Editorial: A very public lunch-A A +A
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
AS IF Cebu City Election Officer Marchel Sarno didn’t have enough to do in the months ahead of the May 2013 polls, he might have to face an inquiry after being photographed having lunch with a political figure.
It’s not clear what norm Atty. Sarno violated, if any. On the day in question, Sept. 22, the boxing promoter Rex “Wakee” Salud was not yet a candidate. Rather, he was a would-be registrant who still had (and still has) to convince the court to accept him as a voter of Cordova town.
Sarno later told Sun.Star Cebu there was nothing wrong with his running into Salud and his lawyer, Fillmore Gomos, because the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has no role to play in the court case that sought to keep Salud from becoming a Cordova voter.
Indeed, if there had been anything suspect about the whole encounter, it would probably not have taken place in a busy restaurant, in full public view.
The Comelec could draw up a specific list of situations its officers must avoid, to ward off accusations of partiality in the testy months ahead of the elections. Do not break bread with candidates, for example, or if you must, pay for your share of the bill?
The problem with a list like that is that it cannot possibly cover every scenario. Worse, it reduces a group of officials—most of them highly trained lawyers, no less—to automatons unable to make an ethical judgment call on their own.
Where norms of conduct for government officials are concerned, Republic Act 6713 is generally invoked. The Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees requires public servants, under Section 5, to “act immediately on the public’s personal transactions.” It explains that anyone in need of a public office’s services “must, at all times” be assisted promptly. Presumably that includes Saturday lunch hours, if need be.
But that same law also requires public officials and employees to practice political neutrality, in addition to responsiveness to the public. It includes, under professionalism, the reminder “to discourage wrong perceptions of their roles as dispensers or peddlers of undue patronage.”
Perception is a key word. Not only must public servants treat everyone fairly; they must cultivate and guard a reputation for fairness.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on October 10, 2012.