Pleasure And Pain

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

It’s not anything sexual but I wish it were so. The mixture of pleasure and pain is often an option so as to break the boredom of sex between long-time partners. But in politics and public service, pleasure and pain take on a more sadistic mode.

Too often, we hear appointed public officials who get embroiled in controversy give their patented response to calls for their resignation as follows:

“I serve at the pleasure of the appointing power.” By law, many highly placed officials are endowed with the power to appoint. The one, though, who appoints the most number is the President of the republic, apparently because he is the highest official in the land. I believe there are thousands that he personally has to sign the appointment papers of, whether he knows them or not, because he is the only one mandated by law to do it for certain positions. Congressional or constitutional amendments should be in order, to be fair to any President who cannot possibly vet all candidates yet has to sign the necessary appointment papers.

Because of the hyperactivity of media, traditional and the new forms we call social media, it is normal to hear or read about complaints from citizens about some appointed public officials. Worse, even foreigners can get into the act as well with Facebook and Twitter making it easy for them. Many complaints die a natural death, often overtaken by newer controversies. Some do not, however, because something feeds the controversy, like the perennial traffic, or floods, or MRT/LRT breakdowns.

I am not referring to the DOTC controversies although they sure are many, and constant, whether it is the MRT, the bus, jeepney, or taxi issues, or car plates and stickers that cannot meet the demand, or the one runway airport and the laglag or tanim-bala scandal. There are many other cases that have earned the ire of local and national publics, and each of these have officials in charge at the top who are asked to resign. DOTC is simply in the hottest seat so far.

My concern is the standard reply of concerned appointed officials, placing on the shoulders of the appointing power the total responsibility of their resignation or continuation. I am wondering what kind of officials are now manning many of our government agencies, why they find it so objectionable to resign when the heat is on them—even if they put the appointing power on the spot. Their appointment did not carry a clause that obligates them to stay if they want to leave.

The instances where appointed officials, from the barangay to Cabinet level, have been involved in controversies, their faults or not, may reach levels when they, and their appointing superiors, lose the public trust and support. With that gone, the public they serve will lose appreciation of virtually anything they do. I wonder why the trust and support of the public seem to be worth less and less, while the trust and support of their appointing superior becomes more valuable. This perverse equation reveals the power of the elite or traditional authority versus the power of democracy itself where the people reign supreme.

An appointment to a public position carries with it responsibility and accountability to the public—more than to one’s superior, and more than to the law itself. It was not the law that required the appointment but a public need, a collective good that had to be served. What makes this so hard to understand and to respect? Even if the appointing power does not ask a subordinate to resign, the subordinate has his or her own sense of propriety, of judgment, as to what serves the higher or more urgent need of the public. I suspect the appointed subordinate has the right or common sense to know what needs to be done but simply does not have the character to do the right thing.

No one is indispensable. This should be mantra number one not only of life but government life most especially. Anyone can have a heart attack or an accident yet life goes on, public service goes on, society goes on. This is not hard to understand, yet hard to accept when one’s pride, or one’s need, is threatened. When that happens, the public good is quickly shoved aside and the concerned official goes legal, or goes personal. When that happens, public service is a myth, and vested interests become paramount.

The pleasure of the appointing power and the appointed are relevant only when that pleasure is shared by the public. But when the public derives no pleasure whatsoever and receives only pain, frustration, disappointment and despair, the relationship is perverted and should immediately be resolved. Even if, and especially if, the appointing power insists that his or her appointment stays despite the pain being inflicted on the public, the first option to reset a broken relationship between the public and the public official belongs to the appointed. And not even the appointing power can stop a person from seeking the noble way.

I had said in a post on Facebook and Twitter that the appointing power’s pleasure and the pain of the public is an unfortunate confrontation that is often the bane of politics. I have seen this happen over and over again, in towns and provinces, in national government. I can understand demolition jobs being orchestrated against some public officials, and therefore, sympathize when they dismiss criticisms as manipulated. But there is a thin line, too thin for the public to discern. What is more readily understood is public sentiment, and especially the kind of sentiment that persists.

Pleasure and pain. May the pain be more on the side of those who serve, and the pleasure be the public’s.

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