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The Comedian and the Public Servant

The past week, we Filipinos were treated to another show of dualities. In just the span of seven (give or take a few) days, the two types of public servants we are forced to live with were brought to the limelight in two equally tragic events. I speak of the deconstruction of Senator Vicente Sotto III’s turno en contra speech against the RH Bill, and the plane crash of DILG Secretary Jesse Manalastas Robredo.

The Comedian

It’s rare to see the type of pompousness that Sotto exhibited after criticisms of the content and context of his speech started popping up on the Internet. Not only did he misconstrue the numbers provided by Senator Pia Cayetano, cleaned from data taken from a USAID study as biased and political in nature; Sotto also misconstrued his own team’s research of the statistics of death rates among mothers. Rappler does a good job explaining this here, but here’s an excerpt:

Extrapolating Sotto's numbers to a nationwide count would show that 18 mothers die a day. According to Likhaan, one of the NGOs he maligned, “Sotto failed to grasp that a small number – such as the 0.27% he calculated for Batangas and belittled – becomes large when multiplied by a huge number like the millions of births per year. If we assume that the Batangas data can be applied to all births in the country in 2011, the national figure becomes 2,385,000 births × 0.27% = 6,461 maternal deaths per year, or nearly 18 per day.” (See the computation here.)

His entire campaign really hit a snag when blogger Sarah Pope, whom he plagiarised nearly word for word, posted her disapproval of the senator’s lack of netiquette. She underscores the good senator’s presumptuousness in using a blanket disclaimer to forego the need to quote his actual sources. And when confronted with proof, the senator and his team first denies the allegations, then owns up to it without giving it any second thought, then issues an “apology”:

i am atty hector a. villacorta. i am the chief of staff of senator tito sotto. i understand you felt slighted that your blog was not attributed to you which became part of the speech of the senator. let me say that after asking my staff, indeed, your blog was used but only in quoting also from the same book of dr. campbell- mcbride. we are both indebted to the book’s author but if you wish that you also be credited with the contents of the book, let this be your affirmation. i can do it and by this message, i am doing it. hope it satisfies you. but if it does not, what would you want us to do? what have we done to deserve your incriminating words. the senator did not lift it himself, we did. did you want us to tell him to admit what he did not do? who would you like to crucify for this oversight? all the unborn wants very much the right to be born and they need everybody’s help, including yours. remember, rizal was the seventh child of 11 children of teodora alonso and francisco mercado. be on our side. please, and don’t deflect the debate to this matter of plagiarism. it is so out of sync in this great debate. join us in the side of life and truth. forgive us our single trespass. we had no malice, we thought you would be happy about it. there was no injury. hope this makes you feel better. warm regards.

Atty. Hector A. Villacorta
Chief of Staff
Office of Senator Sotto

And the kicker came straight from the horse’s mouth not long afterwards:

"Whatever it is, the buck stops with me," Tito told newscast "24 Oras." "I'm the senator. Whatever I delivered in the Senate hall is what's important. Kahit anong paninira nila, kahit anong sabihin nila, we'll take it in stride."


I don’t normally use this meme, but in this case, I think it fits

Really? That’s the kind of government official we have in the senate? What a pompous jerk. It’s one thing to fight for what you believe in, but if you think that you are the end-all and be-all of everything that the country has to stand for, then please think again.

The Public Servant

On the flip side, we’ve got Jesse Robredo, who was confirmed dead on the anniversary of Ninoy Aquino’s assassination. I can’t really say much about him that hasn’t already been said. But if there’s anything that should be admired about the person, as a public servant anyway, is his dedication to work, and not politics.

One of the best, and most outstanding examples of his work as a government official is his hometown of Naga city. If reports are to be believed, Naga was one of the most underperforming pre-1988. When Robredo got elected into public office, the man whipped the city into shape in the span of a decade.

Considering how Manila, a city that Alfredo Lim’s been mayor of for nearly the same amount of time, is currently deep in debt, I can’t help but wonder what it takes for an elected official to slowly improve an entire city. And there’s a lot to be said about what Interaksyon says was his drive to put up fat-free economics, the kind of bureaucracy that the government of the Philippines needs to improve. Read that article, and you will see how the man reduced building permit processing to a mere three days! How long does it take the Manila city government to process a non-NSO birth certificate? A week. And this is why I get my birth certificates from the NSO Serbilis center in Makati.

I can’t say much about the honesty and integrity of a man who was largely under the radar for most of his political career, but the fact that you don’t see his face everywhere makes him an anti-epal, and that’s a big plus here in the Philippines, wherein you see public officials claim responsibility for the rehabilitation of roads that actually need rehabilitation in the first place. Then there’s the man’s drive to actually give back to the community, to serve, rather than to command, as can be seen in his commencement address to the Ateneo de Manila class of 2003. Reading that is enough to convince me that this guy really believed in what he was doing. No bravado, no facetiousness, no holier-than-thou pomposity, but rather just the plain desire to serve that turned Naga into a model city of Asia in 1999, the same service that would have improved the bureaucracy in the local and national governments of the Philippines, had his life not been taken away so early.


Like a buddy of mine said on Facebook, “Ngayon naniniwala nako na pagmasyado kang magaling, kinukuha ka na agad sa taas." In the meantime, clowns like Tito Sotto populate the highest posts in our government. Like in every theatre, there is  comedy, and there is tragedy, and in the week of August 14 – 21, 2012, we have been treated to both. The question now is to what end?


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