Doing One’s Duties Well

I wrote this letter to the Inquirer. My gratitude to the editors for editing and printing it. Below is the title they gave to the article and the time it appeared in their website.

‘Advertised pols’ a sign of a backward nation
12:02 am | Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

Recently, I went around a certain village on a bike and I noticed that a street which had needed repair for years was finally paved smooth with a new layer of asphalt. As is typical in a political slice of Philippine life, I saw this ubiquitous tarpaulin proclaiming that the paving of this street was the project of the mayor of the place and the councilor of the district.

I asked myself: Why do these public officials have to let the world know that they have done something which, in the first place, is part of their job? Why didn’t they give credit to the laborers who laid the asphalt? Or the taxpayers whose money made the repair project possible? Or the mechanics who maintained the machines used in paving the road? Why credit only themselves?

It will not be an exaggeration to say that our politicians have the penchant for publicly claiming credit for government-funded projects they just sponsored. And they lay claim to them through signs they put up on bridges, in covered basketball courts, in school buildings, along roads, in public markets, on lampposts, outside public toilets or where the projects are.

I have been to several countries far more developed than the Philippines and even lived in them for some time. I need not mention which ones. But I do not recall having seen in these countries signs put up by politicians claiming credit for completed public works.

What could be the implications of this “Philippine phenomenon”? Obviously, this practice is meant to give the “advertised” politicians an edge in the polls. But I wish to point out something else.

It would seem that fixing streetlights or repairing potholed roads is such a “big thing” in Philippine public life, such that politicians who sponsor public projects feel they deserve some recognition that rightly should be translated into votes for them in the next elections: and so, the signs. The truth is, they are just doing their duty, and doing one’s duty is a most ordinary thing, nothing unusual, much less extraordinary; a fundamental, commonsensical expectation in the proper, normal world order.

The point is: We have a culture in which what should be the ordinary way of doing things (e.g., doing one’s job or duty) seems to be unusual. And so when one accomplishes a job or duty, it passes for something to crow about.

I think that until we implant in our minds that doing one’s job or duty is a most ordinary thing, albeit an obligation, we will not grow and develop. We should find it very normal that streets are lighted, schools and bridges built, roads paved and public toilets working and clean—without the need for signs to tell us that they are so because this or that public official has done his/her job.

So those signs are unnecessary. They are really a sign of our being a backward nation. They are also unfair to the many others who might have worked hard to finish those projects but were left unmentioned.

All great men who accomplished great things and whose achievements have been recognized through generations did not have to put up a sign saying, “I did this.” Their accomplishments speak for themselves. And they are remembered down history.

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