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A few good men?

When a friend was recently appointed to a plum government position, my wife and I had mixed feelings regarding the appointment.

First and foremost, we were happy for our friend. The fact that he got and accepted the job means that he must’ve wanted both the post and the opportunity to serve our nation. Additionally, we know that he is both competent and capable and, if given the chance, he could be one of the good guys who could make a positive difference for our country. Most of all, we personally know him to be a decent, morally upright, and God-fearing person, who should be able to resist temptations and make the right decisions that will benefit the greater good.

What gave us mixed feelings about our friend’s appointment was the kind of government and environment he is joining.

Despite his stellar qualifications and great potential, I have difficulty shaking the stigma that comes with government positions these days. In a world where our country’s so-called “best and brightest” have more often than not proven themselves to be the best only when it comes to serving the selfish interests of the powerful few, getting appointed into government doesn’t seem like a great achievement anymore. That was the reason why, when we heard the news, we wished him our best but we couldn’t bring ourselves to offer congratulations.

We are hoping that our friend got the post because of his qualifications, competence and character, and not because he has friends in the right places, or worse, because he is assumed to be pliable by the people who recommended and appointed him. We reserved our congratulations for when he can make us proud through his words and actions while carrying out his new high profile job. As Spiderman’s Uncle Ben famously said, “With great power comes great responsibility”.

My guess is that as a citizen who has been mostly disappointed by his government over the past few years, I have basically lost faith in the people who work in it. While this is grossly unfair to the good, decent and competent people who work silently in the background, people like me can no longer help ourselves when we see and hear the terrible things our government is doing with its awesome power and the people who could’ve and should’ve stopped this corruption from within have done nothing.

In a government where rules and norms for good behavior are no longer recognizable, we actually need good people more than ever. So, if you come to think of it, being prematurely judgmental on the few good people who have chosen to enter public service is not helping.

But as much as we would like to think that good intentions and principles will ultimately prevail, such a scenario has become horribly difficult to imagine, given the direction our government is being led. When smart and decent people who refuse to do whatever they are told can easily be accused of corruption or linked to drugs without any evidence, it is tough to expect anything from even the most principled Filipinos, who naively came into the snake pit, hoping to effect positive change.

To all our friends, who for one reason or another have been given the opportunity to be a public servant, please do not begrudge us who can no longer offer congratulations upon the announcement of your appointments. Please understand that, for now, congratulations are reserved for the times when you actually prove your worth, do good and make us proud with actual achievements that benefit the greater good.

With good people seemingly becoming an endangered species in these past few years, it would be counterproductive to discourage those who still want to serve in government. Let us support our friends and loved ones by monitoring their careers and contributions to the country, and sending words of encouragement whenever they do right and at the same time letting them know of our disappointment when they waste our taxes by showing loyalty to a person or group instead of their country.

I don’t think I can ever work for a kakistocracy. But there are Filipinos out there who still think they can make a contribution if given the chance and we should support them as much as we can. We hope those well-meaning patriots understand why we, their friends, will be imposing higher standards on them than the government itself but that is the only way we can support them as they try their best for our beloved country.

If this means withholding automatic congratulations until they actually perform and deliver as well as actually holding them accountable for their actions now that they are public servants, then so be it. Good friends do not let their friends turn to the dark side without doing anything.

There is always hope for this country as long as the true best and brightest do not give up and continue working to make life better for their countrymen despite the “demands” and politics of their job as public servants. We have seen how many of these supposedly decent and qualified people descend into darkness over the past few years. Let’s not allow any more of our friends to follow the same path. Let us take an active interest in their careers and take every opportunity to call them out for acts of extraordinary courage or cowardice so they don’t lose their way. For those who have neither the ambition nor stomach for public service, that is our duty to the country.*

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