Saturday, June 27, 2009

Where is Public Accountability?

The head of Britain's Conservative Party, David Cameron, announced last June 25 that more than 100 of its parliament members will repay the UK government a total of 250,000 pounds, or more than $400,000, representing unjustified expense claims. This came in the wake of the expense scandal in the British House of Commons where several members of parliament (MPs), both from the leading Conservative and Labour parties, charged bogus or personal expenses against the government. After UK's Daily Telegraph exposed the scandal in May this year, several MPs, including House of Commons Speaker Michael Martin, resigned in shame.

Just recently this week in the US, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford apologized in a press conference for having an affair with a woman in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He also announced his resignation as head of the Republican Party governor's association, and it would probably be just a matter of time before he eventually resigns as governor with the mounting calls for his resignation. This came on the heels of Nevada Senator John Ensign's similar public apology last week for his extramarital affairs with a campaign staffer.

Governor Sanford is not the first governor to publicly admit to wrongdoing in recent memory involving US politics. Eliot Spitzer, a man who was touted as a possible presidential contender like Sanford, did the same last year and resigned as New York governor after an FBI investigation revealed that he patronized a prostitution service. Of course, Governor Rod Blagojevich of Illinois was an exception by adamantly denying wrongdoing even after Justice Department investigators caught him on tape attempting to sell the Illinois Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama. He tenaciously clung to the governorship until a unanimous Illinois Senate voted him out of office in an impeachment trial. There is an interesting parallel here with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

While sex scandals or extramarital affairs involving government officials in the Philippines are not as popular - or, dare I say it, not as exposed and a cause for official resignations (heck, we even elected a known womanizer as president!) - we surely are not in shortage of corruption scandals. On the contrary we abound with them from the lowest to the highest levels of government. But do we ever see these somber press conferences where the erring public officials admit, apologize and announce their resignations from office? Well you know the answer to that. What we see are thick hide public officials who invariably blurt the trite and tested lines "prove your accusations in court," "I serve at the pleasure of the president," "I will only resign when the president tells me to," "this is politically motivated," etc.

Resignation as a face-saving measure or dictate of delicadeza - that uniquely named Filipino virtue of acting with a sense of propriety - is an unpopular concept among our public officials who have been exposed with involvement in corruption or other malfeasances. And even when a few resorts to it, it is not out of a sense of delicadeza but to take the heat away from them, while boldly claiming their innocence. When Benjamin Abalos, Sr. resigned as COMELEC Chairman amid allegations of bribery in connection with the NBN-ZTE scandal, he never admitted to any wrongdoing; on the contrary he insisted on his innocence and vowed to clear his name. The same is true with COMELEC Commissioner Virgilio Garcilliano who resigned as a result of the so-called "Hello Garci" scandal.

What is even more distressing is that scandal-besieged public officials or figures use the notoriety they have generated from these controversies in running for public office. And some of them even get elected!

When in 2005 the "Hello Garci" tapes surfaced revealing private conversations between GMA and COMELEC Commissioner Garcilliano regarding the status of the former's votes in the just then concluded 2004 presidential elections, not a few entertained the possibility of GMA tendering her resignation or being removed from office by impeachment for what was seen as evidence of vote-rigging. But many were disappointed. Instead, GMA gave a televised address and in somber tone apologized to the people. She, in skillful spinning, downplayed the gravity of what she did by claiming it was merely a lapse in judgment and was only trying to ensure the protection of her votes as an anxious candidate since it was taking long for the results to come out. And the impeachment complaint against her did not fly.

More than three decades ago US President Richard Nixon resigned as president after his tape recordings inside the White House - revealing his involvement to cover up the break-in at the Democratic Party's headquarters at Watergate - were made public. Nixon faced the certainty of impeachment and removal from office, so he decided to save face by resigning. Although equally guilty of an egregious conduct, GMA was not similarly disposed as Nixon because unlike him, she did not face the certainty of impeachment, let alone removal from office. Her supporters and allies in the House of Representatives saw to this. Never mind the public opinion - the same care-free attitude that these representatives now brazenly display as regards HR 1109.

So what accounts for this alarming and despicable lack of public accountability among our public officials? We surely are not timid people who just allow official wrongdoing to go on unchecked. Our history clearly illustrates this. The continuing public outrage against HR 1109 speaks well of this. But still the HR 1109 congressmen are adamant in pursuing Cha-cha; they are unfazed by and continue to defy public opinion. The bar of public opinion, it seems, is no longer a controlling gauge of our politicians' conduct that they have become so insensitive of the public pulse. Where has accountability gone?


domingoarong said...


This url may not be relevant to the post but please take a look just the same:

Dean Jorge Bocobo said...

A great piece, Jun! Kudos.

Jun Bautista said...

Thanks Dean.

Jun Bautista said...

Thanks for the info Doming (if you don't mind me calling you that for brevity). I hope we have the same study on Filipinos' political knowledge. Recall that CJ Puno just recently said the public's ignorance on public issues is worse than the H1N1 flu.

Dean Jorge Bocobo said...

Ignorance is a malaise!

Anonymous said...


question: why a rizalist press? and while your blog has taken in a pook of contributors, do we take in to mean that all of them are rizalist in orientation?

nagtatanong lang po.


Anonymous said...

oops, pool, not pook. but pook, as a slip, does still mean 'community', isn't it?


Dean Jorge Bocobo said...

I guess it's just a brand...a sign on the road...a light on the hill...a star to shoot for...but everyone's thoughts and beliefs are their own.

manuelbuencamino said...

Where has accountability gone?

To numbered bank accounts!

The new moral philosophy of ourgovernment officials is "Delicadeza won't buy you coffee at Starbucks."

Anonymous said...

"We surely are not timid people who just allow official wrongdoing to go on unchecked. "

Are you sure about this, Jun? Or, perhaps the question is at what things are we not timid about?

For sure we are not timid about asking for favors. We are also not timid about bribing civil servants for things we want right away. We are also not timid about things we can get away with. We are also not timid pointing fingers, etc.

Here's the thing, we are timid when it comes to things that really require personal sacrifice, specially pecuniary things.

Jun Bautista said...

Anonymous, we could be timid about so many things but I don't believe we are being timid now in our outrage against cha-cha nor have we been timid when we trooped to the streets to oust Marcos. My point is our public officials are becoming more and more emboldened despite strong public opinion against what they do.

Anonymous said...

Jun, excuse me, pero Marcos is long gone and shulzt, if i remember correctly criticized pinoys for being cowards because it took so long for them to overcome their "timidness."

Then, your point only highlights our timidness to put a stop these emboldened public officials. Okay, I'll grant you this - we are not timid in complaining, okay.

Jun Bautista said...

Anonymous, that is exactly my point - history and the current situation. And though it might have taken long, the important thing is we did something. It is something that should remind our leaders for their excesses.

And the beginning of dissent is complaint. But excuse me too, we are not merely complaining against HR 1109; we are doing peaceful mass actions to tell them we don't want what they're doing. So my point is we are not letting them do as they please without objections and yet they still remain insensitive.

betterphilippines said...

i don't think we should expect any of our public servants to show even the smallest amount of sensitivity to public opinion. clearly they don't really mind anymore how the public views them. kapalan na talaga ng mukha.

It has become painfully clear that in this country of ours no one really seeks election or appointment to top government posts so they could provide genuine public service. Every one of our politikos has a hidden agenda (which ironically is not really a big secret anymore) and that is to steal in one way or the other. Nagkakaiba na lang sa level of greed at diskarte. May garapal at may swabe.

Where has accountability gone? What accountability? It's a concept that has long been discarded by those in government and long forgotten by the governed.

Tanggap na ng karamihan ang nakawan kung hindi man dedma na lang. That's the sad truth.