EDITORIAL - No joking matter
(The Philippine Star) - January 11, 2019 - 12:00am

Any administration that claims to give priority to eradicating corruption should be boosting the capabilities of the agencies with the constitutional mandate to hold public officials accountable. These are the Office of the Ombudsman and the Commission on Audit.

This week, President Duterte received flak for saying during a public gathering that COA auditors should be kidnapped and tortured. His spokesman quickly stressed that the statement was clearly a joke. In the age of Tokhang and Double Barrel, however, presidential statements that make light of violent assaults can inspire public officials with criminal minds to actually carry out attacks on those who dare scrutinize their illegal activities.

Similar concerns have been raised by several sectors over the President’s remarks on women, sexual molestation and rape. Palace officials have also downplayed the remarks as jokes. But critics point out that the issues are no joking matter, and could encourage sexual attacks especially on Filipino women working overseas. Migrant workers are vulnerable to abuse. Too many Filipinos overseas have suffered sexual abuse and other forms of physical violence and molestation at the hands of foreign employers.

There are many ways of breaking the ice or holding the attention of the audience during public events. Jokes can always be cracked, but national officials are held to higher standards of speech and behavior because they are regarded as leaders and models for the citizenry.

The work of government auditors is difficult enough – and dangerous in many areas. Instead of public ridicule and threats, the COA needs to have its capabilities boosted so it can do a better job of promoting good governance. If those whose job is to ensure the judicious use of people’s money are subjected to threats, ridicule and violent assault, the joke will be on the nation. But it will be too painful to laugh.

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