Friday, August 24, 2012

Philippine Ethics: A Mirror to Values

Ethics mirror the fundamental values of a group or community or nation.

"Ethical", an adjective according to the Humpty Dumpty New World Dictionary, means "well principled". "Unethical", its opposite, pertains to unprincipled behavior. These are acts that may or may not be illegal but are outside of accepted convention.

Honesty is considered to be an ethical quality. You are unlikely to be thrown in jail for being a liar, but if you are a congressman or a priest you might be condemned and have to pay a penalty. Honesty is not a requirement of politicians RUNNING for office, it would seem. But in the U.S., once they are IN OFFICE, it becomes an ethic. So it would seem ethics can have a measure of elasticity.

"Ethical" attaches to a lot of jobs, especially those that represent the people, or provide services to the people. Police should be highly ethical. So should judges. So should senators and representatives, and the President.

In the Philippines, values are loosey goosey. Wobbly. Shaky. Sometimes I would question if "ethical" is even a term that some  powerful people know or believe in. After all, it frequently tends to conflict with their strong self-interest.

  • Witness former Chief Justice Corona.

  • The Ampatuan Clan

  • Former President Arroyo.

  • Senator Sotto.

When each individual defines the law for himself because the nation's law disciplines are in disarray, then ethics become wobbly, for sure.

In the Philippines it is ethical to plan a coup but remain in public service after the coup fails (Senator Enrile).

In the Philippines, it is ethical to have been married to a murderer but get elected to Congress (Rep. Marcos).

In the Philippines it is ethical to steal material from a blogger, change the meaning of the words to be 180 degrees opposite of what was intended, deny that the theft is wrong, blame the people who are blowing whistles all over town . . . and remain in office, representing the best of the best of Philippine citizenry (Senator Sotto).

Senator Sotto, in a more disciplined, more ethical public service arena, would be hauled before an ethics committee and reprimanded or possibly asked to resign.

Not in the Philippines. The ethical standards reflect the nation's essential values. And that does not speak well for the Philippines.

Other senators keep their yaps shut, I suppose because they don't want to be attacked for their own ethical slips.

One way in which the United States and the Philippines differ is how discipline in the public arena is enforced. In the Philippines, the Ombudsman is responsible for policing the whole of the Philippines. Given all the sleazy deals going down across the land, she has her plate filled to overflow and is standing in a pile of excess.

In the United States, most agencies have some kind of "Ethics Panel" or office that polices the behavior of its own members. Congress, for example, polices itself. If a congressman goes wayward, say, by getting caught in an extramarital affair or lying and cheating or physically harassing someone on his staff, he catches a lot of heat. If he becomes an embarrassment to the institution of Congress, the Ethics Committee will haul him in for reprimand and even suggest he resign.

In the Philippines, nothing happens.  The Senate Ethics Committee did review Senator Villar's activities regarding the charge that he moved a freeway, but he is still in office.

The notion of "responsibility" is as soft here as is the notion of "ethics". Rather than disciplined enforcement of high standards of behavior, we see excuses and rationalizations. Back to Sotto.

The reputation of Congress as a whole does not seem to get attached to the wayward behavior of a given member.

I'm thinking that the bill now in the Senate called the "Political Party Development Bill" will be a strong step toward correcting loose ethical behavior by removing personality from political parties and replacing it with ideals. Hopefully, one of the ideals will be to meet a certain level of honesty and honor in speeches.

Senator Edgardo Angara  is sponsoring the bill. He says too much today depends on "moneyed personalities", and congressmen too easily shift allegiances to get close to the money. In his presentation of the bill on the floor of the Senate, Senator Angara said:

  •  “Our politics remains very bad, breeding poor governance and corruption that stifles the delivery of public services. This is because the structure of our politics, especially of our political party system, is flawed.”

The goals of the bill are as follows:

  • institutionalize reforms in the financing of electoral campaigns, promote accountability and transparency;

  • provide financial subsidies to political parties, to augment their expenditures for campaign purposes and for party development;

  • promote party loyalty and discipline; and

  • encourage and support continuing voter education and civic literacy programs.

Amendments likely to be inserted will levy strong penalties against "Political Turncoatism", create a campaign finance department within COMELEC, and develop strong measures for funding allocations.

Opponents argue that passing the bill will give the current administration an enduring advantage because his party will be very strong. They also argue that banning an individual from running in an election if he or she changes political party is too severe a penalty.

It seems to me this is an important step toward developing stronger ethics in Congress.

Better to do it now than when there is a jerk in the President's chair.

I like this bill.

17 comments:

  1. Hi Mr. Joe, while reading your nice article, I turn on my music, the instrumental violin by Brahms. Hope the nail go through to the toughest skull of the "trapos"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha, "Sweet Music, Violent Hammer". Nice imagery.

      Delete
  2. Great exposition as always, Joe. Which makes me think again why ethical standards and personal responsibility are so low in a Catholic dominated society.

    By the way,I am thinking of doing this:

    Come out with a statement condemining Sotto and Villacorta’s excuses for plagiarism and then put all the cusswords, eptithets and insults known to man into it.

    Then if they cry foul and threaten me with libel, I will ask them to prove if those were indeed my words. I will tell them it came from the “public domain”. Dont we hear insults and curses from the street?

    So no one has a copyright on insults and curses.

    What do you think? :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think (1) you'd make a very powerful point, and (2) you are a braver person than I am.

      Delete
  3. From: Island jim-e (aka: The Cricket)

    1. I hope the bill passes without it being torn apart
    amended, and have the congress waste another15 years
    debating the issue!

    2. Question please: Are any type of philosophy or
    political science courses ethics, morals, civics
    and related classes available in high school thru university in the PH? If not, why not?

    3. Question: Are any pre-requesits or mandatory
    requirements for governmental service that require
    qualified, experienced, educated-public admin/bus
    subjects? If not, why not?

    4. Actions-results always speak louder than words-
    written or spoken and consequences will tell the
    tale of good vs. evil. Note: I witness more
    hedionism, egotism, self-service, selfish, self-
    at expense of the public good, safety, service
    and protection.

    5. Without a healthy constructive BASIC CODE
    OF CONDUTCT- yardstick, ethics are worthless!
    (ie., code of conduct for boy-girl scouts sets
    a high-water markz)!

    SIDEBAR: I would be most pleased if I never,
    never see another smiling politicans face
    (except at election time) posted on any bill-
    board, banner, door hanger, calander, vehicle,
    welcome sign, postcards, senior citizens ID,
    plastic/paper bag, door matt, rice-bags,
    or other type of endorsements--documents--
    especially those paid for by the tax payers!

    chirp!

    ReplyDelete
  4. From: island jim-e

    P.S., With all due respect to the subject/topic,
    I offer the following quotes for evaluation:

    Question: Has Senator Sotto become the poster
    boy/artwork for this congress? Who will be
    next?

    Note: A. Einstein-"Relativity applies to physics,
    not ethics.

    W. Rogers-Ancient Rome declinedd because it had a
    senate! Now what is going to happern to us with
    both a senate and a house? ("be thankful that we
    are not getting all of the government we are
    paying for!"

    Mark Twain-"Have the courage to say no, to face the
    truth. Do the right thing because it is right!"
    These are the majic keys to living your life with
    integrity!" (My take-COURAGE- BRAVERY- HEROIC BEHAVIOR-
    to stand and fight at Concord/EDSA-not to be confused
    with nationalism and and patriotism which seem to me
    are the fruits of courage, ethics, morals, high ideals,
    etc.).

    Hornberger-"The True Patriot scrutnizes the actions of
    his own government with unceasing vigilance. And
    when his government violates the (ethics) morality
    and rightness associated with principals of individual
    freedom and private property, he IMMEDIATELY RISES
    in opposition to his government...."!

    Chirp!

    Illustration and example address needs-i.e.,

    The surfs up--fact- high-water is a comin to drown
    the islands-what to do-ethics, morals, patriotism,
    nationalsim --actions and results tell the
    tale! Remember, talk is cheep but has value if
    used as a motivator to productive action!

    chirp, Chirp, CHIRP!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, Jim-e, your typewriter is on turbo today, I see. I can't answer your questions two and three on education. I believe, from the result, that if they are taught, they are having little impact . . . perhaps because of parental negligence.

      Indeed, codes of conduct are important. I'm going to see if there is one for the House and Senate, publicly available.

      I share your distaste for the crass self-marketing that small minded politicians do, attaching their names and faces to public works. That ought to be banned in any code of conduct.

      Senator Sotto has become the poster child of the negligence, self-centeredness and intransigence of old-school legislators.

      Mark Twain was a smart dude. He was also outspokenly opposed to American involvement in the Philippine war and occupation.

      Surf's up, ozone layer is down, ice is melting. That is Sunday's blog, possibly.

      Burp (ahahahahaha)

      Delete
  5. When, not if, Senator Angara’s bill is passed, it would be interesting to (re)view the platforms of the registered political parties.

    Just to see where we are at, I have done a bit of googling on political parties and am sorely disappointed:

    • The Commission on Elections website lists 130 parties in the 2010 elections.

    • The major ones, listed by seats in the House and the Senate, are:

    o Liberal (PNoy – 73/4)
    o Lakas - CMD(Arroyo – 61/4)
    o NPC - Nationalist People’s Coalition (Cojuangco – 30/2)
    o Nacionalista (Villar – 22/4)
    o PMP - Pwersa - PMP (Estrada – 5/2)
    o PDP-Laban (Pimentel – 2/1)
    o LDP Pilipino (Angara – 1/1) website – no platform
    o KBL - Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (Marcos – 1/0)

    • I cannot find a website for UNO, the new alliance Vice President Binay has set up for the next national elections in 2016. A case of the cart before the horse?

    • I have looked at each of the party websites but am not impressed.

    • All except the KBL have websites.

    • Those with websites have platforms except the Nationalista Party which has lots of photos.

    • All the platforms are one-pagers with general statements on various topics.

    • The Liberal Party platform seems to have the "longest" platform with sparse statements on such topics such as leadership, economy, government service, gender equality, peace and order, and environment.

    • There is no real identification of what the parties think the issues are, nor any specific proposals on how to tackle them.

    • I really would like to see specific party positions on cabinet ethics, political dynasties, mining, education and training, budget allocation, infrastructure and planning, Muslim reconciliation, agriculture, fisheries industry, forestry and many more. None of these are mentioned in any of the platforms.

    For comparison purposes, the platform of the Australian Labour Party has 268 pages.

    We have a long, long, long way to go.

    I have read the Angara bill, which has been rotting in Congress for 3 years, and note the following. These omissions may be left with the Commission on Elections:

    • No prohibited party name test.
    • No minimum member threshold.
    • No registration fee for parties.
    • No CPI-indexation of voluntary contributions.
    • No deregistration protocol.

    I find the reaction to the bill so depressing. Fear instead of glee. Not: "Now we can let the people know what stand for and what we plan to do!" But: "OMG, what do we do? What do we do?"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A humanist willing to work hard to study things. Pretty impressive. You ought to work this up into a blog for headline value. This is very good information.

      Delete
  6. Joe,
    I think one of your founding fathers said that once elected a president's party should be the people. I lean towards that view. I do recognize the positive aspects of political parties but at the same time I can also see the negatives. For example party loyalty could take priority over loyalty to the country. Parties are based on ideologies while individuals on personal attributes and principles. Look at England, it's the party not the individual that is up for election. So a good man could wash out if his party screws up and a scoundrel can continue in office if his party remains in power. I'm not sure I like that.

    I'm for campaign finance reform but not for funding political parties. It does not encourage multi-party systems because the dominant parties will eat up all the funding. I'm for gov't financing of campaigns and having media allot free airtime and print space for candidates so as to lessen the cost of running for office and consequently the need for a quick return on investment. But the details would be daunting.

    All in all I'm old fashioned. I want to hold individuals accountable. I don't want individuals hiding behind parties. I don't want group-think either.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. MB, I appreciate the perspective. This is all new to me and I will follow the debate carefully. I trust you read Edgar's comment above. If not, please do. Certainly one can look at the behavior of U.S. political parties and not be very impressed. But that may be a function of two developments: (1) intense polarization brought on by religious extremism, and (2) a stupid Supreme Court decision that allows unlimited corporate donations to political action groups. Also, the Philippine Congress does not seem to be the most rational, productive institution today, with its fluid personal allegiances looking to get close to money.

      Delete
    2. Joe,

      I read Edgar's comment but I still have reservations about a system where voters elect parties rather than individuals. I like voting for people with a platform not platforms with people.

      Take a good look at the party-list system here. That's what you are going to get if the political party development bill becomes law. However I am not throwing out the entire bill. I like some of its elements like campaign finance.

      But why legislate the promotion of party loyalty and discipline? That's something political leaders should take care of by themselves. If they can't hold their people together then that's their problem, not mine or the nation's. Why should public funds be used to help political parties become stronger and more united?

      The structure of our politics, especially of our political party system, will evolve as we mature politically. Let it be. We are not making a bonsai tree. Let it unfold by itself.

      Delete
    3. You understand these things better than most, so I shall dial a little skepticism into my readings on this. Thanks for the elaboration.

      Delete
    4. “I like voting for people with a platform not platforms with people.”

      This is as succinct a summary as ever on the current alternatives in Philippine politics.

      I think the Angara bill is an attempt to graft a parliamentary system solution to the excesses of the presidential system. Some of these excesses have been identified as:

      • Turncoatism
      • Personality-oriented politics
      • Election overspending
      • Corruption due to need to recover election expenses
      • Prioritization of vested interests (usually those of the wealthy backers) over national interests
      • Promotion of oligarchy and political dynasties

      With all due respect, MB, for me, apart from the above, the one major defect of the presidential system is the absence of a comprehensive platform. There is no need for it and the candidate does not have to produce one. All a candidate needs is popularity, money and a catchy slogan. I believe at the local level, the old politics of gold, guns and goons still holds true (Ampatuans). It may no longer be true at the national level, but indubitably gold still reigns. Indeed, the last four excesses listed above relate to gold.

      I think that without a comprehensive platform, a country is playing a game of reverse Russian roulette. There is only one chance in six of being lucky. Philippine history has proved that. From the time of martial law, we have had six presidents. For one (potentially) great President, you get three bad ones – Marcos, Arroyo and Estrada - and two middling ones. For the previous presidents from the time of independence down to martial law, there are no stand-outs. (Or am I being too harsh?) That is, with the possible exception of Quezon who one may credit for Philippines independence, but also for the outcome of successive governments “run like Hell”.

      With a comprehensive platform, you are not pinning your future on luck, but on alternative blueprints. You get to pick what you like. Therefore, I tend to disagree that ideologies, or agenda-based politics, are a bad thing.

      On the other hand, I totally agree that loyalty to the party may override loyalty to the country, and that the services of good men may be lost to the country. Two other major dangers of the Angara Bill would be:

      • Domination of the political system by a majority of two parties
      • Stagnation due to the domination of one party for a period of time

      Additionally, I am not sure that the Angara bill will resolve all the problems it purports to address, in particular, oligarchy and political dynasties. The former will take time to disappear, if ever, and the latter requires legislation.

      Is there an alternative to the dichotomy-based solutions expressed in the first quoted sentence? I believe there is, but I haven’t worked it out totally. The glimmer in my mind arises from the question: If you train judges for the Judiciary, why not train people for the Executive and Legislative branches? The waste, the corruption, the excesses of party-based politics is folly.

      Delete
  7. John Jay Chapman : “A political organization is a transferable commodity. You could not find a better way of killing virtue than by packing it into one of these contraptions which some gang of thieves is sure to find useful.”

    ReplyDelete
  8. I once joined the campaign of a candidate for congressman in the province. All three bets were fighting to get the endorsement of then-President Cory,all looking forward to having a photo-op with Cory raising their hand, and making a poster of that endorsement. My bet got the endorsement all right but lost in the count where big money changed hands. This was before the age of Internet, photoshop, blogs, and Senator Sotto plagiarizing the blogger Pope.

    DocB

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think the blogger Pope should thank the good senator for upping her readership.

      Money is the path to votes, for sure, both in the Philippines and the U.S.

      Delete