The cat and the hot stove

MARK Twain is said to have quipped,  “A cat who sits on a hot stove will never sit on a hot stove again. But he won’t sit on a cold stove, either.”
Of course people are supposed to be more intelligent than cats. But we’re seeing the same cat-and-the-hot-stove attitude currently taking hold in our country.
Because of the fake NGOs used by Janet Lim-Napoles and her co-conspirators in Congress and in some executive offices to plunder the national treasury, even legitimate non-profits that have been rendering vital services to the country are now regarded with derision and distrust.
Similarly, because of the billions diverted into thieving pockets from the pork barrel, as well as the scandalous perks and bonuses that the boards of certain government owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs) showered on themselves in the not too distant past, every large emolument or financial incentive given to public officials, even if legitimate, raises an outcry.
These days, no matter how meritorious a management performance bonus is, the average Pedro, Juan and Maria, who can hardly scrape enough pesos to ensure their daily survival, cannot appreciate the rationale. Not surprisingly, the bonus recently given by the board of the Social Security System to its directors and officers has been greeted with “widespread public outrage,” to quote a Manila daily.
I am familiar with NGOs, to a certain extent. Decades back, I was a director of Goodwill Industries Philippines, patterned after the non-profit by the same name in the US. For all of us on the board, it was a work of love. The only reward was seeing the needy being employed and trained, learning new skills and earning their keep, instead of begging or turning to crime.
Up to a few years ago, I also sat on the board of Ayala Foundation USA (now Philippine Development Foundation).  This was a non-profit spin-off of Ayala Foundation, intended to tap into diaspora philanthropy in America, the better to provide much-needed financial support for NGOs in the Philippines. I saw how Vicky Garchitorena, then president of both the Philippine and US foundations, spent countless hours soliciting support for numerous projects, in education, health, manpower training, social services and various aspects of countryside development, being undertaken by NGOs in the Philippines.
I’ve also seen how, for the past 30 years, Books for the Barrios, a California-based NGO headed by Dan and Nancy Harrington, has delivered millions of books to rural schools in the farthest reaches of our archipelago.
Through these involvements, I became aware of the self-regulatory initiatives taken by these non-profits, including the establishment of the Philippine Council for NGO Certification (PCNC) and the enactment of a Code of Conduct for Development NGOs (Code NGO). Sadly, the best intentions can be sabotaged by heartless thieves.
Aside from the loss now being suffered by former beneficiaries of legitimate NGOs, as well as the few scholars who used to be maintained by senators and congressmen to serve as cover for massive thievery, the discouragement of dedicated, selfless community workers is one of the most devastating consequences of the pork barrel scam.
These days, NGO has come to mean No Good Operation. Who would want to be associated with something like that?
Concerning the flak being endured by the officers and directors of the SSS for the performance bonus they gave to themselves, as well as similar bonuses being considered for the boards of other deserving GOCCs, I can only express my sympathy – but I have a few comments to make on the matter.
First off, I would like to point out that I know SSS Chairman Johnny Santos personally, as a friend and as a former client at Nestlé Philippines. His competence is legendary (he was the first Filipino market head of Nestlé and, at one time, he was CEO of both Nestlé Philippines and Nestlé Singapore). And you can’t buy Johnny’s integrity for a million pesos or several millions.
I also happen to know Inquirer columnist Conrad de Quiros, brother of SSS President Emil de Quiros. He happens to be my nephew-in-law, married to the daughter of my eldest brother. I can understand why he rose in defense of Emil. He is convinced that his brother has done nothing dishonest or anomalous. And I believe him.
Conrad is one of a kind, as a columnist. Absolutely spotless. Loyal only to his principles. If he supports Noynoy Aquino, it is because he is firm in his belief in the good intentions of the president. But note that he has been very vocal against the PDAF, the DAP and certain characters in Malacañang.
I am convinced that Johnny and Emil did nothing wrong in providing a performance bonus to themselves and the members of the board. In the private sector, that is taken as a matter of course. And, having read about the sterling performance of Emil and the board, compared to the past SSS management, I have no doubt that they deserve it.
Besides, a million peso bonus is peanuts compared to what Manny Paquiao makes for being put to sleep by Juan Manuel Marquez. And do you realize that one – repeat, one –  30-second spot on prime time TV in Manila costs well over half a million pesos? That makes a million peso performance bonus very modest, indeed.
But releasing the bonus at the time that the SSS  board did was a classic case of wrong timing. Like lighting a match in a room full of gun powder.
Since the P10B pork barrel scam exploded, the environment in the country has been incendiary.  To say that the Filipino people are in no mood to tolerate a bonus for Triple Grade A management performance is an understatement. To make matters worse, the board also announced an impending increase in SSS member’s premiums!
Our people are simply paranoid. More paranoid than folks in the US who, upon seeing a grandmother bathing a one-year old grandson, will accuse her of child molestation. This is reflected in the way social media bloggers and well-intentioned kibitzers have gone to town with merciless attacks on anything that remotely looks, smells, acts or sounds like Sexy, Tanda, Pogi or Lechon.
The mainstream media – TV, radio and the dailies – are also to blame. In their eagerness to run a scoop and to generate viewership, listenership and readership, they have tended to sensationalize the news. Note how one daily, reported on the SSS bonus and the incentives other GOCCs are giving their directors:
“In spite of widespread public outrage, the presidential body tasked with overseeing the pay and perks of state corporations justified Monday the bonuses that the Social Security System (SSS) had rewarded its managers while ramping up contributions of members, noting that 19 other state corporations have also handed out such management windfalls.”
When I was a cub reporter, they had a term for that kind of reportage: Masturbating the news.
Emil de Quiros and the board of the SSS probably had the best of intentions. Unfortunately, we all know what the road to hell is paved with.
Fortunately, the limelight that they are involuntarily basking in right now is temporary. The moment the Ombudsman files charges with the Sandiganbayan against people in high places, the SSS performance bonus will fare into the background.
In the meantime, they should just grin and bear it.

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