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Tale of the mysterious phone pal

Herbie Gomez .

I COULDN’T agree more with those who paraphrase the gem of an adage that evil triumphs when good men do nothing. The popular quote has been attributed to 18th century Irish politician and thinker Edmund Burke, regarded as the philosophical founder of modern conservatism, although none of his writings show that he ever stated such in so succinct a manner. The exact quote attributed to him is, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” which those who have studied his body of work surmise is a paraphrase and adaptation of a passage in Burke’s Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents which reads: “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”

Such is a motherhood statement, the type of which was designed not to catch the ire of listeners or readers be they capitalists or communists, rich or poor, regardless of tradition or culture and religious or irreligious persuasions anywhere in the civilized world. It is such a feel-good platitude that politicians, including traditional politicians as Filipinos know most of them to be, quote it, knowing that it would not be greeted with disagreement like the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Who would disagree with that? That explains why the cliché has been used — and abused — over and over again even by the most notorious of politicians and orators. In the process, it has somehow lost its meaning.

Yet there is something in its usage, especially by Filipino politicians, that has never ceased in giving me goosebumps in that it presupposes that the one who quotes it in order to amplify his call to action is a good man — yes, a good man admonishing other good men not to be indifferent and to join him in his cause. Always, from where I am sitting, the Burke quote user pays a price of ill-concealed laughter because I can see through the veiled boast and self-indulgence.

And so, I will ask the columnist who has been redundantly using this quote to lead by example and demonstrate to his readers what a good man with firsthand knowledge can do by identifying the influential peddler from Manila who called him up with an inappropriate or indecent proposal for the governor of Misamis Oriental when Erap Estrada was the President.

In his Saturday column, Ben Contreras stated (and I quote word for word): “For example, during the time of Erap, somebody called me from Manila if I know the governor of Misamis Oriental. I said, ‘Yes, what about it?’ Then he said, ‘I know somebody from COA who could fix his problem for P25 million.’”

From Ben’s firsthand account, readers are told with certainty about two corrupt people: Somebody No. 1 and Somebody No. 2. There is another, a politician who is presumed to be corrupt, too, but the extent of his participation is unclear. We know, based on Ben’s account, that Somebody No. 2 is from the COA or Commission on Audit. Somebody No. 1 is no less than the caller who had an offer to broker a P25-million quick fix to the governor of Misamis Oriental during the administration of Estrada.

Now, given the appearance of Ben’s sincerity and passion as an anti-corruption crusader, he owes it to those who read his opinion column to identify the corrupt broker with an indecent proposal, and the corrupt COA insider as well if the columnist happens to know the name.

By the very standards he has been imposing on his readers and his admonition to the public that “evil triumphs when good men do nothing,” Ben now has a moral duty to unmask the corrupt based on his firsthand information. While the information of a proposition to commit corruption is hearsay to the readers in that none of them participated in the phone discussion, it has been directly revealed to Ben and therefore, it is not hearsay to him. In this particular matter, Ben is the authority because he is the recipient of the revelation via the human invention we call phone.

It is possible that Ben is not in the position to identify the corrupt COA insider because the corrupt caller did not name that person. His information, too, about the availability and capability of Somebody No. 2 to commit corruption is secondhand information. But, big chances are, Ben knows and can identify the influential peddler, in this case, Somebody No. 1, because that corrupt “somebody” actually called him up if we are to believe the columnist’s firsthand account. But if the caller is unknown to Ben (which is very unlikely), then the tale of the phone call is not credible or likely spurious because anybody, including political rivals and those with an ax to grind for reasons that they did not get what they wanted, can troll and then hide.

I believe (although I must concede that my belief is proof of nothing) that Ben is a responsible columnist who will never use information from an untrustworthy caller who cannot be identified. And because my guess is that Ben is a trustworthy, responsible and, I believe, a very credible columnist, it would then be logical for me to surmise that he is familiar with or knows the caller. That caller is clearly a corrupt person who neither deserves to be a friend nor a phone pal of somebody I believe to be a decent, no-nonsense, morally superior and dynamic anti-corruption crusader like Ben because birds of the same feather do not normally flock together.

The other possibility is that the corrupt caller with an indecent proposal is fictitious. But “fictitious” means the account about the phone call is a complete lie and therefore, a disservice to the reading public as it is plain and simple deception, or misinformation that is deliberately disseminated. Only rascals find rumors useful in opinion-making and argumentations, and Ben, I believe, is far from being a rumormonger or a person given to gossiping. I have yet to hear of a lawyer, even the craziest of them all, tell a judge that his entire case is founded on a mere rumor. If he did, the lawyer would probably be badmouthed or cited in contempt of court for wasting everyone’s time and for turning the courtroom into a circus, or worse, disbarred for being an ignoramus.

And so, let me rule out the second possibility that the character of the phone caller is fictitious. For the benefit of Ben who I really, really like and want to continue trusting, let us just suppose that the corrupt broker with an indecent proposal is not fictitious or is a real person who really had the columnist’s contact information. Based on Ben’s account, Mr. Somebody or Somebody No. 1 called him up, and so, it’s very likely that they knew each other and they were friends or are still friends because, normally, a matter as delicate and morally reprehensible as that can only be confided or discussed by a corrupt caller with someone whom he trusts. It’s simply not a normal phone discussion between or among mere acquaintances unless, for some unusual or mysterious circumstances, they have the same vibes and are on the same page.

There are also other things that I wish Ben would shed light on. First, did he relay the information about his corrupt friend’s indecent and immoral proposal to the governor of Misamis Oriental during the Estrada administration or did he just keep the information all to himself? If the then governor was told about it, how did the official respond to the indecent proposal and exactly what did the official do? But if the official was never told about it by the columnist, then no corrupt deal was consummated because the intended recipient of the indecent proposal cannot be blamed for a phone discussion that was only between the very corrupt caller identified only as “somebody” and the person at the other end of the line who, in this case, is Ben. Simply put, non-participants in a wicked phone discussion cannot be asked to answer for something they know nothing about but the participants, especially if they confess in public that they did participate, may be asked for details.

Secondly, why would a corrupt person with an indecent proposal to broker an inappropriate deal between an equally corrupt person in the COA and the governor during Estrada’s presidency, call Ben up just to inform him that the local official’s problem can be fixed for P25 million? Why not call the then governor’s confidant such as the provincial administrator, chief of staff, secretary, the vice governor, a provincial board member, hatchet man or best friend? Of all logical and possible emissaries for a potential P25-million crooked deal out there, why would this corrupt “somebody” call Ben knowing full well that he is a dynamic and morally superior anti-corruption crusader? Just what did the corrupt caller think of Ben?

I am almost certain that Ben was offended by the corrupt caller’s inappropriate, very indecent and corrupt proposal because that, in a way, is equivalent to being asked by a pimp to conspire and assist him in procuring a customer for a whore in the COA. Any decent person will be offended by the proposition for him to pimp for another pimp.

Because I believe that Ben is a decent, trustworthy, credible, responsible, and passionate anti-corruption crusader who has made “evil triumphs when good men do nothing” as a battle cry, and because I believe that he practices what he preaches, he is under moral obligation now to identify the corrupt caller in his next or succeeding columns given his firsthand account of the phone discussion. That is a courageous act that no one can impose on him, but that is the right thing to do especially if he has really internalized the adage that is “evil triumphs when good men do nothing.”

The first step to fighting corruption is to unmask the corrupt. This, in this case, Ben can do by unmasking and identifying the corrupt caller cum influential peddler with an indecent proposal. Mind you, Ben stands on solid grounds because, based on his personal account, it is firsthand information.

The more Ben should identify the corrupt caller because the indecent proposal was an insult to his character, an affront to his moral principles, and that must have offended him. Picture a corrupt man calling a decent, moral and principled person; then imagine the corrupt caller suggesting to the same decent and morally superior anti-corruption crusader to relay the message or proposal to an official that if he has P25 million, his problem with COA can be fixed. That should be enough to offend any anti-corruption crusader worth his salt such as Ben. Therefore, there is more compelling reason for Ben to identify his corrupt caller.

Lead the way, Ben. “Evil triumphs when good men do nothing.” This corrupt caller and influential peddler with an indecent proposal will triumph and would most likely continue offering corrupt multimillion peso transactions to other government officials with problems with the COA if a good man like Ben will not do anything to unmask and identify him. Now, give us a name.

A lot of good men out there want to look this corrupt Mr. Somebody in the eye and tell him: Pastilan.

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TREND MAKER. Mindanao Gold Star Daily was established in 1989 to set ablaze a new meaning & flame to the local newspaper business. Throughout the years it continued its focus and interest in the rural areas & pioneered the growth of countryside journalism.

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