Much has been said about the constant criticisms being thrown at the government with the way it responded and responding to the current crisis. However, instead of addressing the complaints, or at least confirming their veracity, more attention has been directed to the people airing the complaints, and not to the issues they raised. Of course, not all complaints warrant attention as some were indeed nuisances. Criticisms, like praises are sometimes shams too – but the sad thing is that the apparent instinct of this administration, and the people who side with it, is to dismiss these criticisms as mere distractions, politically motivated stunts aimed to shame those at the seat of power. But really, should the exercise of the citizens’ right to demand a high standard of public service from the government, and to criticize the same should they feel that they are getting less than their taxes worth, be subjected to prior conditions and be justified by other reasons other than the legitimacy of their grievances?
In other words, why should citizens air their discontentment to their government and what good does it do to the public in general?
First. Citizens do not only have the right, but more importantly, they have the duty to petition the government for redress of their grievances or, in layman, to express their disappointment to their political leaders. This right of the citizenry is so important that none other than our Constitution (Sec 4, Art III) has incorporated it in the Bill of Rights. Observe that among the other rights enshrined in the Constitution like the right to unlawful searches and seizures, right against self-incrimination, the right to speedy trial,etc., the right to petition the government for grievances is the only right which do not- at the direct and personal level- concern the citizen’s interest as it is usually exercised out of his unselfish desire to improve the reins of government. Aside from the right to vote – a right that is not even found in our Bill of Rights- the right of the citizens to air their grievances to their leaders is perhaps the only right wherein the citizens are being empowered and encouraged by the State to participate in nation building or on matters of governance. It’s the right of the citizens to communicate their own view on an issue of national concern and encourage other members of the general public to do the same. Through the exercise of such right, State polices are modified, regulations are changed and procedures are improved.
Citizens of other free countries have the same right as ours and, at this time of crisis, have chosen to exercise the same, some far more vocal than us. The Australians are currently castigating Sydney’s Health Department for clearing and allowing the entry of at least 150 passengers – who were later reported as infected with the virus- of the Luxury Ship Ruby Princess when it docked at its Port. The Americans, who are traditionally known for being out-spoken, have been attacking Trump for his dismissive attitude about the virus when the news of its entry to their soil broke. South Korea Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha has credited their government’s effective effort in containing the virus to their “very demanding” citizens who expect nothing less than the highest standard from government services. Ergo, the Filipinos are not alone. Citizens from the other parts of the world also complain.
We cannot say that these nations are richer than us, and supposedly have better health systems and advanced technology to deal with the virus because as declared by Pres. Duterte, and repeatedly echoed by Speaker Cayetano, we have money to provide PPEs and food to our people. Thus, it is the manner of using the money that is the problem, and not the availability of it. At the alarming numbers of those infected by the virus that are climbing each day, and the surge of people violating the quarantine, some of whom even protested in the streets for food, it seems that the money is not being properly used. The virus is not being contained. The People are hungry. Naturally, the citizens will complain, and they should complain otherwise the status quo will not change.
Way back in the 1990s, right after a horrific disaster caused by the incompetence of our local officials that led to the death of young men and women inside a disco bar, one senator exclaimed that the “Filipinos have no passion for excellence.” We have improved as a people since then. Through the help of social media, our citizens are now publicly demanding from their leaders the kind of services that is worth their taxes. REAL public service. REAL concern for their needs. And REAL accountability to the people. Should we blame them for asking nothing less than the best from our government? I guess not. These people who are very vocal with their complaints maybe annoying to some, but let us understand that these people are scared, worried or maybe anxious of the present and their near future. Or maybe these people just have more love and concern to their country and its citizens than those annoyed by them, as they cannot to just sit in idle while their leaders are bringing their motherland to chaos.
Second. With 275 Billion at stake, yes, our citizens must be vigilant and should criticize any ineptitude or irregularities they see in the way the government is disbursing the fund. The reason is simple: There are crooks in the government. Thieves are lurking everywhere in public service. No less than our President has openly expressed his dismay and exasperation on his seeming fruitless fight against corruption. This is our biggest problem… not drugs… but the thieves in the government. Let us see how our government’s departments and agencies have fared on the issue of corruption. Let’s deal with our front-liners: (i) The PNP. Pres. Durterte has described this organization as “rotten to the core”. The phrase has capsulized all the bad things that can be said to this organization. One retired General that I usually see in the golf course displaying his branded golf clubs was finally sued in court, and just last year, his properties were forfeited in favor of the government as their combined value were found to be grossly disproportionate to his income. (ii) Our soldiers. Well, not so much to the lower ranking officials, but those who belong in the middle and upper level, the corruption is rampant. I personally knew some retired officials who, while in active service, have acquired properties and maintained a lifestyle way beyond their pay grade. Just imagine the discomfort I feel every time I read their advocacies about “good governance” whenever they defend Pres. Duterte in social media. These crooks never fail to make me puke. (iii) How about the DOH? This is one of the most corrupt agencies in the government. Sec. Duque himself admitted in the Senate that a corporation owned by his siblings was awarded a contract by its department. (iv) The BID. Two (2) of its former commissioners are now languishing in jail for a non-bailable case of plunder. (v) The CAAP. This is another agency of the government that has institutionalized the system of corruption. One of its former official, a retired General of the Air Force, is currently facing charges in court for rigged bidding. (vi) How about the Congress of the Philippines? if those lawmakers implicated with Napoles in the illegal disbursement of PDAF were detained at the time the issue arose, our government could have ceased to exist as no session can be held in Congress for lack of quorum. (vii) Lastly, how about the Office of the President? No evidence exists that the corruption has reached the level of the President. His image about the issue has remained clean. However, history has shown us that the Office of the President has not been spared of the stinks of corruption. Marcos has been universally recognized as a thief of pandemic proportion. Not so recent, another President, Estrada was ousted from power and finally convicted of plunder. Given the rampant corruption in our government, citizens have the right to be wary on how the government will deal with the crisis. Their collective voice and plea for good governance is an effective counter- measure to offset the strong temptation to steal of our leaders. The money that we have might be our last. It should be spent wisely, and legally.
Atty. Apollo V. Atencia