By Atty. Mel Sta. Maria
When one hears public officials say that honesty is not a requirement for public office, it insults the common sense of the citizenry whose money pays for these officials’ salaries to precisely perform their functions uprightly.
If at all, such pronouncement exhibits an utter miscomprehension, if not ignorance, of the true nature of public service.
In 1960, the Supreme Court, in Nera vs. Garcia, admonished: “The government cannot tolerate in its service a dishonest official, even if he performs his duties correctly and well, because by reason of his government position, he is given more and ample opportunity to commit acts of dishonesty against his fellowmen, even against offices and entities of the government other than the office where he is employed; and by reason of his office, he enjoys and possesses a certain influence and power which renders the victims of his grave misconduct, oppression, and dishonesty less disposed and prepared to resist and to counteract his evil acts and actuations.”
And when a high public official arrogantly and openly says that nobody has any concern in his or her private businesses or affairs, one can legitimately question if this official truly understands the danger of conflicts of interest prejudicial to public service or, understanding it, desires to deceive the public, especially his followers, to believe that their private life is separable from public life.
The Supreme Court has already said: “The private life of an employee cannot be segregated from his public life. Dishonesty inevitably reflects in the fitness of the officer and the employee to continue in office and the discipline and morale of the service.” (Nera vs. Garcia G. R. No. L-13160 106 Phil. 1031
Government transparency precisely deals with the public having all the opportunities to know all of the government officers’ private interests, before or during such officers’ incumbency, to determine whether such interests affect their public functions.
Favors may be given, directly and indirectly, to their present and former businesses.
That leads to graft and corruption.
And, if not detected, plunder — which means misappropriation of public funds to the tune of at least P50,000,000 — can be committed.
The citizenry suffers.
It is also frustrating when, aside from the fact that, despite official rhetorics and show of interest, no implementing legislation has yet been passed on the constitutional provision on freedom of information.
Government departments, by prescribing their own rules for revelation, make it more difficult for ordinary citizens to obtain SALNs of the officials therein.
Even the Data Privacy Act makes it hard to obtain private data from public officials in the same manner as ordinary citizens when legally they should not be placed in the same footing.
The 1987 Constitution declares that “public office is a public trust” and that public employees must “lead modest lives.”
Implicit in these policies are that officials must be moral, decent, and upright, devoid of even a perception of ill motivations.
The real issue therefore in this or any administration is not only whether or not it is capable of providing authentic due process, but whether or not it has an abiding commitment to a moral direction to produce a decent government.
And maybe during this Lenten season, all of us Filipinos must reflect on this moral issue. Let us ask ourselves questions like: Do we really see anything good in pictures showing bloodied dead young people victims of the so-called “drug war”? Is there something terribly wrong in including people in a so-called “tokhang list” without their knowledge and consent? Is it morally in order subjecting the Filipino people to answer for onerous Chinese contracts with high interest rates, compared to the lower interest rates offered by its Japanese counterparts? Is it immoral making some of our valued natural resources reportedly as “collaterals” for these loans? Just because there is no history of Philippine default in relation to international loan, must that be an acceptable justification to burden the Filipino people with another obnoxious loan?
How honest really are our leaders or, at least, their mindset?
If their declarations or statements, more often than not, are to be explained over and over again, if what they initially say are not what they mean, is there any imperative for us to believe them?
What can we do to effect a change in government, to make it honest, transparent, and ethical? Will May, 2019, election time, be the start?
Hopefully for our good.