• What the nation needs to win against sleaze

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    First of three parts

    Public office is a public trust. Public officers and employees must, at all times, be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency; act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.
    — The Constitution, Article XI, Section 1

    The State shall promote a just and dynamic social order that will ensure the prosperity and independence of the nation and free the people from poverty through policies that provide adequate social services, promote full employment, a rising standard of living, and an improved quality of life for all.
    The State shall promote social justice in all phases of national development.
    The State values the dignity of every human person and guarantees full respect for human rights.
    — The Constitution, Article II, Sections 9-11

    On May 8 and 15, this writer was asked to give a talk to middle managers of a national government department undergoing a program for organizational reform. The brief was to recount experiences and cases from nearly a decade of public service as Cabinet Secretary and, briefly, as Presidential Spokesperson in the Arroyo administration, Chairman of the Civil Service Commission (CSC), and Secretary-General of the Special National Public Reconstruction Commission overseeing recovery work after the 2009 Ondoy and Pepeng megafloods.

    It was easy enough to walk through the Malacañang memory lane, and google tales of integrity, industry, dedication and sacrifice from the CSC’s yearly Honor Awards for exemplary public servants. Among the most inspiring, if tragic episodes was that of the late Assistant Solicitor General Nestor Ballacillo, who handled the P18-billion Meralco refund and the NAIA3-Piatco suit, among his many cases against the rich and powerful. He and his son were killed by two gunmen in December 2006.

    But, frankly, amid the deluge of front-page headlines and prime-time Senate hearings on billions of pesos squandered, if not stolen by the very leaders tasked with crafting laws, one wonders if extolling exemplars of public service would really make a lasting impression, let alone inspire lifelong dedication among bureaucrats, especially those witness to the excesses and venalities of people in power.

    Why should a bureau director, a division chief, police officer, or a local government unit functionary pass up a bribe of, say, P10,000, knowing that some senator, congressman, governor, mayor, or police superintendent was pocketing ten or even a hundred times that amount every month or week? Or worse: Why should a civil servant stand in the way of such sleaze and possibly earn the ire of higher-ups on the take?

    The miracle is that many hundreds of thousands of public servants do serve with integrity, industry, dedication and sacrifice. They don’t make headlines in our scandal-obsessed media, and even the best exemplars of the service rarely get the public’s attention. Shakespeare certainly got it right in his tragedy Julius Caesar: “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”

    Well, let that not happen at least in today’s column. If only for a thousand words or so, let us paint a picture of exemplary Filipino public service, just to show our citizenry sick of PDAF, DAP, IRA and other stained acronyms of state spending, that the Constitution’s ideal of public service as public trust can, in fact, be done, and done well.

    Killed in the line of duty
    Assistant Solicitor General Nestor Ballacillo lived a spartan life with his family and eschewed the lucrative lawyering in the private sector. He also braved death threats over the high-value cases he prosecuted. At age 57, he was killed with his 23-year-old son Benedict near the Parañaque City Hall, where he represented the state in the NAIA Terminal 3 case. The two assailants took the victims’ briefcases and wallets, but left their cellphones and watches. Among the reported papers taken were papers for the NAIA3 case.

    Forest guard Elpidio Malinao patrolled the Makiling Forest Reserve in the mountains of Laguna Province, protecting it against destructive activities such as timber poaching, illegal occupancy, kaingin-making and littering. Reporting and testifying against offenders, Malinao also faced threats to his life in serving the nation and Mother Nature. No matter that forest guards like him were not even allowed to carry firearms to protect themselves and enforce the law. Three years ago this day, May 9, Malinao was shot dead by an unidentified motorcyclist.

    Posthumously awarded in 2011 along with Malinao was teacher Lorna Ibban Pulalon of Talisayan Elementary School in Zamboanga City. In October 2010, the 22-year-old faced a crazed bolo-wielding ex-prison inmate who threatened her Grade 3 class. In the rampage, three were killed and six were injured among the pupils and teachers. Among the dead was Pulalon. Those who know her were not suprised by her courage. In barangay elections, she refused a candidate’s inducement, replying: “I cannot be bribed. I’m a teacher.”

    If only our elected leaders could mouth similar words and mean it. Something like: “I cannot be bribed. I’m a public servant.”

    Most readers will probably snicker at that last line and shake their heads, muttering such integrity would be a miracle. But really, that’s what we need today: Miracles every day performed by ordinary Filipinos both in and out of government. Patriots who don’t let the unconscionable corruption of others lure them to give up their principles and just join what they can’t lick.

    Rather, these heroic public servants—Lingkod Bayani, as the CSC calls them—pay the price of integrity and dedication, living within their honest means, serving tirelessly the poor folk who can never repay them, and upholding the law and the people’s welfare and interest, even to their own personal pain and peril.

    Let us pray for more such miracles in our country. (Subsequent columns will recount more such tales.) It’s the only way to win against the evil men and women we elect.

    (The last two parts will appear next Monday and Wednesday.)

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