‘Don’t ask, don’t tell,’ Philippine style

First word
SOME years back, “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was the official United States policy on military service by gay men, bisexuals and lesbians, which  was instituted by the administration of  the heterosexual and hyperactive Bill Clinton. The policy was issued under Department of Defense Directive 1304.26 on Dec. 21, 1993 and was in effect from Feb. 28, 1994 until Sept. 20, 2011.

In the Philippines, there is now also a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” official policy; it concerns the unauthorized Covid-19 Chinese vaccines that   were recently brought into the country and used to inoculate members of the Presidential Security Group (PSG).

The President, in a fit over the prospect of the Senate conducting a public hearing on the controversy and summoning PSG officials to testify, has declared that a public hearing would precipitate a national crisis. He has declared that no one from the PSG will be authorized to attend the inquiry and talk. Without mentioning the term, the President has in effect invoked the doctrine of “executive privilege” to shield the PSG from inquiry and stop further discussion of wrongdoing.

Spokesman Roque, for his part, has declared that the vaccine controversy is now a closed issue; so, the public should stop talking about it.

The two are throwing a curtain on the PSG vaccine issue. Nobody is accountable, and no one is responsible for the unauthorized importation of the Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccines from China, and the subsequent inoculation of scores of the President’s security team and thousands of Chinese nationals in the country.

The policy then is this: no inquiry by the Senate. And no more talk about the PSG vaccine mess by the public. In a word, it is “Don’t ask, don’ t tell” time.

Accountability and responsibility in public service

The policy is headed for a prolonged wrangling in Congress, a co-equal branch of government that cannot be warded off from asking questions   and doing its duty of oversight. The public will not stop their tongues from wagging. And the media will not sit still.

We are steeped in a political culture, wherein public officials are expected to “tell the truth until it hurts.” This is called the doctrine of accountability and responsibility in the public service.

Ironically, this “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy has come down from the Palace at a time when there is plenty of presidential denunciation of malfeasance and misfeasance in the government.

The idea that no one is to blame or should be asked about the PSG vaccines is disorienting and will prove indefensible.

In ethics and governance, accountability is answerability, blameworthiness, liability and the expectation of account-giving. In leadership, accountability is the acknowledgment and assumption of responsibility for actions, products, decisions and policies, including the administration, governance and implementation within the scope of the role or employment position and encompassing the obligation to report, explain and be answerable for resulting consequences.

In governance, accountability has expanded beyond the basic definition of “being called to account for one’s actions.”

Accountability cannot exist without proper accounting practices; in other words, an absence of accounting means an absence of accountability.

Accountability indicates who is ultimately answerable for the correct and thorough completion of the deliverable or task, and the one who delegates the work to those responsible.

Political accountability is the accountability of the government, civil servants and politicians to the public and to legislative bodies such as the congress

I am just citing for now the standard definitions and concerns of accountability. There is an entire field of research and study today called “accountability studies.”

Statue of Responsibility

In the US, they are seriously talking today about erecting a Statue of Responsibility in the West Coast to serve as a counterpart to the Statue of Liberty in the East Coast and New York City. I shall discuss details about this intriguing project in a future column.

The Statue of Responsibility project was first proposed by author and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl in his best-selling book, Man’s Search for Meaning.

“Freedom is not the last word,” Frankl wrote. “Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. The positive aspect of freedom is responsibleness.

“That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast,” he said.

In 1997, internationally renowned Springville sculptor Gary Price was commissioned to design a monument that captures Frankl’s vision.

Price chose two hands, each gripping the forearm of the other as that symbol.

“Two hands gripping is a powerful human representation of responsibility,” Price said. “The power is in its simplicity.”

Price completed a 13-foot clay prototype in 2000 and is now working on a 26-foot version that engineers will use to make the monument. The Statue of Responsibility will be essentially the same height as the Statue of Liberty.

This is getting ahead of my subject of the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of the Duterte administration on the PSG vaccine mess. The issue of accountability and responsibility is primal in our system of government and code of public service.

For now, I will just say that the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on the PSG vaccine mess is unrealistic and headed for prolonged argument while a coronavirus pandemic rages around us.

Omerta (code of silence) without the mafia will not work.

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