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Merci and Qaddafi

By MARITES DAÑGUILAN VITUG

Aside from the fact that their names rhyme, they have one other thing in common: they don’t know when to step down.

Of course, Muammar el-Qaddafi is at the extreme tip of the Velcro tape. He’s been ruler of Libya for four decades—and counting—and he has done enormous violence and injustice to his people.

Both the popular protests in parts of Libya, where rebels have given up their lives for change, and NATO airstrikes have not shaken the earth under Qaddafi’s feet.

Merceditas “Merci” Guiterrez is definitely a Mild Qaddafi. She has done us injustice by not doing her job as the country’s top anti-corruption official. Merci has also no sense of public good, as shown in

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the plea bargain deal her office forged with former Armed Forces comptroller Gen. Carlos Garcia and the inaction on the case of Gen. Jacinto Ligot.

Now that 212 votes for impeachment have rocked her office, she declares that she has done “nothing wrong” and that she “will prevail.”

Impeached Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez

It’s like hearing Qaddafi say, “My people love me!” and a somewhat similar refrain from Ferdinand Marcos during his last days in Malacañang in 1986.

Merci and Qaddafi are not alone. Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh joins their ranks: he has refused to let go of his 32-year grip on power despite massive protests. They all have the delicadeza of a steamroller.

What Merci, Qaddafi and Abdullah Saleh may not realize is that it pays to walk away from power. I was struck by a New York Times story that showed that a leader’s most noble act, sometimes, is to relinquish power. This way, the country is not subjected to a civil war. In Merci’s case, the country gets a new Ombudsman and the war on corrupt officials can start anew, in earnest.

It’s fascinating to watch other cultures wherein high public officials leave office at the slightest hint of impropriety—for reasons that, to us, seem small.

Recently, Germany’s Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg stepped down after he was found to have copied large parts of his university doctorate thesis. And to think that he was a popular and promising politician.

Also in Germany, Brandenburg’s education minister resigned in January following criticism that he had used a luxury four-wheel drive from a Berlin car dealership to go on a ski trip while claiming he wanted to test it as an official vehicle.

Societies like this expect ethical behavior from their public officials and demand accountability. It is difficult for them to lie because once they’re found out, these lies haunt them and lead them to the exit door.

We’re different. When an official is unethical, we wave it off because, well, it’s just ethics, some lofty code of conduct framed on our walls. It doesn’t involve actual stealing of money.

We nuance graft and say, it’s just petty graft when a high official uses public money for private dinners in five-star hotels or puts his domestic staff on his office’s payroll.

We think of scale but big things start from small.

Among those in government, some hold this distorted view that it’s okay to receive gifts, in whatever form, from suppliers and others with vested interests. After all, its private money.

But back to saying good-bye to power. We do have our own case of delicadeza and it’s very rare. Tourism Undersecretary Vicente Romano III resigned late last year after a branding campaign he was in charge of, Pilipinas Kay Ganda, drew noisy flak for allegedly plagiarizing other countries’ logos.

As for Ronald Singson, the Ilocos Sur congressman who was charged in Hong Kong for drug trafficking in February: he earlier refused to resign his post. (He was arrested at the airport for possessing 6.7 grams of cocaine.) It took a court conviction for him—a prison term of 18 months—to step down.

Didn’t he think that his behavior, the mere act of bringing an illegal drug to Hong Kong, or any other place, for that matter, desecrates public office? And did he think he would be able to wing his way through the Hong Kong court, backed by a powerful and wealthy father?

I wish there were more examples of public officials taking full responsibility for their mistakes and misdemeanors—and voluntarily walking away from office.

CATEGORY: Blogs, Marites Dañguilan-Vitug
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  1. Jeffrey Mendiola says:

    a well-thought analysis… Qadaffi or Merci… whoever is much worse, they all exhibit the same pachydermistic attitude… well who is the most thick-faced in this country…none other my kababayan Gloria Macapagal Arroyo…aftr admitting and saying sorry in national TV, she refused to resign and by sheer numbers and thousands of pesos, has successfully fended 4 impeachment complaints… only in this country, where officials who are disgraced and shamed do not consider the honorable way out, if only to spare a little bit of it..

    they will cling to their post, and would always invoke “their right to due process” their worn-out lines “if you have the evidence, sue me in court”

    and Ms. Vitug, aside from Undersecretary Romano…we have the perfect example of a disgraced public officer…Gen Angelo Reyes…

  2. Johnny Lin says:

    Ms. Vitug, wishful thinking or blowing in the wind. Try starting a “Wish U Resign Foundation”, ask 100 million Filipinos to donate ten pesos each. From the foundation funds, any high ranking government official like Merci or Justice Del Castillo(plagiarism),etc would get a “pabaon” of 50 million pesos upon resigning, similar to retiring AFP chief. Money talks! That should work???

  3. Domingo Arong says:

    Merci now likened to the tyrant Qaddafi should stay and face the precision bombing of her accusers; this way, we would finally be afforded during her trial in the Senate the opportunity to listen to her arguments in response to the “betrayal” accusations that brought about her impeachment.

    This line from Baron de Montesquieu may be instructive:

    “There is no crueler tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of law and in the name of justice.”

  4. Johnny Lin says:

    The $64,000 question is: who pays for the impeachment defense of Merci Gutierrez? If the government does, taxpayers have a right demanding her resignation to save money. If not, the unholy hour visit of Cong. Gloria Arroyo and FG to the house of Merci made sense. “Quid pro quo” extension of Ombudsman appointment renegotiated and strategized under silent night. Who were the confirmed senators in GMA pockets? How much would it cost buying those sitting on the fence? What else could they be talking in the middle of an eerie night? Merci was having second thoughts? She would lose all government pensions if convicted. How much to guarantee her financial future? Employment is difficult at her age; retirement is not cheap with current luxurious lifestyle. Delaying the process till her retirement is default victory, nevertheless, a victory. Honor, no longer the quest, has been irreversibly lost. Point of no return was reached. Deal with it at all cost!

  5. In this country, you snatch a bag or steal bread from a store and the people will gang up on you before you can say “I’m just a poor boy, nobody loves me.” But if you steal or help steal hundreds of millions of pesos or if you turn a blind eye to those who do or if you feign high blood pressure and other illness and invoke your right against self-incrimination, you are given fair treatment by the broadcast media especially if you decide to commit suicide. We know how thick-skinned some people in power could be. The least broadcast media could do is spare us the interviews which are full of lies anyway and please this includes the lawyers that represent these thick-skinned (kapit-tuko) personalities.

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