A Passion for Public Service
POR VIDA - Archie Modequillo (The Freeman) - January 23, 2016 - 9:00am

There was once a time when people went to extra lengths, even risk their very lives, for the good of their community or their country. They led efforts to improve communal systems, to improve people’s lives, to give everyone equal opportunities for progress. They acted with contagious passion, so that others couldn’t help supporting their advocacies.

That time has since passed, or at least largely gone. Passionate, upright leaders – while a few of them could still be found – have now been relegated to minor, specialized causes. Not that their passion in what they do or the significance of their endeavors has lessened – but these ideal leaders and public servants could have benefitted the entire nation, instead of just a small group in society.

The attitude of the general public about leaders has changed, too. The choosing of leaders today is, to a large degree, simply a popularity contest. And popularity is not necessarily based on competence and integrity, but on sheer visibility. The recent political events in the country are an example of this scenario.

Politics has overtaken the passion for public service. Political parties now find it difficult to even complete their election lineups. They only want candidates with the appeal of hot movie stars.

Are politician parties to blame? Not entirely. The preference for popularity over ability is widespread among the general public as well. In fact, the new measure of political parties in choosing candidates to field is, perhaps, simply a reaction to the changed public behavior.

This explains why showbiz personalities have been jumping into the political arena. Many of those who get elected are doing well, doing fairly good public service. But the ideal still is: “The people deserve only the best.” And this may just remain an ideal for now.

It seems politics is becoming a good retirement plan for many. Those that no longer do in industries are good to run for public office; they only have to sizzle up their popularity status. For example: once a movie star no longer twinkles, he sets his eyes on a public office. One such star has had ended up in Malacañang.

Especially in the local elections, people run because they need a job. It is no longer about public service as much as about livelihood. When these people get elected, they tend to try to get the most of the opportunity for earning a living – at times beyond moral bounds.

When President Aquino referred to the Filipino people as his “bosses,” he was presenting himself as public servant. To the other elected officials, the public is the “boss” because it is the public that gives them their employment. Slightly different mindsets that can yield very different outcomes.

Of course, there is nothing wrong in getting paid for public service. A winning manager in a private company certainly has the skills and ideas to excel in public service as well. But if he enters public service for the pay alone, it will just be a profession – not a vocation that public office largely is.

Public service is not an 8-to-5 job. Good public servants spend their lives working for the good of the people. To them, public service is not about earning a living – they live to do it.

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