Monday, April 09, 2007

Command responsibility

This is my column today at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today.

IS it reasonable to make candidates accountable for the actions of their supporters? Should we believe the yarn that it would be impossible for candidates to monitor and police the campaign strategies and actions of their supporters?

Senator Aquilino Pimentel, Jr. is furious that someone filed a case against him for alleged abuse of his franking privilege as senator. The franking privilege, which is given to certain government officials, allows senators to send snail mail without having to pay for postage stamps. The magic phrase “for official use only,” which we all know often translates to “for official abuse only” particularly when it pertains to the use of government vehicles, is the justification behind the franking privilege.

Senator Pimentel allegedly abused his franking privilege by sending out campaign mails endorsing the candidacy of his son. The complainant speculates that at least 100,000 of these letters have been sent out thereby depriving the government of at least half a million pesos in revenue. But over and above the revenue issue, what rankles is the allegation of abuse of official privilege, in this case to further a vested political— actually family—interest.

Senator Pimentel claims he had no knowledge that the campaign mails were sent out using his franking privilege. He pointed an accusing finger at one of his staff. He claims to have chastised the erring staff and paid for the postage costs of the letters in question. Ganun na lang ba yun?( Shall we leave it at that?)

While driving around the Metro and some parts of Laguna over the weekend, I noted that a number of national and local candidates continue to violate Commission on Election rules on the posting of campaign materials. There are campaign posters all over, from Muntinlupa to Sta. Rosa. Many of them are tarpaulin banners in sizes that clearly exceed limits. Why, some of the posters are almost the size of billboards!

The campaign posters of the incumbent governor of Laguna are posted in practically every electrical post in BiƱan and Sta Rosa. In my neighborhood in Malate, Manila, there are fences and walls completely covered by posters of mayoral candidate Ali Atienza. To be fair, though, it’s not only Atienza who is guilty of the violation. The other local candidates are just as guilty. And with only about six weeks to go before the elections, it is almost a certainty that the indiscriminate posting of campaign materials will become more wanton.

A number of candidates have tried to wiggle out of the situation by saying that they have given instructions to their supporters to follow Comelec rules. They complain that it is unreasonable to expect them to be able to monitor the actions of their supporters. I am amazed that these politicians are able to make these lame excuses with straight faces.

If they are not successful in providing leadership to their supporters, how can they be expected to succeed in the leadership posts for which they are aspiring? Besides, since they pay for these campaign materials, isn’t it logical to assume that they are aware of the quantity being printed and distributed? It is simple mathematics. There are only a number of designated common poster areas. Where else do they expect their supporters to post the thousands of remaining posters?

I don’t know about you, but I am sick and tired of hearing candidates making all these harebrained excuses. Even the foul ups in their schedules are being blamed on their supporters. If candidates cannot assume responsibility for the actions of their supporters, then we are truly in serious trouble.

Command responsibility is one of the hallmarks of a real leader. Politicians like to cite command responsibility to make government officials accountable for various problems in this country. Shouldn’t they also be made accountable for the campaign violations committed by their supporters following the dictum what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander as well?

***

Over the weekend, I came across quite a number of private vehicles that have been transformed into roving campaign billboards for certain candidates. I am aware that senatorial candidate Nikki Coseteng has been whining about how some buses are breaking franchise rules by carrying the posters of some candidates (she is complaining because the candidates who seem to be getting away with the violations are from the administration ticket). But in this case, the vehicles in question are private, so I am not sure whether these constitute a violation of Comelec rules.

I just hope that no one comes up with the idea of turning private vehicles into full-time roving campaign billboards. Metro Manila’s streets are already crowded as they are. We don’t need more vehicles wandering aimlessly just to parade the photoshopped grinning mugs of certain candidates.

But I do have an unsolicited piece of advice for people who think they are doing political candidates a favor by plastering the posters of their favored candidates all over their vehicles. They must make sure that they obey traffic rules and observe utmost courtesy on the road. Otherwise, they might just be doing their favored candidates more harm than good.

Bear with a little storytelling here. I was driving back to Manila last Saturday night when I encountered heavy traffic a few meters before the tollgates near Bicutan. It was the classic funnel effect, which happened because the five-lane superhighway suddenly narrowed down to three as the lanes leading to the alternative tollgates were closed.

The situation became messy as motorists driving on the two inner lanes suddenly found themselves facing a dead end. Naturally, they were forced to swerve into the outer lanes so they could exit. Unfortunately, “giving way” is not one of the strongest suits of Filipino motorists. However, I was feeling charitable that night, so I allowed some cars to cut in front of me.
I noted that every time I would allow a vehicle to cut in, the vehicle behind me would honk his horn repeatedly as if to chastise me for being “nice.” I ignored the honking because I thought I was doing the right thing.

But the driver behind me could not see beyond his impatience. He found a way to overtake my car. He cut in front of me so suddenly I had to hit the breaks with all the strength my right foot could muster. Guess what the driver did. He stretched his left hand out of his car and gave me the finger.

And his car was plastered with the smiling face of Chiz Escudero. I don’t think the issue of command responsibility applies here, but political supporters like that rude motorist should realize that campaigning for candidates require certain responsibilities. You bet I shouted, “you lost one vote for your candidate!” at the guy.

***

And if you are not doing anything tonight, please drop by at the Teatrino at Greenhills where Abanse Pinay is doing a fund raiser. For a thousand bucks, you get dinner, bottomless iced tea, and a whole night of dancing.

1 comment:

vic said...

The term is “Palusot” and it works all the time. The Pimentel case had happened to one of our elected officials here is enough for him to resign his post for getting exposed. And may even fall under a serious case under a criminal offense, illegal use of Government funds. Although mails going to and coming from our MPs do not require stamps, never heard the privilege being abused.
As for campaign banners, hydro posts and public utilities and properties are off limits. Only on private properties with owners’ permission and clean up in maximum of three days after election is enforced. No ifs and buts.

Now my question - if it is possible here, why not there?

Anyway, as for the toll roadway, we have only one in Ontario, which the government handed to a private firm to manage (currently about 40 km) but it is an electronic toll way. The driver used either a transponder and billed regularly or the plate no. is photographed and owner billed.

I don’t know if it is prohibited, but so far never seen cars with campaign stickers, except campaign buses used by the party or candidates. And I am a party volunteer campaign worker.