"No, sir, it is not all right. "
Is there anything wrong with the following set of statements quoted by the media two weeks ago?
“When there’s a government employee who earns P50,000 a month, who lives in a very small house, eats twice a day so he can buy his dream car, so when he saves enough and there's a promo for a BMW and he puts in a down payment, can we really say that that government employee is living beyond his means? He must have distorted values, he must have distorted priorities. But should we care? Who are we to judge this person?"
There are three things wrong with the statement above.
For starters, the statements were made by the Ombudsman, an official created by the members of the Constitutional Commission of 1986, who had hoped that a Philippine Ombudsman would do as good a job of punishing erring government officials as his counterparts in the Scandinavian countries, from which the ConCom members borrowed the Ombudsman idea.
The current Ombudsman, retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Martires, had absolutely no business making public statements like those. If this is how he feels about low-salaried government employees who buy a BMW, then he should have kept his feelings to himself. In a Scandinavian country, the Ombudsman is generally regarded highly because he says little but does much.
The second thing that is wrong with the statement made by Ombudsman Martires is that he apparently sees no link between a low-salaried but BMW-owning government employee and the right of the Filipino people — who, incidentally, pay him to perform a constitutionally mandated job — to care about, and to preliminarily judge, a government employee. When an ordinary citizen sees a low-rank Bureau of Customs or Bureau of Immigratiin whizzing by in a BMW, he must neither cry nor judge but must simply decry the BMW owner's "distorted values" and "distorted priorities." That is what Ombudsman Martires thinks.
The thing that is wrong with the statement is that he seems to believe that a lifestyle check will always lead to a finding of corruption. This is not so — a low-salaried government employee whose lifestyle is checked may indeed only have "distorted values." But how is it possible to arrive at such a determination without a lifestyle check? Does the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees (Republic Act 6713) not mandate that government officials and employees shall not "indulge in extravagant and ostentatious display of wealth in any form"?
Finally, Mr. Martires also appears to suggest that it is all right for low-salaried civil servants to indulge his "distorted values" or "distorted priorities: — such as acquiring a BMW on a P50,000 monthly salary — freely and without sanction.
No, it is not all right. "Distorted values" belong in the private sector. They have no place in the life of a government employee.
It is the Ombudsman who appears afflicted by distortion. His priorities seem distorted. If he continues to take positions like the one discussed here, the Filipino people might begin to think that he is the wrong man for the Ombudsman's job.