Who will enforce the law?

Jose M. Montelibano

Last week, I wrote that we should first educate candidates before we educate voters. Look at the math. I  do not know how many candidates actually registered and ran in the recent elections but I know there were about 61 million registered voters. Therefore, there are many times fewer candidates to educate versus 61 million voters. Also, look at the law. Citizens are not obligated to vote, much less to vote wisely. But a law mandates winning candidates to conform to a code of ethics aside from being competent in their official positions. Educating candidates regarding the requirements of the law in case they win is a must because non-compliance or violations of the law can remove them for office.

That is what Republic Act 6713 is all about, the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Government Employees. Now that the elections are over, the winners will soon take their oath of office. Once they do, they become public officers and must conduct themselves within the parameters of Republic Act 6713. That means every single one of them “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.”

Republic Act 6713 is obviously the legal translation of Article XI of the Philippine Constitution, covering the Accountability of Public Officers. Section 1 of Article XI says “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.”

On June 30, 2019, the winners of the May 13 elections will be taking their oath of office. They must be made to understand that Republic Act 6713, or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Government Employees, will thereafter become the criteria of their behavior – and not only during office hours. In discharging their duties, the Constitution and the law are protecting the people, all citizens and not only voters, against unqualified public officials. The requirements for candidates may be liberal but not for the winners who become public officials. The code of conduct and ethical standards that they are obligated to comply with our stringent, almost as if the framers of our Constitution and the authors of Republic Act 6713 had in mind that voters can vote unwisely but public officials must behave wisely. If they cannot, they will be removed.

The Constitution and Republic Act 6713 says that public officials who cannot comply with the code of conduct and ethical standards must be removed aside from other penalties depending on which violation. These legal provisions act like failsafe mechanisms to protect the citizenry and the republic even if voters may vote unwisely. The obligation is not on the voter, it is on the candidate who wins and becomes a public official. And that is the way it should be because running for public office is voluntary and deliberate. Ignorance of the law does not excuse the lawbreaker, not from being removed from office, not imprisonment and fines if so decreed by law.

It is apparent that the framers of the Constitution and the authors of the law wanted to set the highest standards for public service. They did not ask for responsibility, integrity, competence, loyalty, patriotism, and justice – they sought for the utmost of these virtues. And as I mentioned earlier, the Constitution and the Republic Act 6713 are not stopping at office hours; they are demanding that public officials lead modest lives. The intent of the Constitution and the law is clear, simple, strict and ever protective of the best interests of the citizenry and the republic.

It is also clear that the enforcement of Republic Act 6713 will remove a great number of public officials. Plunder does not have to be proven. Even the lack of responsibility, integrity, and competence could have removed many senators, congressmen, governors, and mayors. How hard is it to prove irresponsibility, dishonesty, and incompetence? And how hard is it to show that personal interests are often more important than the interest of the people? How come that we do not see public officials being removed every day?

If we have a Constitutional provision and a Republic Act that are being disregarded despite the massive violations, then why keep them? If the State cannot provide effective mechanisms to monitor and prosecute violators, why maintain the law? Why do we hear so many comments that many voters are bobotante and, In fact, become the target of voters’ education efforts? Yet, the Constitution and the law allow them to vote unwisely – because of the winners, whoever they are and no matter how low their qualifications, are never exempted by law from the loftiest of behavior and ethical standards.

I heard that GMA News host Mike Enriquez asked those who won for an interview so they can tell him what they will be held accountable for. Someone can tell Mike Enriquez that all he has to do is read the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Government Employees and he has the best answer. Also, I read that senator-elect Bato de la Rosa was asking what he is supposed to do as a senator. Well, he can start by ready Republic Act 6713 and take comfort that, if he is a good person, if he has the utmost responsibility, integrity, competence, loyalty, acts with patriotism and justice, plus lead a modest life, he will be okay.

The greater question that Mike Enriquez and Bato de la Rosa should ask is – who will make sure that the law, Republic Act 6713, will be constantly and effectively enforced? That is my question, too.

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