Return to the basics of honest and ethical government

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THE escalating revelations of illegal insertions and lump sum appropriations in the national budget, of procurement irregularities in the Department of National Defense (DND), and violations of governance regulations by the officers of the Development Bank of the Philippines testify to a state of ethical disarray in the government service.

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When we combine these with the suspension by the Ombudsman of the Mayor of Makati on suspicion of irregularities in city government construction projects, and the appointment of a new Armed Forces Chief of Staff who happens to be already facing graft charges by the Ombudsman, we feel assaulted on all fronts by a pervasive sense of scandal and corruption in government and the public service.

We are impelled to ask: What has happened to public service ethics in our country? How is the vaunted straight path program really of President Aquino faring in terms of stemming this apparent tide of immorality in our public life?

We are a nation today that desperately needs to rebuild the edifice and basis of public morality. We need to find again the standards of ethical conduct for all public officials, both elective and appointive. We should throw out of office and out of the service all those who merely smirk at the words “integrity,” “honesty” and “honor.”

Straight path either means the ethical or moral path, or doing the right thing, or just an empty slogan?

Back to basics
From a study of how other countries have successfully coped with the challenge of sleaze, scandal and hypocrisy in their government service, we are convinced that the best way to start reform and renewal in our country is to return to the basics of honest and ethical government, and to restate the basic principles of public service ethics.

In this reform effort, we should proceed from the premise that all public officials, both elected and appointed, are obligated to render honest judgment, to work hard and efficiently, and to maximize the benefit of government to every citizen.

In the book Honest Government (Praeger, 1992), the authors W. J. Michael Cody and Richardson R. Lynn have admirably distilled and codified the basic principles of public service ethics that are observed in most modern democracies.

They cite in particular six principles that would do our country and our people much good if they are widely observed in our public life. These are:

First: Public officials must not lie, cheat, or steal in any official capacity. They must obey the law. Public officials must always tell the truth to the public, other governmental bodies, and the press, except in extremely limited circumstance, such as war or national emergency, when a temporary deception may serve a paramount governmental purpose.

Second: Public officials must avoid all conflicts of interest created by business, friendship, or family relationships and must always be careful to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

Third: Public officials owe a fiduciary duty to taxpayers and to all citizens to ensure that public funds are used efficiently. Officials and all public employees whom they supervise should be as productive as possible.

Fourth: Public officials must not allow zeal for their duties, including such duties as tax collection or law enforcement, to cause them to violate citizens’ legal rights. Public officials should not be rude or unresponsive when dealing with the public,

Fifth: Public officials should cooperate with other officials and agencies to maximize the public good, rather than acting out of cronyism or advancing the interests of politicians and of a political party.

Sixth: Public officials should perform their duties based solely on the public good, rather than on what is in their best political or selfish interest. They should not pressure public employees to assist in the officials’ political careers or reelection efforts.

Fiduciary neglect
We Filipinos are often confused in observing the distinction between elected and appointed officials, because one group are our chosen representatives, and the others are just chosen by the appointing power. We imagine elected officials – or they imagine themselves — as a privileged group.

Of all the rules that have been rampantly violated in our country, it is the neglect of the fiduciary duty of public officials, their duty to guard public funds. That has done the most harm to the economy and the nation. Billions of taxpayers’ money have been lost or stolen as a result. Similarly, the rule to avoid conflicts of interest and the appearance of impropriety has been wantonly violated and unevenly applied.

We believe that investigations of wrongdoing must proceed along these principles. They apply to all public officials, from the president down to the barangay official. If wrongdoing is discovered, those responsible must face consequences, and procedures must be established to ensure that such abuses do not occur again.

This issue is not a partisan matter. It should be taken up by all who care about country. Our people must awaken and look objectively at the actions of the administration and the opposition, and not simply accept what politicians and publicists say. Public vigilance is the price that we must pay for better and honest government.

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7 Comments

  1. One sure sign of a politician is when they provide handouts to get votes (could be cash, t-shirts with their name on it, birthday cakes etc.). It is not governing to provide handouts, it is advertising. When I see someone like Binay, the “champion” of the poor go on tours with his bag of goodies, I think why doesn’t he build schools, hospitals or provide jobs so the poor can help themselves? The goodies he hands out last for a short time and then things go back to normal. A good education or job training lasts a lifetime.

    The people of the Philippines have to be taught what good governance looks like and be taught that it is illegal to accept money in return for a vote. You can’t expect politicians like Binay and his family to change, the change has to come from the voters and that starts with providing them with an idea of how good governments should operate.

    • Arrest and jail a couple of politicians for buying votes and that will stop but that also will never happen in the Philippines. Lets face it the entire system is corrupt and apparently that’s the way it’s always been and always will be.

      The people lack the morals and or the will to change.

  2. Larry Ebersole on

    the mind is molded from the womb so the FAMILY is the first step to catch the good characters of a human being. So the corrupted mind started from the family itself and then motivated and bolstered up by outside information from the public to the media. when the concept of what is right and what is wrong has been corrupted from childhood and supported from the media what do we get? when media glorifies the wrongdoers instead of pointing out the truth what do we get? We had become a country of lost sensibilities of right and wrong and what drives us more is our personal wants and greed. Very sad to to say but putting things in examples, you see ex-supreme court justices lawyering for a known corrupt politician trying his best to make a black into white; what morality does it portray. we will have to move mountains to go back to basic uncorrupted principles of right and wrong.

  3. Mahirap baguhin ang kinaugalian na ng maraming pinoy! Sa kanila kapag idolo na,kahit may masamang ginagawa ay tanggap pa rin,nananaig ang ego kaysa sa tama!
    Katulad ng media,puro sigaw at kritiko sa mga ginagawa ng masamang politiko!pero walang ginagawang hakbang upang maging pantay ang laban at tumulong sa mga taong karapat dapat!laging priority nila ay kung ang pakinabang ang makukuha nila sa politiko kapag manalo!
    Ang media ang unang-unang nahhuhulma sa kaisipan ng tao para iboto ang politiko na hindi karapatdapat!
    Magbabago at mapabubuti ang bansa kapag sinimula ito ng mga media at mga negosyante!bansa muna bago pangsariling pakinabang! Sana magkaroon ng kaluluwa ito!

  4. Return to the basics of honest n ethical govt? Return to ? We never had an honest n ethical govt.

  5. Public vigilance is the price that we must pay for better and honest government.

    The problem is once discovered the law enforcing agencies will not investigate and charge the thieves if they are connected to the Liberal Party. The president controls the Dept of Justice and the Ombudsman office as seen by the lack of charges against any Aquino Ally.

    18 senators on the Napoles list, 3 opposition senators charged and jailed.
    Who has the power to shield the other 15 ?

  6. Vic Penetrante on

    The problem is the sudden change of teaching. For 3 centuries under Spain, the primary teaching was religion. Now the teaching of “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” has been reversed. Poverty is talked about as though it is a sin to be poor. And poverty is feared.