The President and Public Service

Speech at the Induction Ceremony of Masters in Public Administration Association, Inc. of Western Mindanao State University, Marcian Garden, Zamboanga City

In the life of every association – such as yours – the alpha and omegas are marked by the annual induction of officers. New leaders come in where the others go out. Predecessors give way to successors. As a matter of course. 

The continuum never becomes a vacuum. Certainly, not with your Association.

I am very happy to be a part of your successful changing of the guards. The Association remains whole and unbroken. There are no pretenders to the throne. Everybody looks happy. And I wish everyone – most specially the new officers – a good, performing year.

As you can well see, I am in my usual attire: no Ray-Bans, no black suits. For I am not a member the Malacanang MIB or Men in Black.

I am beginning to think Malacanang is poised to take the entire Filipino nation for a ride. I thought we have had enough of it in the last 19 months. I was wrong. For Malacanang now appears to be pleased with its roller-coaster experiment of public service. As they say, only in the Philippines.

Go to any country anywhere in the world and you will see the respect given to the office of the presidency. We can not seem to find the same respect here. Worse, the President herself has created a new culture – the culture of poor taste. We all must be ashamed.

The real seat of effective and efficient public service is the Office of the President. It is the central bank of our people’s dreams and hopes. It is not a Hollywood of make-ups and make-believes.

Malacanang constitutes the policy center not only of the executive branch of Philippine government but also of the Filipino nation. The President – and no one else, certainly not any relative by affinity or otherwise – exercises executive leadership alone. As the nation’s foremost office holder, the buck stops with the President. And not with the tide of the regional currency.

I make this point for good reason. It is to highlight the habitual propensity of the current President to claim credit every time the peso stands up to the dollar. The hosannas never end.

But the same propensity disappears every time the dollar eats up our currency. The regional currency fluctuation is announced as the real culprit by no less than the Press Secretary. If these MIBs think we are being taken from incurable nincompoops, they have another think coming.

Incidentally, somebody said that MIB means somebody into bananas or going bananas. I hope the virus stops them.

Our nation’s president is elected to be an omni- directional national leader. One can not be an anti-crime czarina today only to become an anti-deficit superwoman tomorrow. Somebody described an effective and efficient president as one leader who acts in a gigantic-theater-in-the-round.

You are all masters of public administration. You know what the many presidential roles are from chief of state to chief diplomat. Truly, the president must be omni-driven.

There is one role I want to talk about – the presidential role of chief legislator. This concerns me very much in view of my being a Senator, whose terrorism bill was ignored by this administration. Most likely, because I am not an MIB.

The president must take most of the initiative in the nation’s statute-making process. In every democratic country in the world, it is the Office of the President that employs the best advisers and pundits. In addition to the regular Cabinet is another body of minds called the kitchen Cabinet. All these are there to help the president.

One of the first major bills I filed is the anti-terrorism bill. Unfortunately, this president could not go beyond partisan politics. For it was only after her second SONA last July that she had ever thought of criminalizing terrorism.

Why criminalize terrorism when it is already an evil itself? The answer, my friends, is that our criminal justice system requires it. For the system to respond a crime just exist and the accused is probably guilty of committing it. Until today, there is no crime of terrorism in our statute books.

This does not mean that we wait and be butchered by terrorists simply because we have no penal law against them. Murder is murder. And it does not matter who commits it. But it should not matter less if we get tough by legislation on all the terrorists.

A very important point to discuss – especially those who are Jess educated and informed – should cover the root causes of terrorism. The list of Ambassador Raul Goco should be enlightening to everybody.

One, organized groups against government authority. Some people just can not live under a government of laws.

Two, religious groups with their unorthodox methods of asserting their faith. Some people suffer from a messianic complex.

Three, groups motivated by the spirit of vengeance for perceived evil deeds committed against them. An eye for an eye.

Four, groups asserting their claim for sovereignty.

Five, simply criminal groups or bandits or pirates out to make money or fortune.

What doctrine can be best proffered by any democracy in dealing with terrorists? Never, ever negotiate with, terrorists. A government that does is one that shakes in its own boots.

Incidentally, both US and Canadian governments now categorize the New People’s Army as a terrorist group. I can not place that in bolder relief. Not even the MIB can.

One reason I am here tonight is also to thank you for electing me Senator. I am now on my 15th month doing my best to make the best statutes for our country. Let me share with you my impressions of the Senate to where I now belong.

One, statute-making is the best test whether or not you have the virtue of patience. I thought I knew what patience was all about as a military and police officer. In all candor, you can never know patience until you become a Senator.

You introduce a bill which to your mind will serve the people best. If you are in the opposition, be prepared to see your bill become a sleeping bill.

Two, we investigate in aid of legislation. In my case, the investigator became the investigated. Mr. Corpus even asked me to take a polygraph test to determine if he was lying or not! Again, a lot of patience on my part.

Three – and to me, this is very important – nowhere can one experience the highest form of civility and the deepest level of deliberation except in the Senate.

We disagree a lot. But we will never allow a colleague to be shamed anywhere in the world. I think that was the sense of former US Senator Bob Dole when he said in 1999 and I quote:

In a democracy, differences aloe not only unavoidable. If pursued with civility – as well as conviction – they aloe downright healthy.

And if tonight you accuse me of romanticizing the nation’s greatest deliberative body – the Senate – I am prepared to enter my plea. I plead guilty, your honors.

I had wanted to cover more items. But I look into your eye; I am convinced you are now ready for the socialization activity.

Once more, congratulations to all of you!

Thank you very much.