Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

President Schulz urges MEPs to abide by “mutual respect” rule | Photo by European Parliament via Flickr/Creative Commons

The Pacquiao and PDP-Laban incident brought the political season to a more formal opening, so to speak. In the Philippines, politics is an all-season activity. It is the career and livelihood of many Filipinos – and I am not talking only about politicians in office. The more formal opening I am talking about is the 2022 presidential elections. While politics is 24/7, elections give it partisan intensity.

This means, in layman’s terms, we are in for the bad times again. Politics and governance mix all the time, but they are the worst mix of all. Governance is primarily about public service. Politics is about oneself, what one gains from it all. Governance is about others. Politics is about the interests of one or a few.

We have to endure politics every three years when we have elections. The law limits political activity – which means campaigning – because the framers of the law know that public service is the first to suffer from the partisanship of electoral politics. We know that very well, but we also are told that elections and the peaceful transfer of power is the heart of democracy. To accommodate the democratic dream, we will sacrifice public service for a while.

Technology and social media have made everything go fast, even the news – real or fake. Partisan politics will increase the fake more than the real. That is the nature of the beast. When someone wants to promote himself or herself to win an election, and our kind of politics is not about platforms or principles, there is little to talk about in the positive but boring dimension. Attacking the opponent and letting out juicy secrets to stain or destroy the credibility or integrity of another candidate draws more attention.

“The politics of personality is definitely more understood and accepted by the majority of Filipinos. Personal drama is interesting, full of good versus evil stories, sex, money, and violence. The Party platform is dead. It is not because of the immaturity of voters; it is the reality of our politics.”

The politics of personality is definitely more understood and accepted by the majority of Filipinos. Personal drama is interesting, full of good versus evil stories, sex, money, and violence. The Party platform is dead. It is not because of the immaturity of voters; it is the reality of our politics. Put out a popular candidate and then pour resources on his or her candidacy, and that candidate becomes competitive even without a platform. Put the platform in front, and the attraction disappears because the head, not the heart, has to go to work.

I was wondering if the politics of our fathers and grandfathers were much different. When I read many comments about the quality of our elected officials then, it would seem that there was a more refined culture that kept the greed and dishonesty of politicians at bay. There was so much value on the palabra de honor, on the weight of one’s word that more than matched the weight of a contract. But since most Filipinos still alive today cannot seem to relate to that anymore, I must then concede that it is gone.

But there is no use crying over spilled milk. Our younger generations will not go back to a past they have no memory of. Our generation and the ones before us did not do well in instilling the value of history in the Filipino psyche. The ideals that we sorely miss were of the past. Some mistakes were there, too, but the march to modernity effectively forced us to adapt to circumstances. Unfortunately, to fast-track material progress, we let go or devalued the virtues of yore.

The generations that will live through and govern in the next 50 years are the only ones who can correct the mistakes of the past two generations. That is easier said than done, though. They may be young, but they are growing up in an environment deeply influenced by their elders. They, too, despite their idealism, will have to rise above their inherited flaws, the worst of which is the low ethical bar defining governance in modern times.

“The generations that will live through and govern in the next 50 years are the only ones who can correct the mistakes of the past two generations. That is easier said than done, though. They may be young, but they are growing up in an environment deeply influenced by their elders.”

That may appear to be a harsh opinion. It is. I do not know how to make it even harsher without descending to a language unfit for a Filipino striving to live with pride and honor. But I should if I could. Nothing is more important than making the younger generations realize just how much we have lowered our ethical standards. And I cannot just point out to those in public service when the Filipino public tolerates it.

Few know that our Constitution contains what, to me, is the most important piece of legislation ever imagined, created, and passed into law. Today, though, who even knows about Republic Act 6713 or otherwise known as the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards of Public Officials and Employees? Let me share this gist of this law, and may I ask that you share it, too, with your families, friends, and even schools you know.

R.A. 6713 says: Public officials and employees shall at all times be accountable to the people and shall discharge their duties with utmost responsibility, integrity, competence, and loyalty, act with patriotism and justice, lead modest lives, and uphold public interest over personal interest.

“I wish that we put as our central focus the spirit and the letter of the law governing the code of conduct and ethical standards of our public officials and employees. In fact, if we could, let us discuss only that.”

If we cannot help ourselves from being engaged in political discussions during an active political season moving towards national and presidential elections, I wish that we put as our central focus the spirit and the letter of the law governing the code of conduct and ethical standards of our public officials and employees. In fact, if we could, let us discuss only that. Forget the plans and programs of any incoming administration. They will be as good or as bad as the quality of public officials and employees who are supposed to serve us.

Imagine this scenario where candidates have to show their credentials and worthiness to be public officials according to legal requirements. Imagine the candidates trying to define for us the meaning of responsibility, integrity, competence, loyalty, patriotism, justice, modest living, and public interest. Imagine us demanding the same from them. If that is politics, bring it on.

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