ABCs of Public Service
The problem with the systems of democracy, and especially the types adopted by advanced Western nations, is that the huge gap between the ideal and the real prevents its principles from being understood by fledgling nations. It may have been more than 2,000 years ago when Greek and Roman philosophers created democracy in their minds. That is how the mind can be so up there and takes millennia to land on the ground.
Dreams and aspirations can be accommodated way ahead of their translation to the material. They conjure mental images that can be mostly imaginary. Today, these can be stimulated by Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, or Twitter. But they are not real, they only play with our minds and our lives like actors and actresses we idolize but can never marry – or even meet in the flesh.
What is real is the drudgery of daily life; bad if you are not rich and worse if you are poor – both sectors in the Philippines comprise 80% of the population. To allow ourselves a little rest from the challenges of daily living, of waking up too early, of rushing out of the home to the traffic, of devoting most of our waking hours to traveling and working for pay we know is too small for our families, we fantasize, we engage K-Pop, we follow entertainment stars in their social media accounts. For a while, we are in another world where our spirits forget hardship and frolic in our emotions and minds.
Politicians know that. Intuitively, instinctively, and experientially, most know that. And those who do not, or those who cannot, buy those who can. Experts in marketing, in psychology, in human behavior sciences, in research, in propaganda, in mind setting, and especially in twisting truth out of shape – they are there to make money out of the ambitions and greed of many. Even the few talents who do it as a favor, they are there to translate the dreams and ideals of the idealistic and the naïve – mostly first-time wannabees.
Technology has made the sick art of Hitler’s Goebbels a mainstream activity in politics. Winning is everything. Or, for the not so totally in the dark side yet, winning is the most important. Because of technology, expertise, and resources, the voters are in an arena where they are fighting all the lions and the wolves. Voters are gravely challenged to discern between the real and the fake. Politics have become make-believe because politicians know that the non-rich easily fall for the world of the pretend. Democracy here is not at all what the ancient philosophers imagined.
Poor Filipino voters. As social media users, they cannot easily distinguish truth from lie in the virtual world. They cannot even ascertain if their virtual friends in the many platforms of social media are real people or bots. Even more, they cannot determine if what these contacts are saying are true or not. Each one must have the diligence to research a little – and who does that today? Even senior citizens have been tracked as the most guilty in passing on fake news – unwittingly, but guilty nonetheless.
And poor Filipino voters are loaded with the responsibility of choosing the best candidates among the thousands running. With their inherent disability to discern real or fake, truth or lie, how wise will their choices be?
The Constitution has something that should help in a big way. Among the most vital of all laws is one of the most important yet one of the most unknown. I can also understand why politicians, even as candidates, would not like to center their candidacies on this law. I refer to the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards as embodied in Republic Act 6713.
R.A. 6713 sets the fundamental criteria of public officials and employees – for all of them, whether elected or appointed. While election laws make it easy for citizens to be candidates. R.A. 6713 makes it mandatory that they serve in the manner set by law.
Even before platforms or promises are made, voters must be made aware that the Constitution and the law protect them by making obligatory the very norms of conduct in public service – from the President to the lowest hire in the bureaucracy. RA 6713 bears the eight (8) norms of conduct – commitment to public interest, professionalism, justness and sincerity, political neutrality, responsiveness to the public, nationalism and patriotism, commitment to democracy, and simple living.
Because the law opens the way for the most ordinary Filipino citizen to serve the public, a more fundamental law demands that they serve well. Voters must always ask the question if the candidates appear capable, mostly through their tract records, of complying with the code of conduct and ethical standards demanded of them once in public office.
Yet, the very law that was created to protect Filipino citizens from bad public servants is the least known and applied. Among the most known of officials and bureaucrats, can we say they are, by their public behavior, committed to the public interest (or their own), are they professional, just, and sincere, politically neutral, responsive to the public (no red tape), nationalist and patriots, committed to democracy, and simple living?
If the law is followed, the burden of proof is not on us, it is on them. Public officials and employees are the ones who applied for their positions knowing there are obligations especially in their conduct. The law should be firm and immediate in its application, terminate those who cannot comply with any of the requirements. If this law is applied first and foremost, other laws will be much easier to implement.
Integrity. Objectivity. Professional competence. Patriotism. Simplicity.
Are these standards which were meant to define public service the character of our officials and bureaucrats? Do we look at those in government as our models for conduct and ethical behavior? I will speak for the majority in answering no, no way.
Because a fundamental law is not implemented, maybe even scorned.
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