Isang Kaibigan: The parallels of friendship and public service

ROSES AND THORNS - Pia Roces Morato - The Philippine Star

In the tapestry of human relationships, the qualities that define a good, dependable and loyal friend are akin to the virtues that make an exemplary public servant. Both roles necessitate a commitment to shared values, trustworthiness and unconditional support.

These thoughts entered my mind (and, pardon the drama, singed my heart) as I watched Vice President and concurrent Department of Education (DepEd) Secretary Sara Duterte lead the celebration of the 2023 Pambansang Araw ng Pagbasa (National Day of Reading).

During the program, the attendees were pleasantly surprised to learn that a very special book would also be unveiled that day: “Isang Kaibigan,” a children’s illustrated story that the Vice President wrote herself.

Apparently, when VP Sara was told that she would have a chance to read to the students during the celebration’s book reading activity, she decided to level things up and personally compose a lesson-rich fable for Filipino children.

For the work of a first time author, Isang Kaibigan’s syntax and prose is remarkably impeccable in conveying deep sentiment and meaning. The illustrations done by Janina Simbillo and Joseph Caligner complement the tone of the narrative perfectly.

The story centers around an owl named Wago, who was constantly surrounded by fellow birds because his roost was open to all, with good food and companionship always available. One day, however, a storm ruined Wago’s home and took away everything he had. Suddenly, the birds that used to encircle him in seeming friendship all disappeared, save for Lor, a loyal friend who vowed to help Wago rebuild his roost and keep him company.

“The school environment is where most of our early social relationships are formed, and the story’s main lesson is to help children form valuable, fulfilling and long-lasting friendships,” VP Sara explained.

“I hope that our students can aspire to be – and seek to surround themselves with – dependable friends that remain faithful through good times and bad times,” she added.

Indeed, there are striking parallels between the qualities of a steadfast friend and those required in an effective public servant, particularly how these virtues are crucial for navigating the complexities of both personal connections and governance.

In my opinion, dependability forms the bedrock of enduring friendships and effective public service. A reliable friend is someone you can count on in times of need, just as a dependable public servant is one who consistently meets the expectations of their constituents. In friendship, this means being there for each other through thick and thin, and in public service, it translates to fulfilling responsibilities and promises to the community.

A dependable friend and a reliable public servant also share the trait of consistency. Friends who can be relied upon in moments of joy and sorrow create a sense of security, much like public servants who consistently act in the best interests of the people they serve. Dependability, whether in friendship or public service, fosters trust and strengthens the bonds that tie individuals and communities together.

Both friendships and public service also thrive on shared values. Friends often come together because they are united by common beliefs, interests and principles. Similarly, effective public servants connect with their constituents by aligning their actions with the values and needs of the community. They also form key alliances based on these factors, which ensure that their collaboration is not just transactional in nature.

While VP Sara’s book was obviously written with children and adolescents in mind, even adults – and yes, those in positions of power – can learn valuable lessons from its simple story. The one other thing that struck me most about the book was a single closing line (if you blink or turn the page fast enough, you’ll miss it) describing the author: “Siya ay isang tunay na kaibigan.”

Based on her track record, I could not agree more.

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