Monday, September 06, 2010

Sacrificial lambs

This was my column on the date indicated above.

As an aftermath of the hostage-taking tragedy, we’ve seen and continue to see a parade of people gnashing their teeth, clucking their tongues, and shaking their heads in frustration at what they conclude as the general incompetence of our officials and the supposed embarrassment all these has created for the country and Filipinos in general.

Obviously, many people are still not done with the self-flagellation yet. There are people who continue to point out the many ways in which the hostage-taking crisis was bungled. In fact, there seems to be this preoccupation with discovering yet another snafu related to the hostage-taking crisis and then sensationalizing it. Some people seem to derive some perverse fun out of pointing out just how stupid our authorities have been, and are.

Like I said the other week in this space, we don’t need the Chinese or any other people to make us look or feel bad about ourselves. We are already doing a spectacular job in making ourselves look bad to the rest of the world!

So I am sorry if I refuse to go into depression, wring my hands, and flog myself in public while proclaiming “we are such a bunch of losers.” I am sorry if I am not morose enough and feeling hopeless and dejected. I apologize if I am not joining the chorus of people crying out for heads to roll or for government officials to prostrate themselves in the altar of public opinion. What happened last August 23 was gruesome, embarrassing, and horrendous but I refuse to see what happened as something that defines who we are as a people.

I agree that there were major lapses, I agree that we should apologize to the Chinese and admit culpability where appropriate and necessary. I agree that we should do what we can to honor the memory of those whose lives perished in that unfortunate incident. But I don’t believe we should grovel and get horizontal on the ground, flagellate ourselves publicly, and behead our leaders.

I don’t agree that Local Governments Secretary Jesse Robredo and Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma should resign from their posts because of “command responsibility.” The logic being presented by those who are crying for the heads of these two officials is that we need to send a very strong message to the Chinese that we are sincere, contrite, and resolute enough. In short, it’s a populist ploy designed to deflect attention from a more exhaustive, comprehensive and honest-to-goodness search for the truth.

A resignation from a cabinet member is a tacit admission of guilt. I know; it can also be interpreted as indicative of moral courage. God knows how many times in the past our country would have benefited tremendously if only some of our leaders had the grace and humility to offer their resignations to save the country. But the situation prevailing now is completely different.

Besides, I think offering Robredo and Coloma as sacrificial lambs represents an irresponsible and utter waste of precious executive talent. Someone said that these two executives are not indispensable and that there is a long line of people who can replace them at a moment’s notice. I don’t really know who are considered shoo-ins for Robredo’s and Coloma’s posts, but I know for a fact that it would be difficult to find people of equal competence and integrity.

What good will the resignations of Robredo and Coloma do at this point? It will be a romantic gesture devoid of real meaning; something reminiscent of what happened at the crisis wrought by the Flor Contemplacion case. Then Labor Secretary Nieves Confessor and Foreign Affairs Secretary Roberto Romulo had to leave government service to appease the public. The resignations were just as tragic given that the two were competent officials and performing really well in their posts.

But my main beef about these calls for resignations is that it deprives people the opportunity to correct what needs correcting.

I also cannot help but snicker at the source of the most vociferous demand for the resignations. The sacking of Robredo and Coloma (as well as of the other Communications Secretary, Ricky Carandang) is being pushed by Rep. Edcel Lagman, minority leader at the House of Representatives.

I don’t know what medication Lagman is taking that seemed to have caused a sudden attack of amnesia. He was quoted in some papers as having pompously proclaimed thus: “ palpable incompetence and culpable indifference must not be condoned… ineffectual and errant performance of government officials will not be tolerated.” There must be something about being in the opposition that makes people suddenly cloaked with the armor of moral righteousness. Let me remind Lagman that when he was still part of the ruling party, he never advocated the resignation of any government official even in the face of overwhelming evidence of graft and wrongdoing.

***

I understand that columnists cannot and must not think of themselves as isolated nor insulated from everyone else; that feedback and exchange of ideas and opinions are integral parts of the whole arrangement. I welcome feedback, particularly those that are meant to widen the contours of the discussion or are meant to shed additional light on a particular issue.

But feedback does not have to be an overbearing and illogical lecture in badly fractured English. And it doesn’t have to be the equivalent of a prolonged heated and emotional shouting match either. What is worse is when the people who insist that I convert to their points of view refuse to reveal their identities and prefer to hide under the cloak of anonymity. Worst, they insist that their diatribes should not be published nor even mentioned in this column.

I write this not as a complaint but to illustrate how unreasonably demanding some people can be. Certain people are unreasonably harsh. They think their opinions are the only ones that matter. They think that anyone who is not on one’s side on an argument is automatically one’s enemy.

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