Enforce the Code of Conduct

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

| Photo by Giammarco on Unsplash

Why is it that the responsibility of voting for the best candidates is left entirely on the shoulders of voters? Because of that, we have this “vote wisely” drive every time an election is coming. Every three years, voters are encouraged to vote wisely — as though they have not done so as a whole. Or else, they would not even mention that recommendation. Every three years, voters are encouraged to vote wisely — as though they have not done so as a whole.

And, of course, many voters are deemed not to have voted wisely. How can they when most of them have been coming from the D and E sectors, the traditionally impoverished. Most voters are streetwise – instinctively and intuitively. They have survived the torture of being poor, have they not? I doubt if most Filipinos in Class A, B, & C can survive a month under the same conditions as our poor. Poor Filipinos know good from bad, fake from real, but do not necessarily follow what is moral over practical.

In the first place, the moral is not where the leading economic and social classes are. It cannot be. Centuries of exploitation and abuse of the masses cannot be ethical. The upper classes must desist from talking about morality as if it belongs to them as if the poor do not know what morality is. If the sector that has recently affirmed through surveys that they are NOT poor, and that is only the top 20% of the population, feel that the masses have not gone the moral route, it may be that there has been no consistent practice of morality anywhere.

Try going around the Philippines, and you will encounter mostly, and sometimes only, the 80% who say they are not rich except among the poor themselves. From both Filipinos and foreigners, there have been glowing praises of how friendly, hospitable, caring, and generous the masa Filipino has been. Of course, there are criminals there, too, but criminals are also inside exclusive subdivisions. From and through them, visitors have found the best in the Filipino.

“Our laws have not been creatures of stupidity but the opposite. We have well-intentioned and sophisticated laws. But the attitude towards the laws has been marked by fear of them by the majority and subtle contempt by the rich. The masses know they cannot win, and the rich know there is always a way around the law”

Yet, from only 20% who attest they are not poor and 80% who affirm they are, those we elect as mayors, governors, congressmen, and senators are rich with rare exceptions. Disproportionate representation, it seems, and self-defeating for a country in pursuit of democracy. The democratic principle of allowing almost any Tom, Dick, and Harry to run is a requirement that precisely subverts the principle of representative democracy. If they amend the Constitution, it must not start with changing constitutional, economic limitations but correcting the imbalance of representation.

Our laws have not been creatures of stupidity but the opposite. We have well-intentioned and sophisticated laws. But the attitude towards the laws has been marked by fear of them by the majority and subtle contempt by the rich. The masses know they cannot win, and the rich know there is always a way around the law. There was once a president loved by the masses, and he did say that the poor should have more, not less, under the law. Unfortunately, he died too early. And he was himself surrounded by the rich and powerful.

Wisely, though, the framers of the Constitution, whether they just copied a foreign Constitution or tried their best to come up with an ideal version, did put stiff requirements for all public officials. Simple but very demanding. They devised a code of conduct and ethical standards that would make all public officials and employees the governance models, here or the world. This code of conduct and ethical standards reflect the fine points of our belief systems, both Christian and Muslim.

Commitment to the public interest over the personal. Professional, competent. Fairness and sincerity. Political neutrality. Responsiveness to the public. Nationalism and patriotism. Adherence to democracy. And, most of all, simple living.

The above requirements are like virtues, the practice of which automatically ensures good governance. If there is continuing advocacy and outcry for good governance today, it simply means that the code of conduct and ethical standards demanded by law are not being followed. How many presidents have we had that have made it to the list of top thieves of the world? And if the required conduct and ethics are disregarded on a wholesale basis, why is the Ombudsman ineffective against massive violations?

“We do not have a vision of what we can be as a people and a nation. We are saddled, instead, with wrongdoing and criminals in public service. In the fight between good and evil, evil usually wins until death comes and holds the promise of hell.”

The voters should ask candidates about the code of conduct and nothing else. Platforms of governance mean precisely nothing to voters. They are not part of any national conversation. They are just told that another law has been passed, more trillions added to past trillions, and mere audiences to more scandals of corruption and plunder. Candidates may think that they only need to know how to read and write. They should know that they are most vulnerable to termination, impeachment, or imprisonment when they violate public servants’ code of conduct and ethics.

At the moment, I am afraid to ask candidates if they know about the code of conduct and ethical standards that will demand their compliance once they are in office. I am so scared because I do not think they know. Worse, I am afraid because I do not believe they care. In gist, here lies the most grievous fault line of governance and public service. Widespread violations are not given importance and are simply allowed to define the character of the government.

The remedy of most politicians is even worse. They enact more laws to close loopholes, which leads to more loopholes from criminals in public service. The cost of controls is now almost equal to the cost of the service. Or the project with red-tape choking all processes of government operations.

We do not have a vision of what we can be as a people and a nation. We are saddled, instead, with wrongdoing and criminals in public service. In the fight between good and evil, evil usually wins until death comes and holds the promise of hell.

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