Commentary : Public servant as a whistle-blower: reflections

First posted 00:50am (Mla time) May 01, 2006
By Ruben M. Manatad

Editor’s Note : Published on page A15 of the May 1, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

One has to grapple with one’s conscience and with the
dangers and uncertainties he or she must face for such
a decision. That is why a number of
whistle-blowers eventually succumbed to pressures,
threats and material enticements thrown at them to
“persuade” them to retract. Indeed, some
whistle-blowers have been blown to kingdom come and
silenced forever.

Public servants, as “insiders,” can minimize (at
least) the incidence of irregularities in government.
It may be the spirit of altruism-the desire to make a
difference in the lives of others-that impels some of
them to become whistle-blowers and defy the dangers
and the fears that come with their self-imposed
calling. It is just so tragic that most of us choose
to remain deaf and blind to the shenanigans in our
midst, thus allowing graft and corruption to
flourish right within the bureaucracy.

Corruption in government is reflective of the moral
decadence in our society. But it is not only
corruption in government that is keeping
our nation stuck in the doghouse.

Our culture has also been corrupted. We seem to have
lost the long-held Filipino values of hiya,
delicadeza, utang na loob and palabra de honor. We
have allowed our positive cultural traits to be
smothered by insatiable greed. We now put on high
pedestals people with wealth and power, no matter how
they may have acquired them.

It is imperative for us to bring ourselves out of the
doghouse and back to higher ground, and to recover our
sense of integrity, righteousness, uprightness,
decency, honesty, patriotism and nationalism, as well
as our taste for simple living and commitment to
genuine public service. We should extol sincerity and
thumb down dishonesty and opportunism. It would be
good for us to inculcate in our hearts and minds these
words of President Manuel L. Quezon: “Poverty with
honor is preferable to wealth with dishonor.”

Indeed, moral fortitude manifests itself in a simple
and honest life. Og Mandino has this advice: “Learn to
live with honest poverty, if you must, and turn to
more important matters, than transporting gold to your
grave.” The Holy Book also teaches that “An honorable
person acts honestly and stands firm for what is
right.” (Isaiah 32:8)

While promoting a culture of integrity in the public
service, we must develop a culture of excellence in
the work place. We must seek to rise above our
weaknesses-institutional or personal-and vigorously
aim for greatness. The primary consideration should be
love of country, honest and efficient service to the
people, not loyalty or gratitude to the appointing

This means putting up systems that encourage teamwork,
creativity and critical thinking; professionalism,
merit system, leadership and
accountability; dynamic, progressive and inspiring
leadership; free _expression and active participation
in the processes of decision-making. People in
government need to be empowered, too.

At the same time, it is vital for the citizens of a
democratic country to assume a greater role in
changing or reforming society.And any change should
reflect the sovereign will.

The sovereign will may be expressed not only during
elections but also in charting policies for better
governance, greater transparency and greater
accountability. This only underscores the
fact that it is a people’s inherent right to decide
their own fate. Our experience has shown us that
surrendering this right to our elected leaders has
been a debacle, as politicians would rather
protect their own interests first and foremost even
before they represent the people’s.

For us in the bureaucracy, this dark hour of our
country’s existence is a defining moment. Shall we
stand firm by our sacred oath to genuinely serve our
people under the doctrine that public office is
a public trust? Can we muster the courage to denounce

Or would we rather submit to a sense of powerlessness
and remain indifferent, and thus turn our backs on our
obligation to bequeath to our children and the future
generations of Filipinos a better
Philippines and a brighter future?

To remain numb to our people’s anguish in the midst of
corruption is to conspire with the evil forces that
are eating up our national body and soul. This is an
act of betrayal-a betrayal of our people. And
therefore, unforgivable.

Edmund Burke said: “All that is necessary for evil to
triumph is for good men to do nothing.”
Ruben M. Manatad is the Provincial Manager of the NFA Biliran, Resident Ombudsman of the NFA Region VIII and one of those who exposed the “Rice to Sawdust” switching anomaly of the Bureau of Custom confiscated smuggled rice that was transferred to NFA Leyte on June 2002.