Drawing the line
“Kellyandanar” was coined to suggest that Martin Andanar, head of President Duterte’s Communications Operations Office, and Kellyanne Conway, counselor to US President Donald Trump, played comparable roles. The comparison was not complimentary.
Conway, Class 1989 of Trinity Washington University (TWU), is arguably the most prominent alumna today of this small (2,200 students) Catholic women’s institution. It was thus surprising that TWU president Patricia McGuire should publicly rebuke Conway for her “large role in facilitating the manipulation of facts….” Responding to critics of the US administration’s immigration polici/es, Conway had defended Trump with “alternative facts” that others would commonly call lies.
Universities are happy enough to acclaim alumni who ascend to positions of power and to bask in the honor they bring. They are less ready to acknowledge their black sheep. But what should universities expect from alumni who reach the highest ranks of government and can presumably influence its directions?
It would be unrealistic for universities to expect alumni to take senior appointments only in those administrations whose policies they support. Once appointed, alumni must place their talent and resources at the service of the president. It becomes their duty to advance their president’s policies, however repugnant these may be to their universities.
The role of projecting a president’s messages to the public implicates officials like Conway and Andanar in all presidential statements and actions. TWU drew the line; faithful service cannot be at the cost of betraying its bedrock values: “People can agree or disagree around national policy or domestic policy…. But when you lie so consistently as this administration does, that’s a moral issue. We are teachers…. We believe deeply in upholding the value of truth…. It’s urgent not to be shy about it.”
Other senior officials covering more specific, functional areas can closet themselves within the boundaries of their professional mandate, concentrating on goals supported by their constituencies. They can try to distance themselves from other aspects of governance that are not their direct concern and that they may privately oppose.
The silo strategy works—up to a point. Sectoral concerns will inevitably collide with each other. Policy decisions on environmental protection measures affect business operations and must concern economic ministers. Agencies responsible for health, education and the economy must consider the impact of the peace process or the law-and-order environment on their own goals.
Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs has been pursued mainly as a police and security issue. From the outset, the strategy had provoked public anxiety because it was anchored on a police force with a record marred by inefficiency and corruption. The killing of Mayor Rolando Espinosa in his jail cell, the brazen murder of Jee Ick-joo in Camp Crame, both perpetrated by police officers, have confirmed fears that the strategy would promote a climate of impunity.
Apart from expert and loyal service, senior government officials have a duty that presidents do not always appreciate: to caution them when policies threaten the violation of laws and fundamental constitutional and human rights. Raising the alarm on potential threats emerging from issues beyond their specific departmental responsibility is also their duty to the country and the people. At some point, inaction becomes complicity in these violations.
Determining the point where that line must be drawn is the difficult, personal decision each official must make. Despite the confessions of Matobato and Lascañas and close to 8,000 casualties in eight months, has any Cabinet member acknowledged the reality of EJKs and the risks of the war on drugs?
Universities that proclaim adherence to moral principles must also make their own judgment call on when to warn alumni, as TWU did, that they have crossed the line. Their willingness to do so may help the leaders they have educated locate the lines they must draw for themselves and renew their moral core.
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Edilberto C. de Jesus ([email protected] gmail.com) is professor emeritus at the Asian Institute of Management. Prof. Rofel Brion’s Tagalog translation of this column and others earlier published, together with other commentaries, are in http://secondthoughts.ph.
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