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While most Filipinos are enjoying the company of their loved ones over left-over Noche Buena and gifts yet to be opened on Christmas day, Presidential son Paolo Duterte has tendered his resignation as Davao City vice mayor.

In his resignation letter, the 42-year-old Duterte cited “recent unfortunate events in my life closely tied to my first marriage” as the reason behind his decision to leave his post. He briefly mentioned that the other person in his “failed relationship”, Lovelie Sumera, is “incorrigible and cannot be controlled”.

Lovelie is often seen in ports for their ukay-ukay family business and was reportedly seen visiting the Bureau of Customs. It eventually caused suspicions to rise that the President’s eldest son is involved in smuggling the P6.4-billion worth of shabu from China. She is also allegedly still claiming to be a Duterte, even when she and Paolo have been separated since 2005.

Among other incidents where his name was dragged into controversy is the recent and “very public squabble with my daughter”. Duterte scolded Isabelle on Facebook, calling her disrespectful and a disgrace after she ranted that his father “beat up a person”. The social media word war happened just days after the teenage Duterte’s controversial pre-debut photo shoot at the Malacanang palace drew flak from netizens.

While many are doubting Duterte’s supposed ‘delicadeza’ move – that it’s a ploy to gather sympathy and prepare for 2019 elections or to be appointed in higher office – it set an undeniably incredible example for public servants, especially in a country where the accused cling to the office even in the face of public scandal. Worse, accusations of corruption and power abuse are often left unanswered. The accused, instead, resort to calling it simply as a ‘demolition job’ orchestrated by some opposing party.

Much like Senator Zubiri’s resignation when fraud accusations regarding the results of the 2007 senatorial election “has systematically divided our nation and has casted doubts in our electoral system which has affected not only myself, this Institution but the public as well”, Duterte’s decision to step down from his post said a lot about what public service is supposed to be: serious, upright and humble.

It should be common sense to be ruled with moral consensus on high ethical standards and correct official conduct. Whether elected or appointed, public officials must readily quit in acceptance of their responsibility on the results of an incident or project, or in shame and sorrow.

In Japan, it is common for public officials to step down from their positions as swiftly as tragedy or corruption allegations come out. The combination of their keen sense of honor and moral consensus within the society makes it next to impossible to resist resignation. In the local setting, resignation means admission of guilt, which is why officials facing raps somewhat defy heaven and earth to retain their posts.

The bottomline, however, is that ethics codes do not need elaborate enforcement mechanisms to be effective. They just have to be valued and ingrained deep into a person and the society.

Being a public servant is also more than adding the title Mayor, Vice Mayor or Senator to anyone’s name. It a serious task, not a freeway to privileges or some strategy to be miraculously rescued by whatever legal maneuver, or intervention by appointing authorities amidst charges and public scrutiny. There’s being publicly and very suddenly seen in a wheelchair and neck brace, if that strategy still works.

Most importantly, a public position must be held with humility, not with entitlement. A government post and the power that comes with it is never the official’s property. It was granted and can therefore be taken away. This is exactly why a democratic form of government is called a ‘government of the people, by the people and for the people’.

While the possibility that Paolo Duterte has more reasons for leaving his post can never be left out of the question (his thoughts are his own and 2018 is a big room for events to unfold), the act revealed an even more valuable lesson other public servants can think of: know when to step down for the institution and for the public.

Photo from Manila Bulletin

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