Monday, September 13, 2004

Leadership By Example

Leadership by example

Updated 00:52am (Mla time) Sept 12, 2004
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A14 of the September 12, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

LIKE an old maid teacher, President Macapagal-Arroyo gave the public servants under her constitutional control in the executive department a caustic talking to. She declared that the country was in a period of austerity and everyone must be frugal. No more frivolity, enough of extravagance. This is a time for belt-tightening and personal sacrifice.

Accordingly, her Administrative Order 103 rules out "lavish lifestyles" and, as summarized in this paper, calls for the "suspension of local and foreign travels, seminars, parties and sports activities, new benefits to officers and employees, payment of overtime pay, and procurement of new vehicles."

She also decreed a 10 percent cut on "the services of consultants, technical assistants, contractual and casual employees," and stopped "the grant of honoraria or allowances for teaching personnel, lecturers, resource persons, coordinators or facilitators... chairs and members of boards, councils or entities not paid salaries but honoraria."

Although the AO is addressed only to personnel in the executive department, it is hoped that the legislative and judicial departments, as well as the constitutional commissions, will apply similar rules to cooperate in the current effort to cope with the financial crisis facing the nation. After all, it is not only in President Arroyo's department that public funds are callously misspent as if there were no tomorrow.

The Commission on Elections, for example, should sell the luxury cars it purchased two years ago in excess of the adequate official vehicles its members were already enjoying. I criticized it in this column for its extravagance, but not many paid attention, least of all the other government offices that were similarly overspending public funds for their own caprice.

For a government so poor it cannot even build enough schools for our children, it is heart-rending how our public officials overspend public funds for their own convenience and vanity. The best illustration of such prodigality is the junkets enjoyed by the legislators costing millions of pesos yearly. The wasted public funds are better devoted to the urgent needs of the people, like more hospitals and free medicines for the poor.

On the same day President Arroyo issued AO 103, the papers also reported her trip to China. She took with her as part of her official delegation her spouse who, as First Gentleman acquired official character (although Sir Dennis Thatcher kept a low profile and did not accompany his wife during her diplomatic travels abroad). Five department secretaries went along with their respective support staffs, as well as Ms Arroyo's own alalay like probably her hairdresser and manicurist.

All the members of what Secretary Ignacio Bunye described, I suppose with tongue in cheek, as the smallest official delegation ever sent by our government, enjoyed free transportation, board and lodging, and tourist attractions at the expense of either the government of the Philippines or of the host country.

But that is not all. The President also had an unofficial delegation consisting of members of her family, including their domestic help. Besides her son, Rep. Mikey Arroyo, and her brother-in-law, Rep. Ignacio Arroyo, who were part of the official delegation on recommendation of Speaker Jose de Venecia, her other son Dato, her daughters-in-law Angela and Kakai, and her grandchildren Mikaela Gloria and Eva Victoria, with their respective nannies, went along. Only her daughter Luli stayed home and missed all the fun.

Although Bunye insisted that the Philippine government did not shoulder the expenses of the members of the unofficial delegation, he could not say how much they had spent or who may have paid for them. There would have been many offers to curry favor with the First Family. But then, of course, the President herself would have been happy to foot all the bills in exchange for the sheer pleasure of having her whole family, except her only daughter, savoring all the delights of the China trip.

The only blight on her family excursion was its effect on AO 103 where she asked the people to undergo personal privation to resist the economic problems confronting the nation. She urged her co-workers in the executive department to be more prudent in the use of public funds and property and avoid wasteful and excessive spending. "Profligacy brings shame not only to their employers and respective agencies," she intoned, "but also to me and the entire government."

President Arroyo reminds me of the physician who cannot heal himself. Her abjurations against ostentation and improvidence in a time of acute want apply to others but not to her whose insensitive "profligacy" constitutes the leadership by example that the people cannot stomach. It is like an insult to the overburdened people who are reeling from the higher cost of food, and gasoline, and power rates, and heavier taxes.

It is like telling us to endure our pains while she and her family enjoy themselves. It is like saying we must grin and bear our troubles instead of attacking their privileged pleasures. It is like Marie Antoinette's unfeeling advice that the peasants should eat cake if they cannot have bread.

* * *

A published notice of the Judicial and Bar Council lists me among the candidates for chairman of the Legal Education Board. I am not interested in the position nor have I applied for it. I thank whoever may have nominated me, but I must decline the kindness.


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