Grassroots & Governance

One of many Filipino values that is sadly disappearing, or has been forgotten these days, is delicadeza. It is one of the traits long held dear by our forebears as a mark of breeding, and of civilized, ethical, and responsible behavior. Recently there seem to be more and more displays of brazenness among our public officials, whether executive, legislative, or judiciary.

The descent into shamelessness is accelerated by the tolerance for breeches in propriety, or even unethical and illegal behavior at high levels of government.

We have a solicitor general who on the side provides paid security services to government agencies he is supposed to represent or prosecute in courts of law. Despite revelations of conflicts of interest and criticism in media, Solicitor General Jose Calida, reputedly an old friend of President Rodrigo Duterte, has stayed in his job, while continuing to provide those paid services, with fees running into millions of pesos, taken no less from taxpayers’ money. (Calida said that he had resigned his position as President of Vigilant Investigative and Security Agency, Inc., when he became OSG, though he was succeeded by his wife and that other key executive positions in the firm are occupied by his children.)

Secretary Salvador Panelo, Presidential legal counsel and spokesman, no less, is behaving righteously about his referral letter on Office of the President letterhead, no less, to the Board of Pardons and Parole on behalf of a former client whose family requested his help with their petition for the early release of rape and murder convict Antonio Sanchez. No, Panelo insists, he did not endorse, he merely referred. If he valued delicadeza, he would have ignored the request, or assigned the referral task to an underling who had no history of representing the convict as a lawyer, and who need not use such an intimidating letterhead.

It certainly does not help that the President, no less, excused his legal counsel’s “carelessness” as understandable since, he said, after all, Panelo had to make a living as a lawyer. What did this mean? So, carelessness, if that is what it was, is allowed for a Cabinet member?

Recently dismissed Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Director General Nicanor Faeldon — who was fired from Customs following a scandal involving millions of pesos worth of shabu which escaped the Customs Bureau scrutiny — admitted in a Senate hearing that he was not aware of the corruption in the BuCor in the processing of release orders for convicts, mostly in violation of the law. No, he did not sign a release order, just a memorandum of release? Faeldon was contradicted by BuCor Director Ma. Fe Marquez who said the memorandum was a release order. After firing Faeldon from his BuCor job due to the loud public outcry, President Duterte had the temerity to state publicly that Faeldon was an upright (“tarong” in Visayan) man. So, it looks like Faeldon might yet get another government post?

The Sandiganbayan justices who acquitted now Senator Bong Revilla in the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) case of plunder, but convicted his Chief of Staff, stretched credibility when they at the same time ordered Revilla to return P124.5 million found in his personal bank account to the government coffers where it properly belongs. Former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales once stated that the evidence on the Bong Revilla plunder case was among their strongest. Well, Senator Revilla declared righteously during his campaign that he had committed no crime against the Filipino people.

The sedition case filed against Vice-President Leni Robredo and several opposition personalities based on testimony provided by the ridiculous witness named Bikoy Advincula, who had earlier claimed to have evidence that the President and his family were the real narcopoliticians, is pushing it too far. It is easy to surmise that the incredible witness turned around under pressure. The filing of the case with the cooperation of the Solicitor General is what one might call “forcing through.”

The President’s publicly admitted order to transfer several long-term convict/witnesses against detained Senator Leila de Lima from congested Bilibid to the cozier Marine Detention Center is as brazen as can be. Why did he do it? He says it is to protect them from possible harm in Bilibid from supporters of detained Senator De Lima. The President’s order is actually in violation of the law that requires such orders to come from judicial Courts. Why did the President do it? Because he can.

Now Senator Christopher “Bong” Go, who continues to act for and in behalf of the President as if he never left his job as Presidential Adviser, recently delivered his maiden privilege speech as a Senator. Half of his speech was devoted to denigrating the physical appearance of the brilliant and hardworking Congressman Edsel Lagman of Catanduanes. It was a shameful example of ill breeding to use the privilege speech to denigrate the physical appearance of a public servant, rather than to cite the substance of the man’s work.

Our descent into acceptance of these shameful and even illegal public behaviors is something we cannot take for granted. It is frightening that it is becoming the norm rather than the exception. The longer this kind of behavior is tolerated, the more it will become ingrained in our culture. We must raise more awareness of the fine lines of ethical behavior that are more and more frequently being violated. The more violators “get away with it,” the more this behavior will be taken for granted.


Teresa S. Abesamis is a former professor at the Asian Institute of Management and Fellow of the Development Academy of the Philippines.