percent
interest on the grease alone translates to an added burden of
approximately $ 4.8 million dollars. That’s an added P 211 million pesos
worth of interest payments, that we have to shoulder each year, thanks to
their kick backs and cuts. We’re talking about the way, our government
officials, their friends and families, can just easily cook up such a
scam, at our expense. It’s an unbelievably shameless and incorrigible
scheme that they expected to carry out right before our noses. That is,
until Joey de Venecia exposed the whole scam, which led to a senate
inquiry and headline after headline that links the president’s family to
our generation’s Bataan Nuclear Power Plant. GMA retreats and the ZTE-NBN
deal is scrapped. But then again, it doesn’t end there.

The $ 329 ZTE-NBN scam generated enough dirt for the president to get
impeached, analysts say. The impeachment buzz over the ZTE-NBN scandal
begets new cases of bribery and pay offs to insulate the president. Listen
to the reports and you’ll find an exaggerated version of the gameshow
‘Deal or No Deal. Those who go ‘deal’, get as little as P 200,000 to as
much as $ 10 million dollars. Before ZTE spilled over to Congress, Joey de
Venecia was being offered $ 10 million dollars by Abalos, just so he would
‘back off’ the project. Former NEDA Chief Romulo Neri would’ve gotten P
200 million, had he accepted Abalos’ proposition. Representatives in the
house were offered P 2 million pesos, according to Represenative Beltran,
to favor the ‘weak’ impeachment. Governors and Mayors, according to Gov.
Ed Panlilio, got loot bags containing P 200,000 to P 500,000 after their
breakfast meeting in Malacanang. It’s these ‘deals’ that seem to link the
different government agencies and institutions, from COMELEC to NEDA to
CONGRESS to MALACANANG down to the different LGUs of the archipelago.
Rather than set up a broadband network that would ensure the smooth
coordination of government offices, this whole National Broadband Network
episode brought to light an existing ‘ bribeband network’ that facilitates
the sinister collusion of government officials.

Of course, grease money isn’t just about who gets how much. It’s about
projects being bloated to accommodate the kind of grease that has to go
around. It’s about loans we have to make to finance the grease projects.
It’s about anomalous debts that taxpayers have to pay. It’s about Comelec
commissioners suddenly becoming jetsetters, spreading the word about a
project that promises to link up the different agencies of government,
dangling millions of pesos for possible ‘interagency collaboration’. It’s
about impeachment cases being resolved in Malacanang and not in the halls
of Congress. It’s about our representatives being bought. It’s about cash
being spread around to keep the whole thing together.

In every sense of the term, SOP, the euphemism for cuts, kickbacks and
payoffs, has become standard operating procedure, spearheaded by the
highest officials of the land. Standard operating procedure describes the
way millions can be offered and taken so casually and so frequently. It
portrays the manner that this perverse protocol has become so ubiquitous
and pervasive. It explains how easily certain officials can turn their
backs, invoke executive privilege and move along, just because they didn’t
take the money. It captures how other officials can promptly rationalize
their acts, even if they did take the money. It accounts for elected
officials just going public about how these gifts are actually ‘common
practice’. It depicts the way a president can get away with just saying
“huwag mong tanggapin”. It tells us why we can just shake off the news,
and ignore the fact that this whole fiasco started escalating around the
same time the budget hearings have been taking place in Congress.

Think about it. On the one hand, long grueling debates on how to make ends
meet, extensive discussions on how much money should go to which agency,
how little is left to health, education and other social services. On the
other hand, quick, casual meetings, with hundreds of millions of pesos up
for grabs in just one encounter, where half a million can easily be handed
out, to hundreds of officials– no vouchers, no line items, no questions
asked. Now, what’s wrong with this picture?

What we are seeing now tells us that grease money does not only
‘facilitate’ transactions (‘pampadulas’). It characterizes how state
institutions relate with each other. It determines which policies,
projects and programs are thought of, initiated and carried out. It
dictates the sort of loans and deals we get into. It defines the way this
government operates. Forget about sound governance and a strong republic,
this is how things are run under the Grease Money Administration. The
thing is, as SOPs have gone higher and higher, our standards of governance
have sunk lower and lower.