The Crying Need for Honesty

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

It is amazing how elections in a world run by electronic media can overload Filipinos with information, most of which are junk. After all, at the end of each day, one can reflect and be surprised that of the ton of data that he received, most were unsolicited. And of that ton of information, maybe only a kilo of it was worth remembering, much less processed intellectually.

Now that it is election season in the Philippines, news, data and general information that is being massively fed to a largely unsuspecting audience have a particularly delicate, even insidious in many cases, intent and nuance about them. It used to be that only large corporations would consistently hire research and advertising agencies to help them get more intimate with their target markets so they sell their products and services more effectively.

Today, politicians are doing the same thing. Perhaps, it is because politics, like business, is also profit-oriented for many of its players. If a candidate can spend millions or billions for positions which pay their occupants only hundreds of thousands a year, it means that there is profit to be made in some other way than mere salary. It is not as though what is being spent had been raised by a political party from supporters. On the contrary, political parties have lost their ideological moorings and are run by those who have the kind of money to fund its operations.

In the end, the money being spent for elections mostly come from the people themselves, “fried in one’s own lard,” as they say. The people do not know this, of course. Only the thieves and their hired lackeys are fully aware that the money being spent to win, or lose, an election has been sourced from illegal money, usually from gambling or drugs, or dirty contracts with fat kickbacks. When international watchdog agencies including the World Bank keep monitoring corruption in the Philippines and estimate that a third of our national budget is lost to thieves in government, it becomes a desperate need to elect only honest people in government.

The poor know that it is corruption that made them poor and keeps them poor. There is no class war, there is only the war between honesty and dishonesty, between truth and lies, between good governance and abuse of power and position. Among the rich are thieves, liars and abusers; among the poor are also thieves, liars and abusers. Good and evil fight for supremacy in Forbes Park as well as in Tondo. Of course, when the rich become greedy, they tend to do more harm because their capacity to steal is more than the thievery in the slums. When the President or the Senate President abuse their power, they can kill, steal or lie in ways that destroy not just themselves in high positions but all Filipinos, too.

Presidential debates try to introduce candidates and their views to the public. That is good. The public would be benefited to discern the level of skill, experience and performance that candidates bring with them to the offices they seek. However, in a country where every major problem and challenge is rooted to corruption, any topic that does not directly tackle corruption before it attempts to take on side issues only serves to distract us from the core concern – honesty or the lack of it. In the vernacular, it is expressed with greater clarity and effectiveness as the choice between “kawatan versus di-kawatan.” Honesty versus dishonesty. Good versus evil.

What is the connection with corruption to poverty, to lack of jobs, to lack of investments, to lack of medical services, to lack of education, to lack of opportunity? It is not difficult to see why our choices on election day must not stray from the question of honesty versus dishonesty when one realizes that one third lost to corruption is equivalent to 500 billion pesos in one year. With 500 billion pesos more to spend on the poor and to spike interest in local investments, every major problem is addressed and the odds of solving them become totally possible.

An honest man will try his best to choose and appoint honest people to the highest government positions. He may accidentally appoint a less than honest person but it will never be done intentionally.  And in a setting of honest officials, the dishonest one will more quickly be exposed and terminated, if not prosecuted.

On the other hand, the dishonest man will be uncomfortable appointing honest people because birds of the same feather flock together. Honest persons in the midst of dishonest ones will naturally give the public a comparison, and the dishonest ones will be revealed in no time at all. If the appointing power is dishonest, you can be sure that he will have many birds of the same dishonest feather.

It is truly depressing that honesty becomes the fundamental challenge to the highest officials of government. Honesty is a virtue that should be assumed in all candidates, the higher the position being aspired for, the more intolerant to stealing, lying and violence. It is ideal that the campaign period should focus on the capabilities and performance track record of candidates, and debates are one way of accomplishing this. The depth of the depravity that the Philippines and the Filipino people find our governance to be, however, make honesty and how much of it, or the lack of it, the primary factor of choosing candidates.

Let the honest man in government service do as all other Filipinos of power and position do. When he is sick, call the doctor. When he needs to design and build a house, call an architect and an engineer. When he wants to invest, call a financial consultant. When he wants to file his income tax, call an accountant.The most technical of work can be assigned, but honesty cannot. Only the person in office can take on the challenge of honesty; that is his heroism, that is his patriotism.

Honest officials will awaken the honesty of the Filipino, the higher the position, the greater the influence. More jobs, more opportunities and more income are possible only when we are governed by an honest President, an honest Senate President and an Honest Speaker of the House, and an honest Supreme Court Justice.

“There is always a philosophy for lack of courage.”
— Albert Camus

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