Just Cause

Lately, we have been seeing more politicians, whether national or local, appearing on billboards and advertisements. The products and services that they push for may be straightforward but something doesn’t feel right. Are they supposed to do it? Is it legal or ethical for politicians to be endorsers?

Article VII, Section 13 of the Constitution states that “the President, Vice-President, the Members of the Cabinet, and their deputies or assistants shall not hold any other office or employment during their tenure,” or “directly or indirectly, practice any other profession, participate in any business, or be financially interested in any contract with, or in any franchise, or special privilege granted by the Government or any subdivision, agency, or instrumentality.”

Senators and mayors are not included in the enumeration and presumably can continue to be actors and boxers.

But there is another law prescribing a “Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees” that covers public officials who are elective and appointive officials, and employees, permanent or temporary, including military and police personnel, whether or not they receive compensation.

Senators and mayors are surely included in this definition. They are prohibited from having financial and material interest in any transaction requiring the approval of their office, or engaging in outside employment and other related activities. They cannot practice their profession unless authorized by the Constitution or law. They cannot “own, control, manage or accept employment as officer, employee, consultant, counsel, broker, agent, trustee or nominee in any private enterprise regulated, supervised or licensed by their office unless expressly allowed by law.”

Is acting as endorser unlawful or illegal?

Another prohibition is against the solicitation or acceptance of gifts “from any person in the course of their official duties or in connection with any operation being regulated by, or any transaction which may be affected by the functions of their office.”

Even if the politicians accept no compensation for his effort or appearance or waives it in favor of a charity, there is no doubt that he benefits from the free, public, and constant exposure. Save for a few of us, who would not want to see his face looming large along EDSA?

The bigger issue is if the business sought out the politician because it is operating in his city. Business permits are the domain of local executives and endorsing a product means that the endorser directly trusts the company to be good and or indirectly bestows upon it his approval as a compliant entity. He acts as an agent and is in fact an agent of the company.

If the company runs afoul of the law or does not follow regulations and the public official is mandated to act, it will be a clear case of conflict of interest.

But the unease we feel with politicians as endorses go beyond the impositions of law. An employee is expected to devote his working time and effort to his employer. A government official is an employee of the State and the commitment to public interest is primordial.

Using executive time and leveraging on the powers of their offices to do make up, train and fly, and be taped for many hours is not the efficient, effective, and economical use of a government resource. In fact, public employees must try to “discourage wrong perceptions of their roles as dispensers or peddlers of undue patronage.”

There is the call to simple living for public officials and employees and their families. Appearing in media, including social media with the consequent thousands followers and millions of likes, transforms the heart and soul and image of the public official as a servant to one as a celebrity and a star. And these types are not the ones who “lead modest lives appropriate to their positions and income.” Their calling is to be flamboyant and extravagant and, by such ways, increase their star power and earning power and more media mileage.

There will be excuses, justifications, and defenses for continuing such practices from the past. In the end, what is essential in the process is that politicians endorsing products, goods, and services are totally avoidable and unnecessary. There is no compelling reason to do it and one only has to say “no.” No need to be concerned with legal or ethical considerations; public office as a public trust is upheld. That is the standard for politicians in the 21st century.