March 26, 2019
Lest Filipino voters are misled into thinking that honesty does not matter in our public service, let it be told that the issue has been raised, discussed and dismissed in the current election campaign.
The give-and-take between opposing camps and candidates on the issue has not been enlightening.
It is simply grotesque for anyone to assert that honesty does not matter in our public life, or that honesty does not or should not figure in the candidates’ qualifications for office or citizens’ evaluation of their worthiness.
Stated simply, honesty is a fundamental requirement in our public service. The central premise is that public officials are obligated to render honest judgment, to work hard and efficiently, and to maximize the benefits of government to all citizens.
We rightly associate the virtue of honesty with a person’s character. According to Francis Fukuyama, author of the book, Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity, honesty is one of the social virtues vital to prosperity.
Significantly, a source book and guide that we use from time to time at The Manila Times carries the title, Honest Government, An Ethics Guide to Public Service.
Sure, honesty is often misused as a platitude. Yet, there is no way this splendid virtue is going to go out of fashion.
It must be pointed out here that there is a critical difference between campaigning for public office and wielding the responsibilities of public office. The candidate and the officeholder have different responsibilities.
Strictures on conduct that we reserve for actual officeholders in the public payroll are not normally applied in the case of candidates. There are clear ethical guidelines for both elected public officials and regular civil servants, according to the book Honest Government.
That said, there are also some rules for candidates and campaigning, which the Commission on Elections is mandated to enforce. Campaign rules are totally different from the rules governing actual public service. Among these campaign rules are limits concerning spending and advertising.
Honest Government has listed some useful guidelines for candidates. Current candidates in the coming elections will do well to bear them in mind.
For instance, there is a rule of fairness in campaigning for public office. Unfair tactics are sometimes employed to blacken the image and reputation of rival candidates. Unfair campaign tactics are generally unacceptable.
Honest Government provides a useful guideline on this: “Campaigning is unfair if it contains allegations that are untrue, defamatory, misleading to a reasonable person, or irrelevant to the legitimate qualifications for the office sought or to issues about which the electorate is legitimately concerned.”
Finally, we relay to the reader a wise parting word from Honest Government:
“Campaigning should not cloud the issues by raising questions about an opponent that are not relevant to his or her qualifications or judgment.”
There is a campaign version of the Golden Rule: “How would you feel if your opponent made a similar attack against you? If the answer is ‘terrible,’ then the attack is unfair.”
Candidates will do better by meeting for debates that explore in-depth issues and test their thinking and problem-solving abilities rather than let them show off superficial skills.
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