Japanese quit, Filipinos cling to office

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Many readers have written and wondered why it is that in Japan, government officials quickly leave office in the face of public scandal and the massive failure of public policy—whereas here in the Philippines, our officials cling to their positions like glue, despite the exposure of corruption, perfidy and other sins.

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For some weeks now, I’ve been doing research on this intriguing question, and I have looked as well into the practices of other democracies when faced with scandal. In addition to Japan, I researched America’s record of dealing with scandal and corruption.

My research has yielded many interesting insights and revealing information. Here are some of my findings:

Japan:The power of moral consensus
In Japan, public officials, whether elected or appointed, readily quit in acceptance of their responsibility, or in shame and sorrow, because according to the writer Ellen Goodman, Japan is “ruled by moral consensus.”

This consensus on high ethical standards and correct official conduct is recognized by the entire gamut of Japanese society. Ethics codes do not need elaborate enforcement mechanisms to be effective. Even the underworld (Yakuza) has its code.

When combined with the keen Japanese sense of honor, moral consensus constitutes a powerful weapon that makes it impossible and suicidal to resist resignation. Sometimes the pressure can be so great, and the sin so shameful, that some commit hara-kiri.

Philippines: Clinging to position like glue
As a rule, Filipino officials do not quit office when they are embroiled in a scandal or controversy. When the office is elective, they fight tooth and nail to remain in office. When the office is appointive, the decision of the appointing power to fire them normally suffices to make them quit.

Public officials and politicians cling to their positions and stonewall demands for their firing and resignation, as a matter of strategy and in the hope of being miraculously rescued by (a) a legal maneuver or technicality, (b) a timely intervention by the appointing authority, or (c) public weariness and loss of interest in the scandal or controversy.

The single biggest reason why Filipino officials do not quit is the belief of officials and the public alike that resignation is an admission of guilt.

The prime exhibit for this official attitude and behavior is not the senators or congressmen now implicated in the pork barrel scandal. Most are still waiting for charges to be formally filed against them in court. Being elected representatives, they have a plausible argument for not rushing to the exits.

The more illustrative examples now are appointed officials in the eye of scandal, like Budget Secretary Florencio Abad Jr., around whose head multiple controversies are now swirling.

Abad is clinging to his post like crazy because his boss, President Aquino, through his spokesmen, has openly defended him. Aquino could be just exercising self-protection lest Abad sing like a canary and implicate PNoy in the budget mess.

Abad must also worry about the fate of his entire family clan (with 11 members employed by the government). Their jobs and their huge official ATM are tied to his keeping his post.

Abad’s no-nepotism defense is not winning him supporters. Only Edwin Lacierda agrees with him.

Similarly, his Napoles-is-lying defense is not working in the court of public opinion. It won’t work in the graft court either, where Napoles and Suñas will testify against him.

America: The ethics of defensive politics
Litigation is the rule in the American system and American culture.

American public officials generally do not resign when faced with scandal and controversy. They turn to their lawyers to battle government prosecutors in court. As a result, quite a number of them land in jail. But they can tell their grandchildren that they never resigned.

I got much of my information from a perceptive essay by Ellen Goodman in her book Value Judgments (Farrar, Straus Giroux, 1993). She wrote:

“In addition to defensive business and defensive medicine, Americans also practice defensive politics. Politics by advice of attorney. Politicians who get in trouble usually answer questions about right and wrong with answers about legal guilt or innocence . . .

“There are some 700,000 lawyers in America available to take sides, to keep us on sides. One lawyer for every 350 Americans… The closer to the top, the greater the protective barrier of lawyers.

“Ultimately, under the rule of lawsuits, it has become far too easy to confuse moral and legal responsibility. We mix up the long words like “culpability” and “liability.” And in that linguistic and ethical confusion, it becomes harder and harder to express something as simple as regrets, dismay and sorrow.”

America’s system of laws and suits have sent a considerable number of public officials and legislators to jail, including one vice-president, seven senators, two former House speakers, and many former cabinet officials, for official misconduct and corruption.

Moral consensus works in PH too
Overall, we Filipinos are not total slouches in combating corruption and official abuse in government. Indeed we talk about it all the time, and suspect every public official of wrongdoing.

No one buys Malacañang’s propaganda about Aquino’s incorruptibility, which is self-proclaimed and is as incredible as papal infallibility.

Filipino handling of public scandal and controversy shows our adherence to both the power of moral consensus, and the usefulness of litigation.

If in this country, public officials oftentimes deflect calls for their resignations, it is not because we don’t have clear standards of ethical conduct in public office. Indeed, we have many laws and regulations that must be strictly observed by officeholders, beginning with the constitutionally-mandated filing of an annual statement of assets and liabilities and net worth (SALN).

The pressure of moral consensus has also operated effectively in the Philippines, sometimes with tragic results.

Under the heat of a Senate inquiry into alleged military financial irregularities that exposed and shamed him on live TV, former Defense Secretary and former AFP Chief of Staff Angelo Reyes took his own life by his mother’s graveside on February 8, 2011.

Former Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri resigned from the Philippine Senate on August 3, 2011, following allegations of poll fraud during the Senate elections in 2007, and to spare himself and his family from public scorn

Zubiri is the first senator on record to formally resign his office. All previous resignations from the Senate involved senators leaving to assume other positions in the government.

In each of these celebrated incidents, there was intense public and media focus on the issues.

Allegations of financial fraud in the armed forces had been building up . . . Members of the Senate blue ribbon committee went to town exploiting the issue.

In a striking twist, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, one of the toughest interlocutors of General Reyes at the time, is now himself under the microscope for alleged involvement in the P10-billion pork barrel scam.

Like his fellow senators, his defense against unethical brehavior is: “I have done nothing illegal.”

yenmakabenta@yahoo.com

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15 Comments

  1. In Australia many politicians and and Government executives step down when embroiled in an anomaly. Just recently the Premier of the State of NSW. resigned his position over a gift bottle of wine, when he lied to the commission that was investigating him on another matter. A federal court judge was jailed over a traffic infringement and a Minister of Corrections was jailed for consorting with known criminals. It doesn’t happen here. When a fish starts to stink, it starts from the head. To bad your tenant in Malacanang is the biggest crook and you wont accept it.. How apathetic can you be..

  2. Glue? SUPER-GLUE! Even if Abad did not feed at the PDAF or DAP troughs, as Budget Secretary he should have put an end to the practices that spawned so much corruption.

  3. kahit saan angulo silipin mr A Bad boy, guilty ka. Kahit kitang kita na
    ikaw at ang amo mong si Pnot ang kaporal sa bilyon bilyong nakawan
    sa kaban ng bayan, Sino namudmod ng Suhol, si Pnot, umayos ng
    mga pa relis ng Saro, si Ochoa at ang anak mong si Julia CS ng
    pms. ikaw ang huling pipirma bilang SDBM, imposibleng di mo alam
    ang modus at palusutan ng mga Tongresmen at Senatong, ang
    tagal mong kongresmen at ng amo mong si notpa. Kung ayaw mo diyan
    sa suhulan guilty, sa kapabayaan bilang bantay ng pera ng Bayan
    di ka mabuting gwardia dahil nanakawan kang dilat ang mata,
    pag ang security mo sa bahay natulog at nanakawan ka ano gagawin
    mo? mamahalin mo pa rin ba mr A Bad man.

  4. Johnny Ramos on

    When justice corona was maneuvered by pnoy during impeachment Abad was blamed. After Yolanda aftermath Mar Roxas took a hit. It seems no one want to blame Pnoy for all miseries. Either our problems are above the comprehension of Pnoy or we are just dumb. These pork barrel scam is a smoke screen Pnoy to rising cost of living and unemployment. We are being taken for a ride by this so called honest and playing dumb president.

  5. It is also the way filipinos think about things. Remember the hong kong bus hostage crisis, well the chief negotiator was with his aide standing right at the front door of the bus & the policeman was on the step of the bus hoding his rifle & talking to the negotiators. They had ample opportunity to grab him & hold him until the police raced forwrad & capture him. Now in any other country thats what would have happened & when questioned on why he didnt do that he said he would have lost his integrity as a negotiator. His integrity is worth more to him than their lives. Unfortunately thats the pinoy way of thinking. There doesnt seem to be any common sense here in this country. The imperitive thing there was the safety of the hostages but not to the negotiator the imperitive thing to him is his integrity & i bet he has never once thought those that dies were because of his inaction that day. It was his fault all those that died. I would have sacked & charged him with something & now he would be in jail, buit here he probably got promoted for doing a great job.

  6. Nes trinidad on

    The Agrava/Narvasa Commission passed this recommendatory judgement on the soldiers who were tasked to escort Ninoy Aquino and secure the airport, after concluding there was basis for a conspiracy among them: THE CRIME OF ONE IS THE CRIME OF ALL…

  7. Hi Yen, good morning, for me it is plain and simple breeding or the up-bringing of individuals. For me it is not a reason of poverty. I know a lot of poor people who has of high moral values. Yen you are in a better position than me to know who of the Philippine politicians who of the ten’s of thousands appointive gov’t officials have high moral value or not even high but just plain moral value!!

  8. I fully agree with you Yen. Filipinos doesn’t have the so-called ethical standards to speak of. They cling to their post like catalyst glue, whether or not elective or appointive. PNoy knows the degree of corruptions and other forms of BS under his administration. Yet his level of tolerance for those son-of-a-bitches in government bureaucracy is very low. He is quick to defend his “bata-bata” if embroiled in corruption, and sad to note, too fast to throw the weight of government power even for his perceived enemies. If all political shenanigans involved in the PDAF scam strictly observe the ethical standards like the Japanese, I think there will be no “Sena-tongs” or “Representa-thieves” left in both houses. Then we’ll elect a new breed of incorruptible members of both houses. This is “suntok sa buwan,” so to speak.

  9. Main reason of accused public officials to cling in office is the Filipinos short memory and eventual lost of enthusiasm to follow a graft case (s) through its final resolution. The weak and corrupt judicial system is also a factor that accused public official depends upon and gives them leverage to keep prolonging a legal battle. This observation is bolstered by the unresolved graft and unexplained wealth cases against the Marcoses, Eduardo Cojuangco and Enrile on coco levy fund, Elenita Binay, the Romualdezes and others now still pending before the Sandiganbayan for 25 years. It is the politicians outlook that it is best their criminal cases survive for years until all testimonies of witnesses fades away and documents misplaced or eaten by termites, that will assure for eventual dismissal of the cases. A case in point, is Roberto Ongpin graft case on the Binondo Central Banki scam. Ongpin was absolved after 20 years in Sandiganbayan on the ground that the witnesses had lost recollections of the events. While Japan has the moral consensus to resign; the American system to fight in court but its court are straight and faster to decide; in Philippines, all the systems are corrupt and everybody is corrupt (Executive, Congress and Judiciary) so thinking is since we are all corrupt why resign, just stick to your gun and fight back (by standard defense of denials and I did nothing illegal; or I did not steal from government coffers – Estradas, father and son defense!)
    Jun Adan
    New York City

  10. The root of the problem with our politicians mired in scandal is in the culture. In Japan, honor is everything. With Filipinos, they have mastered the art of developing thick skins. Our politicians have developed an immunity to shame or embarrassment. The glitter of money and power is the antidote to the horror of being exposed. We never had “seppuku” (the old tradition of disembowelment) like the Japanese resort to when faced with shame. We just trod along like nothing happened. “Pakapalan lang ng mukha.” I don’t see Sexy or Pogi or Tanda doing sepuku because they have dishonored their profession, or have lied to the people and the nation. The art of lying to oneself is an art developed through years of practice. They have honed this craft to perfection. The President’s cronies and drinking buddies do well when defending those who abuse power and lie to their teeth. They just simply sweep the dirt under the rug. What else is new?

  11. Mang Karpio on

    Meroon kasabihan hindi bawal kapag hindi ka nahuhulihan. Kaya ang pinoy if not caught red handed eh innocent until proven guilty. As for the codes I beg to differ because there’s none kapag ang crime was committed by one person only. However, as a group that when you have those moral and belief issues. Unless, meroong maternal connection dahil kahit gaano kadami kang napatay pagdating ating mga ina tayo pa rin ang pinakamabait or walang sala na hinahatulin sa kamatayan. Ganuon lang iyon kapag pinilit mong intindihin eh masisira ang baliw sa inyo. In the case of senators, mayor, congressman including the president eh totally idiocratic with no democracy iyan. Dahil above all eh sabi nga ni Scarface first I’ll have the money, then the women, then the power and then the world! So, say hello to his little pren…

  12. Merong principle of accountability in public service. Kaya lang, mataas yata ang threshold (not in the sense of a benchmark or standard). Pakapalan ng mukha yata.
    Ang public apathy threshold, mataas din. Walang pakialam.

  13. Sec. Abad skin is so thick that you need a missile probably to penetrate it. Well, it’s not surprising that he is staying in office anyway. He wants to protect himself. So, the best thing to do is to stay in power.

    What surprises me is Pres. Aquino’s blind support of his budget secretary. Well, looks like we have another Vitangcol in the making. I just hope this whole thing is not going to blow on his face. As much as I admire the President, I cannot help but wonder if he is trying to hide something so embarrassing to his administration.

  14. Pride, pride, pride and greed! These are the main reasons why those characters you mentioned are not prone to resigning. In short, these people are more into the material things in life and concerned as to what other people might say; they are more into the ‘image’ aspect of their being. It’s sad that even older people still cling to earthly success, more than anything else. There seems to be no satisfaction to that ‘animal’ called “greed”.My question: “Where is Christianity in the only Catholic country in Asia? Any “authenticity” in the way we live?

    What’s happening now is the result of failures in the moral aspect of our lives in the past. If there is no ‘regeneration’ of morality and discipline in the country because of all these widespread scandals in and out of the government, no political leader will ever make it.

  15. It is why Japan as well as it’s neighbor and former colony, South Korea such successful and powerful economic countries. When a government worker is involved in any kind of scam or scandal, they do not wait for any litigation or whatever, they resign, to protect not only themselves but the office they hold. There are many stories in fact that they even go to the point of committing suicide because they dishonor themselves, their families and their office. Because their government workers are honest, the fruit of it all is good governance and success in their offices and translate to being a dynamic country. Compare it to a 3rd country here in the Philippines where politics and being in government is just like a business venture. If a person is in government especially those in the legislative and executive branch, you are assured of being a multi-millionaire when you leave the service, thence you let your family members also join in as politicians and government workers making your family a dynastical tyrant. In the Philippines as we all know, those in government who commit malfeasance are so shameless and thick skinned that they refuse to quit or resign from the post and will even counter any accusation or cases against them. Just look at those involved in the Napoles scam, they are not ashamed to show their faces on TV or high society and keeps on invoking their “innocence” under proven guilty. And when asked to resign, the usual reply is “I cannot quit my post because I owe my constituents, the people who voted for me their representation.” The Philippines will never prosper if the country does not change it’s political ways. So may incompetent and thieves in government.