The perils of zeal untamed
TO THE QUICK - Jerry Tundag (The Freeman) - May 20, 2020 - 12:00am

A letter, supposedly from a legislative staff of Senate president Vicente Sotto III, has riled certain members of the Cebu media. The letter, on official stationery with the name of Sotto and his office on the letterhead, bore the signature over printed name of the staffer, and was a reaction to a column in a Cebu newspaper.

The column, without naming names, called out members of Congress, both senators and congressmen, for what the columnist, in his opinion, was their disproportionate response to the COVID-19 crisis vis-a-vis their quickness to launch congressional hearings and investigations. The columnist, in effect, wanted to know what the legislators were doing to help in this crisis in their personal capacities.

I don't know if Sotto read the column or what his reaction was, if he did. Of the little that I know of Sotto, however, I do not think he is the kind who would delegate to anybody the task of replying to an issue if he cares to respond at all to one. So my presumption is, the staffer reacted to the column on his own. The question is, did Sotto know, and much less authorize, the reaction?

Actually, there is nothing wrong with anyone reacting to an opinion expressed by anyone. Besides, the letter, which has since been posted online, did not contain any offensive language, at least not in my assessment. What the letter did, though, was do exactly what Sotto does not want to do --- make public what he has done in his personal capacity during this coronavirus crisis, or any other crisis for that matter.

Only about a couple of weeks ago, Sotto admonished those who, while helping out in this crisis, would go on to publicize their assistance. "If you want to feed the hungry, then feed the hungry. But the moment you post it on social media, you are just feeding your ego," Sotto famously said in response to certain politicians who he described as unable to do anything unless followed around by a retinue of publicists and media coverage.

The unintended effect, therefore, of the Sotto staffer's zeal in wanting to protect the Senate president from each and every critic was to do exactly what Sotto himself does not want to do, which is to publicize what he has been doing personally in anonymity. In Cebuano, we have a term for it, which I think Sotto, with Cebuano blood in his veins, would understand perfectly well. And that is, "naunay sa kaugalngon niyang tari."

Besides, Sotto would probably be the last national figure to want to consciously rile the media in Cebu. Sotto's grandfather and namesake, as well as his granduncle Filemon, were among the pioneers of Cebu journalism, publishing and editing a number of Cebu newspapers in the early 1900s. In fact, Sotto's grandfather distinguished himself as the "Father of Press Freedom" by authoring what has come to be known as the "Sotto Law."

 What this thing tells us is that subordinates should not be more zealous than their principals. The bird that is perched on the back of the carabao may, in its estimation, seem taller than the carabao. But it only seems that way. Feet planted on the ground, it is still just a bird, no taller than an inch or two of grass.

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