On the way to pick up my mom at Glorietta, I got pulled over by an MMDA (Metro Manila Development Authority) officer. My fault. I entered the yellow lane heading into Ayala avenue a little too soon.
And it was also almost 3PM. Merienda time.
So being the good citizen, I readily acquiesced to the penalty. I turned in my license and presented the car’s registration. I didn’t put up a fight and admitted that I committed a mistake. I apologized but I didn’t plea. In fact, I was very courteous and told him, “Sige po, ticketan niyo na po ako para hindi kayo maabala.” (Please, you may just give me a ticket so that you aren’t inconvenienced.) Funny when you think that I was the one concerned for his convenience.
Then he began running through the penalties: a P500 fine plus four days of seminar on the importance of the yellow lane. (Four days for that?) He repeated it thrice, with each repetition said more slowly and even more deliberate. After that I just nodded my head and said that the terms were acceptable. That is the law, I said. And then I heard the clincher — “Sigurado po kayo? Maaabala po kayo.” (Are you sure? You will be inconvenienced.) Aww. He’s concerned for me? But this time, it isn’t funny.
That question is a sure fire signal that the MMDA officer you’re dealing with is looking for a bribe. I wouldn’t even call it grease money since that just speeds along an otherwise slow and legal process, whereas a bribe circumvents and subverts the legal process entirely. Giving him money wouldn’t have lessened the time I spent learning about the importance of the yellow lane; it would have eradicated this little event from the timeline.
Except now of course, I blogged about it.
Hence the two of us began our little dance, with him insisting how inconvenient the penalty would be for me, and me insisting that it’s alright since it’s in the law. He continued to delay further, shouting at his comrades for that ticket pad. The others replied, “Ginagamit pa.” Another was busy with it, although I could see at the distance that it wasn’t a real pad but a prop.
Eventually, it took forever for the prop to come and as we waited, more cars were caught in their yellow lane net. Clearly, he knew that he wasn’t getting anything from me. Then he promptly returned my license and car registration and said, “Sige na.” As he turned away from me and worked the next car, I sat dumbfounded. At first there was the relief that I’m not attending that four-day seminar, and then there was the disbelief that there still are these kinds of people.
I was tempted to call him out and ask to be fined — but then I felt weird about facing a potential crime of verbally assaulting an officer because I wanted to be fined. I also didn’t want to make a scene and realized that such a fight would be futile in a den full of sharks.
So why do we get away with it?
This is an example of corruption on the street. It is very real and not as black and white. Looking at the profiles of these MMDA officers, you can say that giving in to bribery can mean charity. However, by giving in to that we do the state an even greater disservice. We are a republic, a state governed by the rule of law, and yet by giving in to these corruptive behaviors — however small they may be compared to headliners — we let our country slip further into lawlessness.
It is a basic principle of human behavior that any act is done as long as it is perceived to be either pleasurable or beneficial. In the case of these MMDA officers, fishing for bribes is a lucrative business. Though these officers may not be completely aware that it is an act of corruption, we can condition them to stop asking for bribes by not giving into them. But then we turn the spotlight on our society and culture — those who give these bribes are as corrupt as those who receive it.
And in a way, some moral absolutists can even argue that I was being corrupt by not asserting that I get fined. You know the cliche — “Evil persists when good men do nothing.” However, then I wouldn’t call it being corrupt; I’d simply say that I surrendered to evil and this argument can go on and on.
The point being made that corruption is ubiquitous, where do we start solving this?
Answering that question will take another blog post and an even stronger inspiration. Nonetheless, I end with a quote from Confucius, my political philosopher of choice:
He who exercises government by means of his virtue may be compared to the north polar star, which keeps its place and all the stars turn towards it.
If the people be led by laws, and uniformity sought to be given them by punishments, they will try to avoid the punishment, but have no sense of shame.
If they be led by virtue, and uniformity sought to be given them by the rules of propriety, they will have the sense of shame, and moreover will become good.
Let me make it simple: To solve corruption, we start at the top.