Enshrined in our Constitution is the fundamental principle that “public office is a public trust.” Simply put, WE, the People, are the BOSS. Thus, all elected and appointed public officials and employees are but our “public servants.” And to ensure that government performs as it should, equally enshrined in our Constitution are our basic rights of free speech and freedom of information, which rights are further secured in the fundamental principle of full transparency in government.
Take the case of the on-going dispute between the Naga City government led by Mayor Jesse Robredo and the local Church of Caceres as regards our Peñafrancia celebration every September. An offshoot of the efforts of Archbishop Legaspi to ensure that we do not trivialize our devotion to mere city-sponsored “street parties” is a re-examination of our activities. This necessarily entails looking at the bigger picture, that is, to scrutinize the local government itself, especially the leadership of our mayor.
With more reason must we pursue such review given the awards he and the city have achieved in his long years in power. We cannot rest on our laurels, as the old saying goes. Indeed, the hallmark of true leadership is being able to stand up for the entire world to check on you.
Now, when a citizen voices out his or her opinions, whether intelligent or silly, objective or biased, sincere or sarcastic, politically-motivated or plain commentary, and true or untrue, public officials must listen. This means giving them due consideration with utmost respect.—with the word “respect” underlined.
Thus, a citizen or any person, regardless of religion, status, or background, who speaks out deserves courteous treatment at the very least. And elementary rules of civility and public ethics abhor insult, ridicule, and worst, ad hominem replies or attacks on his person and private life. Otherwise, we cause a chilling effect amongst the people and stifle dissent, which is a vital ingredient in the marketplace of ideas that forms the bedrock of democratic government.
On this point we note the recent open letter of Fr. Wilmer Tria, Chair of the Philosophy Department of Ateneo de Naga, to Harvey Keh who teaches at the Ateneo de Manila and who wrote an article heaping praises on Mayor Robredo as a “hero” for good governance. Fr. Tria questioned Keh, among others, thus: “I completely understand your will and tenacity for moral recovery especially in the leadership in our country. However, in your desire to present heroes, you miserably failed to present the truth. Instead, you fortified a myth, a fantasy of good governance embellished by all the trimmings of a Disney movie.” He also asked: “Did it not occur to you that Mayor Robredo’s 16 years in power manifests how he failed to groom anyone to take his place? Is this good governance?”
Curiously, in what is otherwise an intellectual debate between two professors or “academics,” Mayor Robredo immediately intervened by way of his Chief of the Naga City Visitor’s Center Joe B. Perez (also Editor-in-Chief of Bicol Mail), directly replying to Fr. Tria:
“Mayor Robredo forwarded to me your letter to Mr. Harvey Key, founding chair of Kaya Natin!, a movement composed of Filipinos from different sectors of society that aim to espouse genuine change and ethical leadership in our country. “
“Not surprisingly, I find the letter as yet another attempt to smear his person, belittle his leadership, and insult the competence and character of other innocent people and groups. Obviously, you want a wider audience for your piece of work that, regretfully, reeks of bias, sweeping abomination and baseless accusations.
“I am surprised, however, that such invectives that I find in the letter and the caustic and stinging ridicule that you unleashed would come from a man of the cloak who purports to be a church spokesman. Frankly, I cannot understand the motives that are now driving you to cast aspersions at every chance on his person, in particular, and the city leadership and its people, in general.”
This letter followed Mr. Perez’s circulated email to Robredo, thus: “fr. tria is is genius in fund raising. did those funds go to any of the poor children that he raves about?” (sic)
Mr. Perez continued: “fr. tria is a familiar face in the city's trendy water holes, eating the best food at the costliest restaurants. he must have been so inebraited that he hates the glare of our lampposts summoning him to go back to his room at the seminary. and did he once ever give some leftover to the watch your car boy waiting in his car through the wee hours?” (sic)
Sadly enough, Perez went even further to malign Archbishop Legaspi himself: “archbishop legaspi has been in naga with that title for 25 years, more than the mayor in his post did. did wilmer complain? despite his 25 years here, his archbishop until this time has not learned to speak and write in bicol. is this how sincere the archbishop is with his flock and the local community?” (sic)
The idiocy of City Hall’s reasoning is quite obviously res ipsa loquitur or speaks for itself. Nevertheless, lest there be any confusion on this score, it bears stressing that such argument is misplaced, a tu quoque or you also (ika man ngani) fallacy in fact. Our Archbishop is an appointed church official who serves by the grace of God at the pleasure of the Holy Father while Robredo is a local government official who is supposedly “elected” by the people for a specified term and number of terms.
Secondly, language is but a nice-to-have tool for communication and not the barometer for dedicated work. Indeed, how often have we complained about the platitudes and lip service that we usually get from government? For that matter, that Naga has “watch your car boys” in the “wee hours” is itself an admission of the mayor’s non-enforcement of the curfew for minors and an indicator of underdevelopment or problems yet unsolved—for every child must not be out there trying to earn a living but must be already resting in the comforts of a decent home with his family.
Thirdly, by way of example of selfless leadership, Archbishop Legaspi has been instrumental in the promotion of no less than six (6) bishops from Caceres, namely, Benjamin Almoneda, Prospero Arellano, Manolo de los Santos, Adolfo Tito Yllana (now an archbishop, too, and Apostolic Nuncio to Pakistan), Jose Rojas, Jr., and Gilbert Garcera.
Fourthly, Archbishop Legaspi has generously shared his powers, if you will, and strengthened pastoral care and made it even closer to the people by the creation of the Prelature of Libmanan (a sub-diocese of Caceres with its own bishop) and half of the 75 parishes existing today in Caceres .
And we can go on and on with the many fruits of Archbishop Legaspi’s persevering apostolate.
Going back to Robredo, who is the ISSUE—and not Archbishop Legaspi or Fr. Tria, I noted a few years back that he moved from Lakas to the Liberal Party. I hope that was not for political expediency although it certainly appeared to be so, Lakas being under the Villafuertes by then. Nonetheless, from one liberal to a fellow liberal now, Mayor Jesse might want to take heed of the fundamental principle espoused by the German protestant theologian Friedrich Naumann that “a functioning democracy needs politically informed and educated citizens” and “civic education is a prerequisite for political participation and thus for democracy.” And at the heart of that principle is dissent. Yes-men are for demagogues and dictators.
In fine, democracy is not about having elections only and good governance is not about reaping awards. Furthermore, transparency is not simply publicizing information on the internet or elsewhere. Genuine democracy is about welcoming dissent in public administration towards a continuing engagement by the governed with government. After all, public officials must never forget, Robredo and Perez included, that We, the People—which includes Archbishop Legaspi and Fr. Tria in their own right as citizens and Church leaders, are the Boss.#