Merci and Qaddafi
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
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.”
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.
TAGS: Gutierrez Impeachment, merceditas gutierrez, Muammar el-Qaddafi, Ombudsman's impeachment, Ronald Singson, Vicente Romano III