A truth that’s told with bad intent …

SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. (The Philippine Star) - October 6, 2018 - 12:00am

Once again, the President just disappeared. And, as before, we didn’t have a clue.

If it were just about the health of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, there wouldn’t be this much agitation. After all, he has looked robust despite his years. Do we truly worry about his longevity? 

What is more troubling is the default penchant of his spokesmen, both official and de facto, for not telling us what we have every right to hear. We have become resigned to the realization that, when it comes to his state of health, we the people will be the last to know. 

This shouldn’t be the case. Our men in government communications may feel that they owe fealty to their President: if they serve him, then they’ve done their duty. This is defensible to a certain extent. But a lot depends on what that service is. Imagine, police triggermen on EJK missions are invoking the same mantra.

… beats all the lies you can invent. Their main job description is to tell the truth about the activities of our government. This includes the truth about the abilities of our elected officials to execute their sworn duties. These truths facilitate intelligent discussions and a clearer understanding of the facts so that we may participate. As when our triennial audit of our officials comes up next May. A misinformed public weakens democracy.

Ultimately, that fealty should end when the choice involves manipulating or compromising the truth. When they do that, they prioritize the interest of their President, their party and their own advantage over that of the public. They should no longer be subsidized by our taxes and we would be fools to continue to trust and believe them.

Interesting dynamic. Presidential spokespersons are normally at undersecretary level, reporting to the Press Secretary or whoever heads the Communications office. The incumbent, Secretary Harry Roque, was given Cabinet rank. Next to the Executive Secretary, the Spokesperson is the one with most access to the President. This is rightly so: of the alter egos, the Executive Secretary is primus and can act for him (executive action is binding if signed “by order of the President”). But, since the advent of the office of the Press Secretary, and now Presidential Spokesperson, only the Spokesperson can officially speak for him.

The Executive Secretary, at least in the post Marcos era, can be a ghost to the public. In contrast, the Spokesperson is always in your face. It is his visage and voice that get most ink space and air time, next only to the President. 

But the Spokesperson is not subject to confirmation by the Commission on Appointments (CA). This may explain the tendency toward a distorted sense of accountability. Perhaps its time to subject the position to a CA vote. This shouldn’t be much of a hurdle. Our legislators, in the confirmation of the Executive Secretary and the Presidential Legal Counsel, traditionally defer to the President’s choice. They recognize the highest confidentiality needed for these working relationships. The same ethic would surely apply in the case of the Spokesperson.

Its timely that Senate President Vicente C. Sotto, III has proposed the revival of the Office of Press Secretary for the usual reasons of efficiency, economy and effectivity – and accountability.  

Offal from the corral. Our representatives are living in interesting times. The reorganization of the House, budget season, the fund parking controversy, and now the unexpected collateral scrutiny from the antics of “viral John.”

The road to the truth in the P52 billion fund parking scandal (reports have it even higher) continues to lengthen. The porcine stench, not just a whiff, may lead to doors of officials outside the Legislature. And now, they face this added lens of having to justify their privileges in the wake of their colleague, Congressman Bertiz III’s publicized behavior.

Public trust. Public servants should be the last to claim entitlements on account of their positions. We are sure that not one of them, while campaigning as candidates, boasted of the intention to abuse the office. Public service is meant to be its own reward.

Being a legislator does come with privileges. Under the Constitution, we have the speech and debate clause insulating them from liability for remarks in connection with the exercise of their legislative duties. There is also the freedom from arrest while in session for offenses punishable by not more than 6 years. They have statutory privileges like Franking. Just about now, we should be receiving in the mail our reports from our Senators and Congressmen, postage free. 

Other privileges may be offered by the different offices and agencies of government or by the various businesses which transact mightily with them. This would include the Airport Official Business pass waved by Cong. Bertiz in the video. The decision to avail of them is personal to each legislator. There are as many who refuse the privilege as there are who choose to avail.

ATENEO LEAGLESE. The Ateneo De Manila Law Alumni Association Inc. and host Ateneo Law School Class of 1994 invites all alumni to enter their appearance at the 2018 Grand Alumni Homecoming. Its on Oct. 19, 4 p.m., at the Makati Shangri-La.  This year’s Jubilarians come from batches ‘58, ‘68, ‘78 and ‘93. To be honored, also, are outstanding alumni from government, the private sector, the profession and the academe. This is your best chance to catch up, forgive and forget, connect with professors, make a mess - in your Sunday best. The loot bag will include unforgettable performances from Soprano Rica Nepomuceno and may contain, inter alia, prizes such as PAL roundtrips for 2 to Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur; staycations at the Raffles, Fremont, Solaire, Peninsula, and Makati Shangri-La.

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