Ditching the ‘honorable’ title

From the outset, the administration gave signals that we shouldn’t raise our expectations. That July 15, 2016 memorandum from Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea is highly observed not only within the executive department,but also in the legislature and judiciary.

The memorandum conveyed the directive of President Rodrigo Duterte to refrain from addressing him as “His Excellency,” and the Cabinet secretaries as “Honorable” in official and internal communications.

His Excellency and Honorable are courtesy titles that convey respect when referring to a person. These titles are used on persons you hold in high esteem. Persons with twisted brains don’t deserve it, no matter how high their position or how powerful they may be.

As you may have observed, in the last four years, compliance to the memorandum extended beyond communications. Many government officials have been acting dishonorably in public. It seems there’s no conscious effort to become worthy of being called honorable.

Take a look at how allies of the President at the Senate and the House of Representatives grill resource persons in public hearings. Several of them are not only disrespectful but are also condescending.

During the public hearings on the ABS-CBN franchise, the way Rep. Jesus Crispin Remulla interrogated executives from the broadcast network was not unlike a policeman trying to corner a suspect into admitting to a crime. He was arrogant. He was brazen.

When a video clip made the rounds of social media showing him standing up but busy writing something on a paper on his table while the national anthem was playing, Remulla was quick to blame ABS-CBN for “playing it up.”He did apologize for the blunder and promised to pay a fine, if asked to do so. But he still justified the discourtesy to the flag, saying that something came up to his mind that he might forget if he would not write it down.

The statement of Rep. Rodante Marcoleta of Sagip party-list to disregard legal arguments in favor of ABS-CBN and insist on his vote against granting the network’s franchise application was also very telling about how some legislators abuse their power for their personal and partisan interests.

Marcoleta said that more than the legal arguments, "it is the will of Congress that should be accorded due respect."

It is painful to have to explain to young people how several powerful men and women have been behaving in public.

Nowadays we seldom see the marks of honorable men: selflessness, humility, and truthfulness. This is especially so in politics where there are no permanent friends and enemies, only vested interests.

The July 2016 memorandum speaks well of what to expect from the administration. The title “honorable” is lost on many of the people in high places. Duterte knows himself and his appointees and followers too well that he did not want to deceive the public by referring to them as His Excellency and Honorable because he knows they wouldn’t be up to it and, therefore, don’t deserve the honorifics. He must have attached high importance to this issue considering that it was one of the first few memoranda under his presidency.

From among the incumbent and past Cabinet officials, senators and congressmen, justices and judges, governors and mayors, can you count with your fingers who deserve to be called honorable?

Ironically, however, the same leaders in the legislature and executive branches pushed the return of the subject Good Manners and Right Conduct in the basic education curriculum. We can only hope that through this, children would learn to become responsible citizens deserving to be called honorable despite the unpleasant examples they see among their elders.

This column also appeared in the Manila Times. The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.

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