It had always bothered me why there are so many efforts to promote voters’ education when an election is coming up in a few months (and hardly anything in between elections) when voters do not play the major role in any election. Elections are for those who aspire to be public officials through an electoral process. Yes, voters do choose among candidates but the more vital role belongs to the candidates, not the voters.
It is like the bar examinations for lawyers. That is the responsibility of both the candidate lawyer who takes the exam and the state who ensures that the exams are properly conducted and graded. Later, citizens who need lawyers have the right to choose but they can choose only among the qualified. The same is true of doctors. Candidate doctors have to under a board exam and only those who pass are eligible to practice as doctors. Again, patients have a choice of which doctor to go to, but only among doctors who have been officially processed and accepted as qualified.
Elected public officials are a little different. True, they are qualified by the voters. However, and this is a crucial “however”, once qualified to occupy that official public position, they become subject to provisions of the Constitution and the laws of the land. These constitutional and legal requirements are not easy to live up to but all of them, plus all government officials and employees, are governed by these legal obligations. After being elected or appointed as public officials and government employees, they are as bound to requirements of the law as professionals like lawyers and doctors are bound by the requirements of law and their professions.
Instead of shifting the greater responsibility of having public officials and government employees to the voting citizens of the country, which is not only unfair but quite insidious, that greater responsibility of having public officials and government employees perform in strict accordance with the laws that govern them, is simply left largely unattended. If ordinary citizens do not know what these provisions of the Constitution and the laws of the land are, I share the most important. The gist is complete and easy to understand. The details are too many to discuss but can be taken up when necessary and by those mandated by law to implement them.
ARTICLE XI (PHILIPPINE CONSTITUTION)
ACCOUNTABILITY OF PUBLIC OFFICERS
Section 1. 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.
REPUBLIC ACT 6713
Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Government Employees
“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 agree with the very liberal requirements for candidates for official public office via the electoral process. Having a representative form of government, it is but right that the officials we can vote into the office can represent the various categories of citizens and sectors in the country. Some are rich and educated, many are poor with less education, yet all can vote in a candidate they believe is representative of them.
But once they are elected, or appointed in the case of government employees, they have to comply with the requirements of law. These constitutional and legal requirements must have the full mechanism of implementation, monitoring, and arbitration when needed. It is impossible to believe that the more than one million public officials and government employees are discharging their duties with utmost responsibility, integrity, competence, and loyalty, act with patriotism and justice, lead modest lives, and uphold public interest over personal interest.
Let us begin with candidates for national and local positions. Do these candidates even know what the rules and regulations of public office or government employment are? Can they discharge their duties with responsibility and competence? Do they have integrity and loyalty? Are they patriotic and just? Do they have the sense and the courage to always uphold the public interest of personal interest – including those of their relatives and friends?
Who interviews and questions candidates about their level of understanding about the requirements of the law that they will have to submit to and comply with once they are elected, or appointed? The operating departments many have some screening process before hiring, but what about the qualifications of candidates, not as candidates but as elected officials once they win? They may win by popular vote but their mandated performance is specifically governed by law.
The advent of social media, over and above what is common knowledge in communities and traditional tri-media, already points out the constant violation of what is defined as utmost responsibility, of what is accepted as integrity, of what is the meaning of competence for each position, of what upholding public interest is versus favoring personal or family interest, and maybe the most violated, of leading modest lives.
Do not educate the voters without first educating the candidates about what they will be required by law to comply with once elected. When candidates have to go through courses that intend to make them understand what the law requires of them, the voting public can be simultaneously educated as well. Not only that, the public can be educated starting when Filipino children go to school as requirements of good citizenship can be taught from elementary to college. But the most urgent is the education of candidates, the most urgent and the most critical.
Government has a serious challenge, not just to cleanse itself, but to ensure that all who work for it, elected or appointed, understand that their most noble purpose is to be role models, to be heroes for their people.