One evening, coming back from the office, Pia arrived home to find a letter from Max. She was pleasantly surprised because she had lost touch with him. She tore the envelope open and read his short note under the hallway light.

“Dear Pia,” he wrote. “I asked for your address from your mother, and I am writing to you about something that has been bothering me for some time. It’s about the wine account you were handling many years ago. On your next trip to Manila, please give me a call. Max.”

The wine account? Pia stared a hole in the wall in front of her. She immediately went to the telephone and called Mr Lortan at the office. He often worked late, and she asked to be absent on the morrow. Then Pia called her parents to let them know that she was coming to Manila and to call Max at the office in the morning to inform him. She packed a small travelling bag and tinkered about the house, as she waited impatiently for news from Max.

It was a warm late afternoon when Pia arrived in the metropolis, Manila. Her plane had just landed at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport and she was now on her way to meet her former colleague at a restaurant in Makati.

Along the road a common sight greeted her. Barefoot children were begging for coins from passing cars. She sat in the comfort of her mother’s chauffeur-driven old banger and wondered what it would take to make this country the progressive nation it could be, so that its citizens would live a better quality of life.

The gracious guard greeted Pia as he gallantly opened the wooden doors. She crossed the hall and entered the dining area. Max stood up and waved to catch her attention.

“Hello, Max.”

“Hello, Pia! You haven’t changed!”

“Thanks, Max.”

They sat down, and without looking at the menu, Pia ordered dinner. She did not care for small talk. “So, Max, what has been bothering you about the wine account?”

Max took a deep breath. “Do you remember who took over the wine account after you left?”

“It was Goro Patas. He was present when I was talking about the wine account with Danny, bless his soul.”

“Goro was working in the Domestic Division. Didn’t you ever wonder why he was put in charge of an overseas account?”

“Max, I did wonder why, but I was too preoccupied with other matters to really question it. But I remember admonishing Goro about something…. Oh yes, the eggs account. I found out he was padding the charges for the egg purchases and pocketing the difference. The accountant had remarked to me in passing that the carbon copies of the invoices were tampered with. I didn’t bring it up with Danny because they both come from the same province. You know how it is with fellow provincials—the outsider is always in the wrong. So what about Goro Patas?”

“Goro managed to convince Danny to give him an international account. You see, that American merchant went about looking for the weak link in the organisation and it was Goro Patas.”

“The weak link. “What do you mean?”

“There was a connivance between Goro and that merchant. You wouldn’t want to know the details, Pia, but Goro slandered you in order to get you out of the way.”

The waiter arrived with their dinner. It was timely because they were both quite agitated by these revelations. “How did you come to know that Goro Patas was dishonest?” Pia asked in a disgusted tone.

“Low moral integrity is an easy thing to spot. Corrupt persons won’t do anything, even when it is their job to do so, unless you give them money under the table. When you see things that cannot normally be afforded on a salary, you can smell the stench of corruption.”

“But rumours would not have convinced Danny to give an international account to someone in Domestic. How did Goro make Danny give him the wine account?”

“I heard the American merchant tell Danny that Goro was the best man to handle his business.”

“So, was that wine a big success here?”

“It was a monumental disaster. The company lost a lot of money. We almost went bankrupt.”

Pia had lost her appetite. She placed her knife and fork alongside each other on her plate. “Max, how did you learn that there was something fishy going on?”

“The new young lady Director who took over after Danny discovered the monkey business and she fired Goro.”

“But Max, why do you tell me this only now?”

“Well, the lady Director is looking for intelligent, capable, and efficient people to work for the company, and I thought of you.”

“Thank you very much, Max. I’m glad to know you were thinking of me. But that still doesn’t explain why you didn’t inform me of this long ago.”

“Goodness, Pia, you could at least have told me before that meeting that you were going to do something against your will. I had a difficult time rescrewing my jaws back in place after they dropped in surprise at your recommendation.”

“I’m sorry, Max. That is inexcusable. Forgive me.”

Dr Delgado was out playing tennis early the next morning with his colleagues. Mrs Delgado was still asleep. Pia was in the garden pulling out weeds–those harmful, useless, and troublesome plants that choke flowers and vegetables of nourishment from the soil. Conchita approached Pia and asked her if she was done with breakfast. She had left the poached eggs untouched. Yes, she said rather sharply. She didn’t want her thoughts disturbed.

Corruption. What is this contemptible word? It is the betrayal of trust for financial gain. It is the intentional misperformance of duty. It is the abuse of position of authority in both government and in private enterprise for personal advantage. It exists in a society whose sense of ethics is wanting. In Philippine society, it is a national pastime.

Corruption cripples the economy. How does one prevent weeds from fracturing the landscape of the economy? Laws and enforcement of such laws must severely punish the corrupter and the corrupted. Corruption is a crime against the People and against the State. It is a crime that must be punished by law.

Investigative journalism will expose the corrupt. Reporting unusual wrongdoings at the workplace will expose the corrupt. Requiring public officials to declare their assets—before, during, and after their term of office– will expose the corrupt. We must create conditions difficult for the corrupt to thrive.

All that weeds need to flourish is that nobody does anything about them. Corruption is so rampant, from the top to the bottom of the professional and political ladder, that it is almost ridiculous to imagine that this social cancer, this metastasised tumour can be entirely excised. But doctor it we must, or else we die.

Pia heard her father come home. “Papa!” she called out. “Come out here into the garden and help me yank these weeds out!”

Dr Delgado came and watched Pia as she attacked the weeds with so much vehemence.

“Pia,” he said, “another will take its place.”

“Oh….” Pia sat back on her haunches. “What should be done, then?”

“By all means attack the symptoms, but you must also treat the cause. It is the poor quality of the soil that’s to blame.”

“You mean the poor quality of life?”

“Yes.”

Pia stood up and walked contemplatively around the garden. Dishonesty among those in public office and in private enterprise is a symptom of a much larger problem. The population has now reached seventy-five million, and when one has several mouths to feed because Religion and the State keep the people ignorant, and when they are not paid enough to put food on the table for large families, then petty corruption becomes a Machiavellian solution. The grumbling of an empty stomach is a force whose actions the mind cannot speak for. But this is a lame excuse for one’s lack of integrity.

Pia removed the garden gloves she was wearing, threw them down on the ground, and challenged the World: Shall we forever wallow in the mudpit of indifference? We are born in a time that requires change, and change we must. Old habits, old ideas, old ways of thinking must change.

Change will inevitably bring some form of instability. But transition is an on-going process, so do not be reactionary. You should neither expect a ready-made finished product, since there are no ready-made solutions. But whatever we do from now, may our personal journey of life contribute to the well being of our fellow men.

Pia remembered the words of one of her professors: Consider national goals in your career aspirations. What the country needs most is young leaders with innovative ideas, young leaders in government and in business. Whatever career you pursue after graduation, you must aspire to contribute to the well being of the nation.