Letters to the Editor

Cincinnatus to the plough

The Philippine Star

I could only sigh when I read that Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide announced he would not run in the leadership election of his Liberal Democratic Party, in effect giving up the prime ministership. The party said Suga said he would like to “concentrate on COVID-19 measures.”

That’s something we don’t/won’t hear very often over here. It is the very, very rare official who willingly cedes power when his/her term is up or voluntarily gives up his/her position and become a law-abiding private citizen.

The Constitution set term limits for all elective positions, from president down to councilor, and put in an anti-dynasty provision. The enabling law for the latter hasn’t been – and probably never will be – passed. The argument of the pro-dynasty (who are members of dynasties, of course) is that if the quality of service is good and the people want to vote them in, why stop them?

To get around the former, politicos serve out their allowed terms (usually three), then get a relative – spouse, child, sibling, uncle/aunt, whoever – to warm the seat for one term then they can reclaim the position. Sometimes they “share” – for example, X serves as mayor while Y serves as congressman, then switch after three terms. It has happened though that there is a double-cross; X gets a relative to run for mayor while X goes for the congressional seat, thereby leaving Y in limbo. Others simply run for other positions, kahit na ano, it seems, basta in power pa rin tayo. Sounds familiar?

Those who cannot win an election and get into government by appointment scramble to find a padrino or try so hard to get into the good graces of the appointing or recommending power just to land one of the thousands of positions in government.

As someone who is totally averse to politics, it is hard to comprehend this insatiable desire to be in government, to be “in power.” While everybody pays lip service to “public service,” to simply want to “serve the people,” it is more often than not just that – lip service.

One of my favorite stories from ancient times is “Cincinnatus to the plough” (my other favorite is the myth of Sisyphus). Cincinnatus was a Roman statesman and military general who, in his later years, retired to work on his farm. When they were invaded the people called on Cincinnatus to lead them; he did, assuming complete control over the state. But when the invasion was repelled (supposedly after 15 days), he relinquished all power and went back to his farm, to his plough. This supposedly happened not once but twice – in 458 and 439 BC.

Oh, that we would find a Cincinnatus in our midst! – Michele Perez, Quezon City

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