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The moral dimension

I’ve argued this before, but it needs to be emphasized much more strongly. Society is kept in check by law, but it’s guided, it’s dictated to, by morality. Morality is the glue that binds society. Sadly, too often it’s missing, not even recognized, in some parts of Philippine society.

Take the impeachment of the chief justice. He was legally guilty of misdeclaring his assets. But he was morally guilty of accepting a position from which he was barred by the Constitution (even if his mates in the Supreme Court argued otherwise). But it wasn’t just conformity to the Constitution that was absent. It was sheer human decency: You don’t accept a post in an incoming administration from an outgoing one.

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Well, that’s even more the case now. The three senators and all other leaders indicted are morally guilty no matter what the courts decide—if they ever do (the Marcos cases don’t give much confidence of that). Their moral failing? They were responsible for utilizing our money for the good of the country.

Instead, they allowed it to be stolen. It’s no good saying their signatures were forged, or their chief of staff did it without their knowledge. As the Management Association of the Philippines said: “Public office is a public trust, so these entrusted funds should have been used with utmost prudence. Thus, it is most unfortunate that amidst the earnest efforts of the government to bolster the national coffers through increased tax compliance, the people’s money has been allegedly misused by conniving individuals, both inside and outside of government. It is all the more disconcerting that some of our elected representatives, who are expected to be the exemplars of complete adherence with the law, have been associated with the repeated mishandling of the PDAF.”

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They haven’t denied that the misused funds went through their offices; they’re saying only that they weren’t involved. If I were one of their staff I’d be very angry at being so carelessly discarded, betrayed even by the boss I’d been loyal to. And they seem to have forgotten something. In any organization there’s a thing called “command responsibility.” If you are in charge, you are responsible for not only your own actions but also those of your subordinates. And particularly if you delegate your authority to someone else, you are specifically saying their actions are yours. And more particularly if it involves public (taxpayer) money assigned to you in trust.

They knew they were given P200 million of the people’s money to spend on the people; they had a responsibility to ensure it was. It was their responsibility to check it was. At yearend, why didn’t they ask for an audit, an accounting, of how the money was used? That they didn’t was dereliction of a duty entrusted to them. It’s like a bank guard saying: It wasn’t my fault that money was stolen from the safe because I left the key in it. I trusted that people wouldn’t steal. It was their fault, not mine.

It wasn’t their money that they could do what they wished with, it was ours. They had a moral responsibility to look after it. They didn’t. They should follow the honorable path of the South Korean prime minister, and resign. If they had any sense of decency, they’d do so. Apologize for the failure of their office and step down. A gentlemen would.

And that’s another thing. I don’t think I’ve heard of any one of them apologizing. Maybe they’re completely innocent, as they so vociferously claim, but wouldn’t you still apologize for what your staff did? I would.  They are senators, leaders in the country; they should, and must know better. If they don’t, should we be electing them into office? They may well be fine people, but not suited for public office.

I must ask: Why hasn’t the Catholic Church been more outspoken on this issue on the morality of some of its members? (I understand all three are Catholics.) Morality is a basic tenet of the faith. I’m sure Christ would not have stood for this, nor should the leaders of today’s Church.

This sordid story is so full of betrayals of us the people that who is culpable, truly culpable, must be identified, swiftly prosecuted, and jailed. If the President wants his “daang matuwid” campaign promise to be truly fulfilled, as he’s worked hard for so far, he can’t let the powerful again escape punishment. Nor can the courts. This is a case that the courts must decide swiftly.  And the judges in the case must be strong enough to throw out the shenanigans of so-called defense lawyers who, like in the now 4-year-old Ampatuan case, raise technical objections one after another. We need a judge who is tough and incorruptible, and not prepared to accept anything but swift resolution of the cases. No “technicalities” should impede prosecution.

In fact, those accused in this scam should want swift justice to prove the innocence they claim. In the meantime, they should apologize for their failure to ensure honest, proper use of our money, and step down. They will go up in the public’s esteem. And if the courts quickly find them innocent, they can run again for the Senate, being proud to regain their seats on the support of a public who will recognize the decent gentlemen they were by doing two things: resigning for a moral failure (we all make mistakes, so this will raise them in the esteem of the public by admitting that lapse) and pushing for the quick resolution of a court case to prove their innocence.

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Gentlemen act as moral gentlemen, apologize and resign.

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TAGS: Constitution, Management Association of the Philippines, Morality, Philippine society, public office, taxpayer
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