Not easy to be a Cabinet member

MANILA, Philippines—Many are jockeying for the choicest positions in the incoming government. These job aspirants should however realize that it would not be easy to serve in the Cabinet of President Noynoy Aquino. To live up to the high expectations of our people, P-Noy—I think—will want his official family to be, like him, worthy of the public trust. Because he promised to hold Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her officials accountable for their alleged wrongdoings, he will predictably want his own subalterns to pass a very high standard of accountability and transparency.

Teamwork, brainwork and hard work. Leadership by example, he said, shall characterize his government. His Cabinet members therefore should exemplify trustworthiness, integrity and probity (TIP) of the highest degree and be living examples of the courage, humility and heroism of his parents, Ninoy and Cory.

Cabinet members must enjoy the absolute trust of the President. As his alter egos, they speak for him and act on his behalf. Hence, they must instinctively know his mind, his driving force and his inner self. They must be like Mar Roxas who, according to P-Noy, shares “the same mindset, the same vision” as he. Aside from being eminently qualified, they must subordinate their personal ambitions and march to the beat of a single drummer. Teamwork is as essential as brainwork and hard work.

P-Noy’s officials and their families should be ready to forego their privacy because our tri-media, the freest in the world, will use microscopes and telescopes, cameras and tape recorders to scrutinize the minutest details of their lives and careers. Daily, they will be headlined, columnized, broadcasted, texted, “Twittered,” “YouTubed” and “Facebooked.” Twenty-four hours a day, Cabinet members will be on call, not just by the President, but also by radio and TV reporters wanting to have the first crack at the breaking news.

iPad or memo book. Because they would have to be confirmed by the Commission on Appointments, department secretaries must be prepared to be interrogated about their public and private lives. Past activities, income tax payments and private ventures will all be dug into, not necessarily to probe their suitability for the job, but to be able to horse trade political and personal favors. Long forgotten enemies would bring up their slightest indiscretions. Even the best of intentions would be broiled in the heat of public debates.

Cabinet members must leave their professions and divest from their businesses. They must disclose their assets and liabilities as well as list down their relatives, whether by blood or by affinity, at the beginning of their terms and every year thereafter. The Constitution requires them to live simply. They must be ready to explain how they acquired their houses and how they can afford to send their children abroad.

Verily, P-Noy’s officials must strictly observe the transparency and accountability demanded by law. It is not enough to serve well, it is equally important to communicate well and to be credible at all times. Even the purest of officials must undergo public scrutiny. This is the price of public service.

They would be well advised to carry always an iPad or even an old-fashioned memo book where copies of the Constitution, the Anti-Graft Law, Ethical Standards Law and relevant portions of the Administrative Code would be readily available. A mastery of these laws is a must for the wise and the diligent.

Model public servant. Public service demands much sacrifice yet pays very little. It is not a place for the vacillating and the weak-hearted. Neither is it for the selfish and the self-righteous. New public servants can take some lessons from the life of Dr. Jovito R. Salonga who is celebrating his 90th birthday today. Upon being sworn in as a Cabinet member of Cory Aquino, he dissolved his famous law office. Though not required by law, he gave up his only source of income to set a new standard in ethical conduct.

Indeed, Doctor Salonga is the ideal public servant. He was a bar topnotcher (No. 1 in the 1944 bar exams), scholar (one of the few in the world to earn a masters in law at Harvard and a doctorate in jurisprudence at rival Yale), professor (in several law schools), educator (one of the youngest ever to be law dean), author (his books on evidence, corporation law and international law are the most authoritative on these subjects and his several biographic sketches are bestsellers), congressman (who single-handedly trumped two dynasties in Rizal province), senator and Senate president (with the distinction of being the only Filipino to top the Senate race three times), the best president the country never had (lost to Fidel V. Ramos in 1992). And he is the oldest living Filipino statesman and legend.

Having met him in 1956 when I was still a student and communing with him regularly up to the present, I know him to be all these. But I know him best as my lifetime guru—not just on the labyrinths of the law but more so on how to live a life worth living.
I will always remember his supreme teaching: While it is good to have the things that money can buy, like food on the table, clothing on our backs, medicine for our illnesses and even a car and a house for the family, we must never ever forget that it is far better to aspire for the things that money cannot buy like integrity, moral courage, character, honor, humility, dignity and an abiding faith in the love and mercy of God.

Happy 90th birthday, JRS!

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