Sycophants destroy governments

FROM FAR AND NEAR - Ruben Almendras - The Freeman

Last week’s forced resignation of a DOF undersecretary for questioning the BBM rice price control order, the extreme deference and railroading of the proposed 2024 Budget of the Office of the President and Vice President by the Senate and Congress, are indications of the prevalence of sycophants/yes-men in the Philippine government. Add to these, the appointment of the controversial/disbarred lawyer/BBM supporter Gadon to a sub-cabinet position, and the flip-flopping of Quimbo and Bersamin of their previous documented positions on the constitutionality of budget allocation, it seems there is no shortage of sycophants in this government.

Dictionaries define sycophants as those that praise powerful or rich people in a way that is not sincere, usually in order to get some advantage from them; a self-seeking, servile flatterer, a fawning parasite. Human nature and the socio-economic/political realities in under-developed/developing countries, especially in autocratic countries, have to accept a significant level of sycophancy due to some peoples need to survive. There is however a certain level of sycophancy that is the tipping point, when it becomes destructive for the government and the country. It will start with protests, change of government, then social unrests and eventually revolutions.

Historically, all monarchies, aristocracies and tyrannies were peppered with sycophants who survived with the good graces of their patrons. When the rule of their patrons ended they would usually shift to other powerful patrons, but in the French, Russian and Chinese revolutions many of the sycophants died or disappeared. While it could be a good career for a while, it is not a legacy occupation for generations.

Due to their vested self-interest, sycophants/yes-men distorts the realities of the decision makers in the government by giving bad advice or praising/acceding to bad decisions. Consequently, in order to cover up for the bad decisions and effects, they double down to save their reputations and positions and worsen the situation. The other bad influence of sycophants is in adding to the sense of impunity to the ruling class. As they are never the bearer of bad news and consequences, they provide the rulers who are detached from reality with a heightened sense of impunity. The “let them eat cake” statement of Marie Antoinette to the people who were clamoring for bread before the French revolution is the classic example. Ramming down fiscally unsound borrowings/expenditures and illegal persecutions and repressions are common examples. These were prevalent in the last Duterte administration and the cabinet officers then and now should regret and correct them.

In a country like the Philippines, with 20% of the population below the poverty line and another 20% too engrossed with survival living, it is the responsibility of the socially aware middle class which comprise 50% of society to expose, protest and act against sycophants. Sycophancy distorts truth and justice which are the basic principles and the foundation of democratic societies. It is a good sign that the main and social media are now able to report and expose sycophants, politicians and government officials that have renege on their principles, but the civil society of the middle class who have the material and intellectual resources have to lead the way. The French Revolution was actually started by middle class lawyers in the cities of France. In the two Philippines People Power revolutions the demonstrators went to EDSA on their own vehicles and brought/shared food and provisions.

On the other hand, sincere and responsible governments that desires to progress, prosper their people and stay in power have the greater responsibility to be aware of sycophancy in the government and its influence on policies, actions and overall governance. There should be more people in the government, including elected national and local officials, that can afford and stand for their principles, especially since it seems that they are highly paid, with nest eggs and assured big pensions.

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