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Ethics in Politics

Ethics in Politics

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Published by Steve B. Salonga

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Categories:Types, Speeches
Published by: Steve B. Salonga on Aug 28, 2010
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07/04/2013

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Ethics in Politics
J o v i t o R . S a l o n g a
A lecture delivered at the University of the Philippines College of PublicAdministration in Diliman on August 5, 1992. Salonga,
 Ethicsin Politic
s: Three Lectures, UP College of Public Administration andthe UP Press, 1994.
T
he topic assigned to me is "Ethics in Politics."If the topic were "Ethics and Politics" or "Politics and Ethics," thus suggestingthe idea that politics is a domain in which there is no ethics, or that ethics is onething and politics is entirely another, perhaps many would say that our feet arestill on solid ground.But to think that there is ethics in politics, a field where self-interest,treachery, double-dealing, trickery and lack of candor are the prevailingtrademarks -
iyan ay para lamang sa mga natalong kandidato na katulad ni Salonga 
. (That is only for losers like Salonga.)Perhaps - they may even add - it would be better for him to lecture on "Howto Lose the Presidential Elections in 5 Easy Lessons."And yet even in the worst of times, our people sense that there is somethingwrong with the kind of politics they witness, that there is something basic that ismissing in our political culture, that somehow the quest for public office shouldbe limited to those who seek to serve the public good instead of their ownprivate advantage - in short, that politics is and should be a noble enterprise. Inthis context, the topic "Ethics in Politics," makes sense. As the great teacher,Mahatma Gandhi, said many years ago, the first evil in this century is "politicswithout principle."
Marahil iyan ang dahilan kung bakit nasusuklam ang ating mga kabataan sa mga trapo, kahit na hindi malinaw ang kahulugan ng salitang 
"traditionalpolitician." (Maybe that is the reason why our youth loathe the "
trapo 
," eventhough the meaning of "traditional politician" is not clear.)
Si Senador Claro M. Recto ba ay isang trapo? 0 kaya y si Senador Lorenzo M. Tanada? O si SenadorJose W Diokno? Marahil ang isasagot ng ating mga kabataan ay isang matatas na hindi. Sapagka't kahit na ang tatlong Waking ito 
 E t h i c s i n P o l i t i c s
b y
 
 J o v i t o R . S a l o n g a
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ay lumahok sa pulitika nang matagal na panahon, bawa't isa sa kanila ay may paninindigan, at ipinaglaban nila ang kanilang paninindigan kahit ito ay hindi popular, kahit na alam nila na ito ay hindi makakakuha ng maraming boto. Ang tatlong ito y may tunay na pag-ibig at pagtataguyod sa kapakanan ng Inang Bayan, at hindi nila ginamit ang pulitika upang magkamit ng maraming kayamanan o higit na kapangyarihan.
(Was Senator Claro M. Recto a
trapo 
?What about Senator Lorenzo M. Tanada? Or Senator Jose W. Diokno? Maybeour young people will answer with a loud no. Because even if these three menhad entered politics a long time ago, each one of them had definitecommitments and they fought for their stand even if it was not popular, even ifthey knew that it would not get a lot of votes. These three had true love andconcern for the welfare of the motherland and they did not use politics to acquiremore wealth and power.)
At ang aking kaibigan at kliyenteng si NinoyAquino - bakit siya ay dinadakila ng ating bansa? Hindi ba siya y isang trapo din? Bago dumating ang martial law m Marcos, maraming nagsabingsi Ninoy ay katulad lamang ng karaniwang pulitiko - a glib talker, a demagogue, a wheeler-dealer. Nguni't nang siya'y ikulong na ay nagkaroon ng malaking pagbabago kay Ninoy. Alam ko ito sapagka't lagi ko siyang dinadalaw sa Fort Bonifacio.
(And my friend and clientNinoy Aquino -why is he being highly regarded by our nation? Wasn't heanother trapo? Before the declaration of Martial Law by Marcos, many said thatNinoy was just an ordinary politician - a glib talker, a demagogue, a wheeler-dealer. But there was a great change in Ninoy when he was imprisoned. I knewthis because I used to visit him at Fort Bonifacio.)I think what separates Ninoy from many politicians was his supreme act ofself-sacrifice - the offering of his life, without counting the cost, ruling out theelement of self-interest and personal advantage.And yet, even so-called traditional politicians impliedly or expressly admit theneed for some ethical standard in the conduct of public affairs. Whatever theirmotives may be, when a congressman - the current leader of the Opposition inthe Lower House - denounces his Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP)colleagues for being self-seeking politicians and when a Senator calls himself"Mr. Expose" and cites as his accomplishments the various cases of venalityand corruption he has exposed in the halls of the Senate, they are actuallyinvoking a certain moral and ethical standard that should guide public officials inthe discharge of their functions. Even in the United States, thoughtful personssee the need for high ethical standards. The eminent historian Barbara
 E t h i c s i n P o l i t i c s
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 J o v i t o R . S a l o n g a
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Tuchman was recently asked: "What is wrong with America today? What hashappened to the America of Washington, Adams and Jefferson?" Her answerwas:The lack of a fresh vision but more than that, the loss ot a moralsense, of knowing the difference between right and wrong and ofbeing governed by it, the lack of anger over venality and stupidity inhigh office, the absence of distinction between true heroism (that is,courage and nobility of purpose) and being a celebrity, the loss offaith in Providence and in what we are doing, the artificiality of publicfigures and the acceptance of things as they are without passion for abetter society - these are what seems to be wrong in society today(Moyers 1989:5).
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 A definition of terms
But what is
ethics 
? In the practice of law, ethics compels us to observeaccepted standards of professional conduct, such as according respect to thecourt, refraining from misleading the judge or opposing counsel and avoidingconflict of interest by not representing the two opposing sides at the same time.Ethics, therefore, is the discipline dealing with right and wrong. And when weask what things are right, without having to go back to the ancient philosophersand scholars, common sense tells us the things that are right are the things thathelp people and society at large, such things as honesty, fairness, decency andaccountability. To be sure, ethics has a practical dimension. It is based on whatone might call reciprocity, something like the Golden Rule - "Do unto otherswhat you would like others to do unto you." Or even its negative version - "Don'tdo unto others what you don't like them to do unto you." I don't want to be liedto, hence I should not lie to others. I don't want my possessions stolen, thereforeI should not steal other people's possessions. If I don't want to be cheated bythe other candidates for president, then I should not cheat them.But beyond reciprocity, ethics has a spiritual dimension. People have aninner sense of right and wrong. That is why we feel guilt and shame. Wasn't itAbraham Lincoln who said: "When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feelbad?" Our best moments, as one ethics' points out (Moyers 1989:18), are notwhen we made a lot of money, but when something we did meant a lot of goodto others. In my own law practice before I got into the fascinating but turbulentworld of politics, I earned more than enough by serving as lawyer for a numberof big corporations; however, my happiest moment was not when I received a1
The reference is to Moyers, Bill:
A World of ldeas 
, New York, Doubleday Publishers (1989).
 E t h i c s i n P o l i t i c s
b y
 
 J o v i t o R . S a l o n g a
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