Governance values and the family

Benito L. Teehankee

The View from Taft


October 8, 2014

THE SCENE begins with a typical family winding up dinner at a restaurant. The father directs his young son to fetch the bill. Holding a receipt handed to him earlier by a man from another table, the son sheepishly tells his father that the bill had already been paid. “Mr. Reyes over there said he has some papers in your office for your signature.” “Jun, we will return this money,” the father declares gravely to his son as he hands him the cash to pay back the unwelcome offer. The son blurts out, completely puzzled, “But why, Dad?” “Son, whether for an ordinary employee or a senior manager, any offer or favor which may put one’s integrity in question is best avoided,” the father patiently explains. “That’s especially true for us since your Dad is a government official,” the mother chimes in. “That’s delicadeza, son,” the father sums up in the teaching moment.

I have fond memories of this values commercial, one of several produced by the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) which aired shortly after the EDSA revolution in 1986. (The video is entitled “DBP Values TVC” in YouTube.) Given widespread concerns about good governance in our country today, young people of voting age now should have received solid grounding on this important principle from their parents. But how often have such teaching moments been happening among recent generations of families? Not often enough, I fear.

Delicadeza basically means avoiding conflicts of interest. In my MBA ethics classes, this is one of the toughest principles to explain because the traditional notion is no longer commonly understood. Each time I ask students about their understanding of delicadeza, their puzzled looks almost say, “Is that a pastry?” Fortunately, parents who want to educate their children on this important governance principle now have a great case to use. During a recent Senate hearing on pending modernization bills for the Philippine National Police, Sen. Grace Poe asked PNP Chief Alan Purisima how he managed to buy a new Toyota Land Cruiser for P1.5 million. The PNP Chief explained that the dealer happened to give a big discount at the time he bought the vehicle.

In fairness to the country’s top cop, we need to know whether such a large discount was available to everyone else. I have my doubts, but I’m keeping an open mind. While we keep a close eye on this case, let’s focus on some essentials. A conflict of interest arises whenever a person who has a main interest of officially exercising competent and independent judgment over certain parties also derives a personal interest from these parties which may tend to interfere with the objective exercise of said judgment. Personal interests include material benefits, family connections, and preferential treatment, among others.

The Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees (RA 6713), which was passed in 1989, states that “public officials and employees shall at all times be accountable to the people and shall discharge their duties with utmost responsibility, integrity, competence and loyalty, act with patriotism and justice, lead modest lives, and uphold public interest over personal interest.” Upholding public interest over personal interest -- it doesn’t get clearer than that. But this law is morally unenforceable if Filipinos have no cultural understanding of delicadeza. The law is meaningless if public servants do not understand that holding office is a matter of personal sacrifice for the common good.

There are problems when a public servant is involved in a conflict of interest. First, the conflicted person will be expected to be less fair and objective by those who depend on his or her judgment. Second, the person who pleads ignorance of the conflict shows incompetence in understanding the basic supremacy of public interest over personal interest. Third, a conflicted person who does not disclose the conflict is, in effect, deceiving those who are relying on his or her competent judgment since they normally assume that no such conflict exists.

Should we worry about the PNP chief’s discount? This should be discussed at every family dinner table in the country. And if a conflict is indeed confirmed, then the nation’s father, President Aquino, will have an important teaching moment on his hands that I hope will not go to waste.

At the end of the DBP commercial, we see the son taking his parents’ guidance to heart and paying back the money spent by Mr. Reyes for the family meal. The scene still inspires me as much as it did in 1986. I hope that DBP updates the commercial for the social media generation. Meanwhile, parents will have to do what only they can do best so that we can build a culture of good governance in our country.