Monday, December 29, 2008

Character and Abuse of Power

I read a most interesting blog about an incident that happened in a golf club a day after Christmas. It turned out to be not just interesting, but one that will most definitely cause outrage against those in power. To read it, go to this blog

It’s been said that if you want to know the true character of a person, give him power. I couldn't agree more.

I am a politician, granted by the Constitution and the people who voted for me a mandate to serve and the opportunity to have power. As a government official, it is a power that enables me to make things happen and influence to make government personnel to act. I acknowledge that this power, given to persons who easily give in to the temptation of abusing this privilege, may be wielded not as intended but in a manner that is abhorred.

To some, righteous wielding of power comes naturally because of how they were brought up. Some exert a conscious effort not to abuse it, while others are overwhelmed by it, easily giving in to the whispers of the devil, pretty much like Anakin Skywalker who walked over to the Dark Side upon acquiring the powers of a Jedi.

If there is a subject that should be included in a Public Administration or any governance course, it should be about Character. Many have spoken about Character, but apparently, not all those who wield power have read or heard about those words of wisdom. Take for example, the following:

"Character is that which reveals moral purpose, exposing the class of things a man chooses and avoids" - Aristotle

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.” – Abraham Lincoln

From more contemporary and pop culture source (but one of my favorite quotes):

"The best index to a person's character is (a) how he treats people who can't do him any good, and (b) how he treats people who can't fight back." – Dear Abby (Advice Columnist)

There is a joke that I often use in my public speaking. It starts out with me thanking those who welcomed me by shaking my hands. Then for the punchline, I give the reason for my appreciation by saying this, “There was a time that whenever you meet a politician, you shook his hand. Nowadays, you just shake your head. Thank you for shaking my hand”.

It always elicits laughter from the audience, therefore, making it easier for me to connect with them. But there is indeed not just a grain of truth in it, but an entire harvest of truth. Indeed, many people distrust, disdain and disapprove of politicians nowadays. Many have refused to give politicians the benefit of the doubt, lumping all politicians in one category--- trash. In the eyes of the people, being a politician has ceased to be an honorable occupation. The reputation of politicians nowadays has been degraded to that of a low-life.

But is it the people’s fault? Some politicians would say “yes”. Some would say that is only a matter of perception by a cynical population. But actually, it is a matter of reputation. Reputation is brought about one’s actions, unlike perception which is significantly affected by an observer’s opinion. Politicians have become notorious not because of people’s perceptions but because of politicians’ reputations. And that reputation is brought about by the politicians’ actions, which in turn is based upon their character.

As Abraham Lincoln said, “"Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”

Before I became a politician, I had already heard about those who abuse power. I had already despised those who do. Many times I have heard stories from my mother when the wives of senior officers would wield their seniority over her. I felt outrage at those who offended my mother. I knew how it felt to be at the receiving end of power.

On the other hand, my father, who was then a military officer, ingrained in me and my siblings the virtue of respecting other people, even those who were under his command. He constantly reminded us that even though we were the children of the commander, we should bear in mind that only he has the authority over the soldiers in his command, not us. This was during the time of Martial Law, when the military lorded it over the country, with the children of military officers acting like commanders themselves, especially in the treatment of soldiers under their fathers’ commands.

The most common line that you can hear from someone who is intoxicated with power are the words, “Hindi mo ba ako kilala?”

Those words are a betrayal of a person’s arrogance, because for one to expect that he is known by everyone is evidence that he thinks highly of himself or a lack of humility. In public service, humility is the number one qualification because as the term itself connotes, a public servant is expected to be beholden to the public. Rich or poor, young or old, man or woman, they are all to be served by those who are in public service.

Actually, it is the public who has the greater right to ask those in public service, “Kilala mo ba ako?” The public has the right to say, “Ako ang nagbabayad ng suweldo mo” and “Inutusan ka ng Saligang Batas na paglingkuran ako”. Whether a citizen pays taxes or not, that citizen is entitled to courteous service and treatment by public servants and officials.

As a politician and public servant myself, I am saddened at stories of power abused by those given the privilege to wield it. It is power that is supposed to be used for the People, not against them.


sparks said...

:-) good post.

Jonas Diego said...

Thank you, sir. :)

Chris A. said...

Glad to hear a virtue and ideals of a good politician. It is very so often that I encounter politicians whom are "really" sincere with what they are talking about because the only time I can have the chance to listen to one is every election period. All promises, but once they got in, what happens? Then comes next election and it'll start all over again. With the emergence of blogs and websites, I believe that it can be a tool for redemption, introduction (but also can be a form of trickery) of what the ideals, the perspective, the mission of a politician.

I don't want to believe and generalize that all politicians as corrupt nor will I say all are not...

Vince said...

Very true.

Speaking as a constituent, however, like the allegory of the cave (wherein all people see are shadows instead of the things casting the shadows), our sense of reality and perception have been bastardized to a point where we now fail to recognize the tree (character), but recognize its shadow (reputation).

It's the sad reality of our lives. Some may say dont judge the book by its cover, but we dont even get to see the cover any more. And even if we do get to see the real deal, we refuse to believe it.

Hopefully this can change, given time.

- Vince P.

Anonymous said...

isnt it that character should be developed in the family and during the early years?

IVY said...

that was a nice way of saying things. i, a taxpayer, hopes that everyone thinks the same way you are thinking and expresses his opinion the way you do. hats off to you, sir.

btw, i really admire your father, so much. :)

Kirhat said...

The case against the Pangandamans has in a way stirred many bloggers, including Cong. Biazon, to talk about the incident from different perspectives. This post is offering us a new way of looking at things and how some politicians are really true to their mandate of serving the interest of the people.

More power to you and to your district!


garon honasan said...

"Actually, it is the public who has the greater right to ask those in public service, “Kilala mo ba ako?” The public has the right to say, “Ako ang nagbabayad ng suweldo mo” and “Inutusan ka ng Saligang Batas na paglingkuran ako”."

minismo niyo ser.

Bong said...

really nice read! ^^

- Bong, UP NCPAG