Good Government

In the latter part of June 1962, I was invited by Mrs. Fonacier,my UP speech teacher in 1936-1937 to come to the University and talk about good government. In March 1962, I had been appointed by Speaker Villareal, Chairman of the House Committee on Good Government, a prestigious body. We in the committee had been conducting a number of hearings, but the sensational Harry Stonehill case had not yet exploded. Because the University of the Philippines and the UP Community were in my district, I felt I had to comply with my teachers request on July 3, 1962. The speech was broadcast by DZUP and published by the print media.

I should like to express my thanks to Mrs. Fonacier, my very personable speech teacher, for the opportunity to speak to you tonight. The University campus happens to be within my district, and I thought this would be an excellent chance to convey my gratitude to the residents of this area for the support they gave me in the last elections.

They call members of Congress “honorable” although I know you have grave doubts about it. Have you read the story of that congressman's wife who heard some noise in the kitchen? The wife awakened her husband and said, "Dear, there is a robber in the house," to which the husband, half-awake, half-asleep, answered, "Impossible! Such a creature exists only in the Senate."

I have always considered it an honor and a privilege to represent the second district of Rizal, of which the UP area is an important part, for 2 reasons: (1) The University has been the center of intellectual ferment in the country, and (2) which is a more personal reason: the UP is my alma mater.

A lot of people, particularly my close friends, have often wondered why I entered politics. I was in the academic world and in the world of law practice. What should have induced me to abandon almost entirely teaching and practice in favor of a rough, disorderly life with no moment, it seems, of privacy or thought? I suspect even my better—or more accurately perhaps, my bitter half — must have asked the same question a lot times. Well, let me give you a straight answer.

It is partly because of a strong, deep-seated conviction that I have no right—whatever to condemn or criticize the governance of public affairs— as I usually did— if I were not prepared or willing, in my own little way, to do something about it. How could I talk about the need of cleaning up the much talked about mess in the government unless I was prepared to disregard, for the moment, personal interests and get something done: Indeed, how can we talk about having an efficient government, unless those of us who are so inclined, are prepared, if called
upon, to render service to the State? I do not say everyone of us must enter politics. That would be a disaster. But I do say it is time we took a good look at ourselves, see how much we have been immersed in our own private affairs, and consider how indifferent some of us have become to the vital questions of government and to the important public issues that affect the world in which we live. We talk about democracy and freedom, but seldom realize that both can be dismantled out of all usefulness by our own inaction and by the crippling weight of our indifference. We talk about good government and yet participate, through our own unwillingness to act, in its collapse.

This brings me to the theme of the evening: Good Government.

What is a good government? Is it necessarily a government where the mass of public servants are honest and efficient? To my mind, this is not enough for in Italy and Germany during the war years, the great many were honest and efficient. In fact, during the tragic days of Mussolini, the trains in Italy ran on time as never before. The Nazi concentration camp system in Germany was a model of hideous efficiency, It may well be that in Soviet Russia today, the bulk of public servants are honest, dedicated and efficient— even more so than in many places in the free world.

And so, when we talk about Good Government, we should be careful when we discuss it in the context of a free society of free men. In such a society, the law is more than just a set of rules and decrees; it is a system of ordered liberty.

Now, that would involve us, it would seem, in some kind of internal contradiction. Order and liberty are concepts that are apparently inconsistent, when vou have nothing but order, you have the makings of a garrison state and may eventually achieve what has been correctly phrased as "the unanimity of the graveyard.” When you have nothing but liberty, so that everyone is free to do what he pleases, you have no more and no less than anarchy and chaos. The eventual result is the rule of the strong over the weak— which means loss of liberty itself. One is just as bad as the other.

To be sure, then, the preservation of a minimal standard of order is basic in any organized society; without order, one cannot enjoy the essentials of life with some kind of assurance that someone will not deprive him by force of it. But too much stress on order may mean the dissipation of freedom— the freedom to pursue our respective occupations, the freedom to trade and engage in business, the freedom to inquire and to know, the freedom to seek truth according to our best lights, the freedom to speak and to worship and to believe. Law, then, in a free society of tree men is a system of reconciliation — the reconciliation of order with liberty, and it is for this reason that I defined law earlier as a system of ordered liberty, a system where there is security and where individual dignity and worth is recognized.

A Good Government, therefore, seeks to achieve order with freedom, security with human dignity. And at the very least, human dignity means a more equitable distribution of the basic values and goods of society wealth and power, knowledge and respect.

The whole idea of Good Government means honest, competent, efficient public officials within the framework of a system that reconciles order with the human desire for freedom. Honesty, competence and efficiency would be worthless it they were used only to destroy human dignity and therein erect a garrison state.

It is often said that in a democracy the government is one of laws and not of men. The meaning is that the mighty and the weak should be under the law, with equal rights and equal protection. Justice is blind, without regard to whether one is poor or lowly. This is all fine and good, except for the fact that laws are made by men, interpreted by men, and administered by men. And as long as this is so, justice cannot be blind.

The basic problem of government, then, is to recruit good men who are aware of their tasks. That is the basic problem too of business, the recruitment of good men. But if this is essential in private business, this is indispensable in government.

For whether we like it or not, the responsibility for our moral standards in society rests heaviest upon men and women in public lite. They are the models, the examples to which the people look up for guidance and inspiration. Public confidence in the integrity of public officials, particularly the high officials, is necessary in a popular government such as we have. Destroy that faith and you destroy faith in a democracy. That is the reason why Communism sows distrust and doubt in our minds as to the honesty of public officials. Widespread mistrust is the fertile ground of communism.

As I have stated, the problem is to get good men in the government and having done so, to encourage them. It is for this reason I am against broad, hasty accusations that defy the rules of logic and law of evidence.

What I am saying is that while it is important to root out and punish the bad, it is just as important to recognize and support the good. Generalities about crime and corruption in government which embrace the many good with the few bad can only make it harder to induce good people to enter public service.

Right now, it is so hard to get top men in the world of business to join government service. If it is difficult to get good men in public service, it does nobody any good to see honest, conscientious public servants resign and quit, because they don't care to be abused and ridiculed any longer.

DEMOCRACY, as one writer puts it, cannot be saved either by slander or by silence.

And in the Philippines, the word "silence" can never be over-emphasized for here, particularly in places where the high and the mighty have the run of things, the poor and the lowly are so afraid to give their evidence. Entire communities are terrorized into silence and prospective witnesses are rendered mute by the forces of physical violence. Hence, it is true to say we cannot clean up the mess in the world of crime and vice unless we are also willing to clean up the civic and political life of the community in which we live. And who is going to do that? Only we, the people. It is not merely the public officials. For as Bernard Shaw puts it very aptly— "Democracy is a device that insures we shall be governed no better than we deserve."

We can't have a good government and at the same time have a double standard of law observance. We can't validly complain of corruption, if we are only too prepared and willing to bribe our way through to get what we want.

And so, if you ask me: how do we attain a higher standard of ethics in government? I answer:

When we refrain from exerting pressure on our public officials for selfish, narrow ends; when we give positive applause and encouragement to the guy who is playing it straight even though we may not agree with him; when the public official gets the help he needs from people who don't want anything from him except to be good; and when we, the people, organize and give real, solid backing to those who lead the attack on mass dishonesty and graft.

The Task of Building A Better Nation
Copyright ©2005 Jovito R. Salonga
Regina Publishing Company
414 pages

1 comment:

Jose Salamena said...

Thank you Tito Jovito. We Pinoys constantly complain about corruption and graft, when we ourselves would rather bribe an official or ask for unethical favors from our friends to fulfill our selfish desires. A better Philippines starts with a better Filipino and a better Filipina. And a better Filipino or Filipina is one who would rather do the right thing, at any cost.