PART of the role, if not a duty, of every citizen in a democracy is to actively provide inputs to the political process. And this is done not just by voting and participating in the electoral process. This is done by actively participating in political discourse, and there are many ways other than by joining a political movement or volunteering for a cause. A healthypolitical discourse is enabled when citizens actively provide feedback on the conduct of their public officials, whether elected or appointed.

I was often told by Duterte loyalists to simply shut up, stop criticizing and just help the government. And now that I speak critically of some of the conduct of certain officials in the Marcos government, I am once again being told to shut up, and just help. These people are so consumed with their idolatrous elevation of political leaders to their imaginary pedestal, that they forget that all these people we elect and those they appoint, are there to serve our interest. This is why they are called public servants, and this is precisely the privilege that we are bestowed with because we are that sovereign people mentioned in the Constitution who pay for their salaries, and whose interests they must serve and protect.

President Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr. presides over a Cabinet meeting at Malacañang on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022. PHOTO BY RYAN BALDEMOR
President Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr. presides over a Cabinet meeting at Malacañang on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022. PHOTO BY RYAN BALDEMOR

We are not government officials. But as citizens we have our duties and obligations, which we should perform to do our share. But this goes beyond paying taxes and obeying laws, and must also include performing our duty and privilege to criticize government action when necessary. After all, we have not elected absolute despots and kings who are not supposed to be touched, and they have not appointed overlords and executioners who are not supposed to be crossed. We live in a democratic republic.

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We have a president whose political demeanor has always shown the gift of tolerance to criticism, and if he can live with even the harshest criticism, it behooves us to ask why his loyalists would now insulate him from criticism and expect total silence. Democracy welcomes even the most irrelevant criticism as a more desirable alternative to political violence. Speech is the pressure valve that may create political noise, and we have to tolerate this not just as a matter of necessity, but as a matter of constitutional right.

Speech can also provide the needed feedback mechanism that performs the function of ensuring quality of governance. Any mature government confident of its ability to rectify its mistakes and level up its performance would welcome criticisms that are based on evidence, are rational and well-meaning. After all, government is about delivering the best to and for the people.

It is therefore tragic that loyalists, blinded by their passionate support for the President, equate any criticism even of his people with an attempt to destabilize his government. Worse, they see governance not in the context of serving public interest, but in edifying personalities and protecting their positions and private interests. Many now equate public interest with the name and reputation of public officials, effectively forgetting public accountability.

What is odd is that many of these blind loyalists believe that they would protect the President by defending and tolerating his people at all cost. While it is indeed true that the people appointed by the President bear and reflect his governance ethos, and are all acting as his alter ego, it is simply dangerous to treat them like infallible deities, considering that even the President is not an infallible god. While it is presumed that these officials are acting on behalf of the President, it is utterly wrong to assume that every action they take, or every utterance they make, is always exactly what is in his mind and what he intended to say and do.

It is utterly naïve to presume that these officials do not have their own agenda to pursue and political interests to protect. In fact, it would not be far-fetched to say that many of them have accepted, or even sought, these appointments less just to serve the people, or even the president. Many of them are governed less by the legal financial incentives, knowing that careers in the private sector would pay more with less public scrutiny of their lifestyles and personal activities. Rather, many of them are after the power and influence that come with being an alter ego of the President, some with an eye on the illicit flow of material rewards that can come on the side, while others have a moist eye toward future careers in elected positions.

It is comforting when the President promised that he would appoint only the best and brightest. But the President, once again, is not God. He can err in sizing up his people, and he may end up appointing persons who may be well-endorsed and connected, or who had the audacity to beg for positions, but are less qualified. And this is not just a hypothetical scenario if we have to judge the actual conduct of some of them.

An equally egregious and sad spectacle is when overly ambitious but terribly inept officials appointed by the President end up pursuing their own interests by undermining, even framing, career public servants, turning them into sacrificial lambs, or as excuses for the incompetence of these appointed officials.

A true supporter who would endeavor to protect the President would be the first to call out these kinds of people, to prevent any further damage on his tenure. And this would necessarily require them to be more open and unrestrained in their criticism. Thus, it is not in being quiet where they can help, but in being critical in exposing the unpalatable and undesirable deeds, and the ineptitude of these people.

Some people say it is too early to criticize the President and his men and women. I would say if some of his people are already failing, then the earlier they are weeded out, the better.