Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 22 February 2014


The story of “Manny Sundalo” is such a breath of fresh air amid the “hindi mo ba alam kung sino ako” variety, that it deserves telling and retelling—in the hope that it will inspire our leaders to remember that they are servants first and foremost.

We all know by now that Manny Sundalo is Gen. (four stars) Emmanuel Bautista, chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. You can’t go much higher than that. Some people would think that just because they’ve achieved such dizzying heights, they’re entitled to all the bowing and scraping they can get from lesser mortals.

Not Manny. Let me count the ways in which he is so refreshingly different from so-called public servants:

1) He answered his cell phone even if he did not know the caller.

2) He was in fact calling it a day when the call came at past 11 p.m.

3) He was respectful and polite at all times to the lady on the line: “Yes, ma’am” was the reply to Gang Badoy’s self-described “bugging” and “stern and firm” admonitions.

4) There were any number of opportunities during the conversation for him to identify himself in all his titled glory. He passed, even when Gang dropped the name of a Colonel Zagala, hopefully to show that she was someone not to be treated lightly.

5) He delivered on his promise (he had to wake up a couple of people to do so ).

6) Even when a grateful Gang sent a text message thanking him for his help, he was content to remain anonymous. In other words, he wasn’t after publicity.

If you don’t think that’s a big deal, try calling up a Cabinet secretary or any other government official. If you can get his/her number. See if they will answer an unidentified caller. See if they will speak with someone they don’t know.

So what was it all about? General Bautista is quoted as saying that he was “simply doing our job and that’s what every soldier is supposed to do—perform our mandate.” And what mandate is that? “To protect the people and the state is part of our mandate. We’re doing our job and it is nothing extraordinary.”

That’s where General Bautista is mistaken. The way he performed his social action was certainly extraordinary because he wasn’t in it for the publicity, and he wasn’t trying to impress. In social psychologist Paul Zimbardo’s book, that makes him a hero. A hero, says Zimbardo, is someone whose social action is extraordinary. And what makes a social action extraordinary? Three requirements: It is in behalf of other people in need, it is an action that involves sacrifice, and it is an action done without thought of reward.

General Bautista’s humility has caught the imagination of the public, which is so used to having politicians and government officials act like their offices entitle them to certain privileges. We need more General Bautistas and less of the “hindi mo ba ako kilala” types. What was it Vice President Jojo Binay said about his son’s run-in with some security guards in Dasmariñas Village? That his son, the mayor, deserved “a little respect.” Which meant allowing him to break rules. That’s the kind we don’t need.

Without realizing it, General Bautista’s action is serving as a model of how not only the rest of the military but also public officials should behave. A little humility will go a long way. Leadership by example. If the rest of the armed forces follow that example, the transformation roadmap that they are striving to follow will be a walk in the park—because the Filipino people will be behind them.

We’ve got one example from the top brass of the Army. But I have to end with another Army story that has grabbed the headlines: the “separation” (expulsion) of Cadet First Class (senior) Aldrin Jeff Cudia almost on the eve of his graduation from the Philippine Military Academy. Apparently, there is an Honor Code which “is absolute and does not distinguish between the degree of the offense committed. Once they lied, cheated, stole, or tolerated the commission of these offenses, there is only one punishment—separation.”

That’s a pretty tough code—in which stealing one centavo carries the same penalty as stealing P50 million—but I think that is because the nine members of the Honor Committee are themselves cadets from the first to the fourth years and presumably are taught that the difference in the amount is irrelevant. A lie is a lie.

But my questions are basic ones: First, has that Honor Code and the way it is implemented really developed the character and integrity of PMA students? We have as examples Senators Gregorio Honasan and Antonio Trillanes and Gen. Carlos Garcia and his cohorts, and those who are now facing charges of corruption, or did not live up to their vow to protect the Constitution by engaging in foolhardy coup attempts. But maybe they are the exceptions that probe the rule, and should not be considered. Or maybe the cadets have realized from recent goings-on that they have to tighten the implementation of the Honor Code, and this is as good a start as any.

But here is my second set of questions: How can that Honor Code exist side by side with the hazing (prohibited) that goes on every year at the PMA? How can the cadets possibly live with that double standard? Isn’t hazing, which is a crime, considered dishonorable at the PMA, or is the practice free from any sort of lying or cheating on the part of the practitioners? Or is it a case of “as long as you don’t get caught, you can do it”? But where is the honor there? And what distinguishes that practice from what is being practiced by our politicians?

Just asking.