Friday, August 5, 2011

iPhone Diaries #390 and Book Review: "Murder Without Borders", by Terry Gould

This is more of a chapter review than a book review; specifically, the 2nd chapter on the murder of the Filipino journalist, Marlene Garcia-Esperat.
The central thesis of Terry Gould's investigative reporting comes as no surprise to me; the concept of a systemic corruption in the Philippines is, while shocking to the Western reader,  not a revelation to me. What I do appreciate is Gould's investigation of a specific a-to-z connection from the foot soldiers to the highest rung in the political hierarchy; an investigation that involves the viewpoints of the families, the lovers, the colleagues, and even the accused murderers of Marlene.
Gould is truly impressed by Marlene Garcia-Esperat: a hauntingly beautiful, intelligent mother of four, a bright agricultural chemist who was drawn in to investigative reporting after a short seasonal stint as an assistant to the Prosecutor of the Municipal Court revealed to her the endemic, systemic corruption in the system.
Before her assassination in 2005 at the age of 45, and as a result of it, Marlene uncovered the theft and misuse of public funds dedicated for the agricultural sector. Worst of all, this corruption was allowed to, and was abetted by, junior and senior members of the government. She was dubbed the "Erin Brockovitch of the Philippines - a reference to the sexy and unstoppable legal crusader made famous by the Hollywood film". Unlike Brockovitch, Marlene died for her efforts. Along the way, throughout her crusade, her family and friends suffered as well.
This chapter on Marlene Garcia-Esperat is as much a glowing tribute and memorial to her as it is an indictment of a very corrupt system. Gould paints a backdrop of a culture of "metastatic corruption", with its roots dating back to pre-colonial times (Spain occupied the Philippines in 1521).
At the time of Marlene's murder, "Transparency International listed the Philippines as more corrupt than war-torn Afghanistan; the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism reported that as much as a half of the country's taxes were lost to corrupt officials". Furthermore, "thirty percent of the nation's 85 million citizens survive on less than a dollar a day..." "Each day, 2500 hundred Filipinos joined  12 million of their countrymen" who have left the Philippines to be guest workers overseas. "(Filipinos) get out of the country and wire money directly to relatives, which would at least keep their earnings out of the clutches of a national conspiracy of organized theft". 
Based on just this one chapter, I'd say this book is a must-read for anybody who has a connection with the Philippines: the ex-pat, the spouse and children of the ex-pat, the tourist, or the business investor. I bought this book in the discounted section at Chapters-Indigo for $5.99 (reg. $34.95). That's less than half the price of a movie.


  1. This is a must-read book, period. Every single story is painstakingly, exhaustingly researched. It's criminally underrated (probably because he's a Canadian, sigh). Best book I read all year and possibly in the past three years.

  2. It's like a lot of books that, most unfortunately, goes directly, it seems, from the publisher straight to the reduced-price section. I wrote to the author with a draft of my review and he supportedit totally, which was so flattering to me.
    I've since read all the chapters in this book and I have even more respect for Terry and his subjects.