• Honesty still the best policy?

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    Ernesto F. Herrera

    Ernesto F. Herrera

    I wrote this piece a few hours before President Noynoy Aquino delivered his 2013 State of the Nation Address so I don’t really know if he said anything about the pork barrel system. I am hoping he did.

    This is a true story which quite a few Senate insiders know about. There was this senator who won in the 2001 national elections. The chief of staff he hired resigned during his first week in office.

    You see, this senator asked his new chief of staff, a lawyer, if he knew how to get commissions from pork barrel allocations. The new chief of staff of the new senator told his boss the truth: he didn’t know anything about it and if, indeed, asked to facilitate commissions for the senator, he won’t.

    The senator told him bluntly that maybe he’s not the right guy for the job after all. And so the chief of staff promptly resigned, without regret, I heard, and with much satisfaction.

    Whatever he did after his short-lived Senate tenure, I hope he kept the same principles. May his tribe increase.

    On the other hand, I know of another senator who made it quite known that he is absolutely against getting commissions from his pork barrel, although he did not renounce his allocations as Senators Panfilo Lacson and Joker Arroyo did.

    This senator believed in the pork barrel system as a way of allocating much needed state resources on projects that would otherwise be neglected. He delegated a trusted friend and political officer to handle his pork barrel allocations, only to find out later that this ‘trusted’ staffer was very aggressively getting commissions using the name of his boss, the senator, without the latter’s knowledge.

    These stories emphasize the importance of hiring the right people in government or anywhere. The mid-term election is all over. We have new senators and congressmen. As expected, there would be some old faces in old positions, some old faces in new positions and some really new faces in politics. All of them would certainly need people to work in their offices and hiring the right people for the right jobs all depends on the kind of public servants or politicians they truly are.

    If they are honest and competent they should get honest and competent people.

    Unfortunately, honest, competent people are hard to find. And unfortunately, the honest and competent people don’t always stay so after being exposed to the many opportunities for corruption in government. Either they get disillusioned and just do their jobs like zombies, or worse, they use their competence and efficiency to serve not the public interest but self-serving ones.

    The familiar adage of Lord Acton, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” applies not just to politicians but also to the people who work for them, who, at times, hold just as much power as their bosses.

    I’ve seen it happen many times. Early in their careers, many of these young, bright, idealistic people are eager to change the system from within so they join government service. They want to help the poor. They want to root out corruption. They get into positions of power, and for a while they are able to make a difference. They do what they set out to do.

    The very few are still doing what they set out to do. But for a lot of them, it’s now a different story. The old ideals have become distant memories. The institutions change them long before they have a chance to change the institutions. Just look at the former activists who are now working in government. They have become defenders of the establishment, of the status quo.

    At least, there are those who had the good sense to just get out before they become the people they swore they would never become.

    I recently ran into a long-time staffer of a politician who is still very much around. The guy is no longer working for his principal. “What happened,” I asked? “I thought you two were inseparable.” We ended up having a heart-to-heart conversation worthy of a whole course in public administration.

    The guy said he’s had enough of politics. He said he didn’t wake up one morning with this realization. It didn’t happen overnight. His ideals, he said, just died in bits and pieces, starting with the small compromises he made with himself. The line between right and wrong slowly became blurred by rationalizations that what he was doing served a purpose or that it was something everybody did to get the job done.

    I won’t go into the details because of space constraints. You probably know what I mean. Suffice it to say, this staffer started looking in the mirror to see less of the person he was and more of the person he swore he would never become. And so he just quit and walked away from it all.

    As Swiss author Madame de Stael once said, “The voice of conscience is so delicate that it is easy to stifle it, but it is also so clear it is impossible to mistake it.”

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    3 Comments

    1. I really believe that the pork barrel system should be abolished. Let the law makers enact laws not identify projects. I believe that if there are no pork barrels, the quality of lawmakers will increase.

    2. Honesty is the best policy alright, but for our politicians, the pork barrel is the fastest and easiest wealth multiplier. Saan ka pa?

    3. Daniel B. Laurente on

      Yes…Honesty is always been the best policy and must for everyone…but in Philippines Political Kingdom mostly it is not the real personal policy but only spoken publicly to gain political advantage…