Ano’ng Taya Mo?

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

Former President Aquino speaking before cadets of DPWH on Good Governance and Anti-Corruption Program. | Photo by Exequiel Supera/Malacanang Photo Bureau via Wikimedia Commons

PNoy’s death brought back memories that I must have never really deleted in my emotional files. Before he was even thinking of running for president, a small group of people looked at the looming presidential elections a year ahead and thought it was an opportune time to go into a social experiment.

We borrowed a slogan that the Gawad Kalinga movement used to espouse participation and patriotic contribution to the motherland by citizens themselves – Ano’ng taya mo or ATM. It was a fundamental principle in community development that members are constantly reminded about the obligation of each citizen beyond what was for self and family. The collective reality of Filipinos is always the Filipino nation, or the motherland, represented on the ground by our respective communities.

“A strong people become a strong nation. Its reverse is also true, that weak people make a weak nation. Our strength is reflected in our productivity, the kind that brings us closest to self-sufficiency.”

A strong people become a strong nation. Its reverse is also true, that weak people make a weak nation. Our strength is reflected in our productivity, the kind that brings us closest to self-sufficiency. Yes, of course, many virtues are involved here, led by responsibility, industriousness, and perseverance. The bottom line, however, is most measurable in terms of productivity and self-sufficiency. The strongest is one who needs the least to survive, and the one with the most to help others do the same.

Because an election is coming the year after, we thought we would include in our seminars or workshops a more practical explanation of how we all contribute to the collective goals through the taxes we pay. In our minds, taxes are not the most important as we saw that productivity is more fundamental than taxes. However, taxes are a good beginning to make, especially the less fortunate in society understand that they are part of the big contribution that citizens turn over to the government. That means they, too, have the right to ask questions and demand government performance.

“The main responsibility of government is simple – good governance. If any politician or bureaucrat becomes popular, that is an added achievement. Yet, that added achievement is not a substitute for good governance. Good governance is not negotiable – it is a legal duty, the dereliction of which is punishable by law.”

If our main responsibility is to be productive and contribute our share to the national economy through our taxes, what then is the government’s main responsibility? Because, before we forget, we are paying every public official and employee. The trillions of pesos that government spends, the same trillions that some politicians try to make us imagine that they are to be credited for this or that project, all came from us, our productivity, and our contributions. We owe no politician or bureaucrat for spending our money – that politician or bureaucrat owes us.

The main responsibility of government is simple – good governance. If any politician or bureaucrat becomes popular, that is an added achievement. Yet, that added achievement is not a substitute for good governance. Good governance is not negotiable – it is a legal duty, the dereliction of which is punishable by law. The popular or the unpopular in government is not exempted from duty and accountability by law.

The duty of every public official or personnel is clearly spelled out by the Constitution and the enabling law known as Republic Act 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees. If any provision by law or the Constitution should be taught to all Filipinos, starting with all students in all schools, it should be this code of conduct and ethical standards. If public officials and employees are rewarded or punished for the good or the harm they do, all other laws will be better observed and served.

When legal standards are met or complied with beyond the call of duty, the total or performance of public officials and employees is called good governance. We cannot have good governance when laws are disregarded, especially when the eight (8) norms on the code of conduct and ethical standards are violated. We, the citizens of the Republic, must go the extra mile to know these norms of conduct because we can demand each public official and employee to live up to these. Otherwise, violators are culpable and punishable by law.

The general ignorance of this august code of conduct is the fundamental reason why Filipino citizens do not move against violations against it. We are more attracted to the juicy details of different forms of corruption or violence. But if we want our public officials to serve the country and the citizenry with fidelity to what is demanded of them, all of us should learn in detail the essence of the code of conduct and ethical standards. When we do, when we insist on compliance with the law, the government will act based on that law. In fact, with just RA 6713, thousands or tens of thousands of public officials and employees can be terminated, and some imprisoned.

“Required of all public officials and employees: Utmost responsibility, utmost integrity, utmost competence, utmost loyalty, act with patriotism and justice, lead modest lives, and uphold public interest over personal interest.”

Good governance has been a long and almost futile cry of interest groups, including political opposition. But people do not understand it and, consequently, will not demand what they do not understand. Try to break it down to each norm of conduct that legally binds all public servants, and even elementary students will understand. In fact, this code of conduct must itself be applied in essence as ideals that homes and schools can teach to the young. After all, is there any of the following that we do not want every Filipino to strive for?

Required of all public officials and employees: Utmost responsibility, utmost integrity, utmost competence, utmost loyalty, act with patriotism and justice, lead modest lives, and uphold public interest over personal interest.

What Filipino home, what Filipino school, what Filipino company, what Filipino organization or institution would not want to teach these norms of conduct? It is not enough to complain when something goes wrong but do not know what law is violated or what a negligent or corrupt government agency does not prosecute the violation. We must know every detail because every detail is part of the Filipino soul and culture. Then, knowing it, let us strive to live it day after day.

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