Too many to mention: Filipino words for corruption

Former President-turned-Congresswoman Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ruled the country for nine years and made corruption its byword and hallmark, according to most Filipinos.

Suhol, lagay, padulas, pampadulas, tongpats, SOP, kotong, regalo, Christmas gift, pamasko, birthday gift, delihensya, pangyosi, love offering, pang-almusal (for breakfast), pang-tanghalian (for lunch), pang-merienda (for snacks), pang-hapunan (for dinner), para sa birthday ni hepe (for the chief’s birthday), Ninoy (short for P500 which features the face of former Sen. Ninoy Aquino), pakimkim, kickback, porsyento (percent), and more.

These are just some of the most-used equivalents of “bribe” as demanded or sought from ordinary Filipinos, and some have in fact been used by the most powerful officials. In other countries, it is quite the same, with folks tweeting during the 14th International Anti-Corruption Conference here in Bangkok the equivalents in their own dialects and languages.

That we have so many words to mean “bribe” reflects both how rampant and creative the corrupt officials have become in the Philippines and most other countries.

Another thing that comes to mind to many Filipinos is the phrase “moderate the greed” which former President Arroyo´s socioeconomic planning secretary allegedly told a consultant-turned-whistleblower insofar as cutting down the “tongpats” – literally, markups – on big and small government contracts. The objective was not to rid contracts of the corrupt practices between contractors and the government offices that need services – just to lessen it – and this came from a member of a president´s cabinet.

The corruption vocabulary in the Philippines comes hand in hand with poisonous phrases like “wala kang magagawa” or “wala tayong magagawa” — basically a declaration of powerlessness by ordinary people and a threat by the powerful. The phrases make impunity so acceptable by people stigmatized by the failure of institutions and laws to actually rein in on corruption and abuse of power.

Activists describe corruption with the term “burukrata kapitalismo” or “bureaucrat capitalism” or basically the self-serving and abuse of power and privileges by government officials in a reversal of their avowed responsibility to the people.

The good thing is that we Filipinos have our best-sounding words to describe how we should overcome these crooks – pakikipagkaisa (solidarity), pakikibaka (struggle), and pakikisangkot (involvement). And words to describe await individuals, families, communities, sectors and cities, provinces, regions and the country if we succeed – katarungan (justice), kasaganahan (prosperity) and kaayusan (order).

(Incidentally, the Center for People Empowerment and Governance, a University of the Philippines-based think-tank, came out with a Corruptionary — a dictionary on corruption — and they are also here at the IACC featuring a new edition of their bestseller.)