Being a public servant or a government official is not for the faint-hearted they say. Getting elected is difficult enough and occupying the office is even more fraught with challenges. Yet election after election, many still throw their hat into the ring. Is it then true that politics is indeed addictive? It might not be only about the salary, but also about power, influence, and probably a genuine desire to serve the public that makes one join the frenzy. For the past few years, it has been observed that many politicians or public figures suffered scathing criticisms or even ridicule on social media. It appears that this is going to be a common thing since individuals now have the means to voice out whatever is in their minds against anyone especially those occupying government positions. While these criticisms might have produced positive effects for the betterment of public service, some might have crossed the line. Although public servants and their families might be aware of the possibility of being subject to criticism, distancing one’s emotion from all of it is not always that easy. Officials and their families can get carried away but all too often, they are reminded that they should not be too “onion skinned” by reason of the nature of the position they occupy. To say it in another way: “if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen”.
Yabut vs. Doran
The story made the front pages of the leading papers in 1993 and it was a talk of the town. Yabut was the vice-mayor when Makati was still a Municipality and also the head of the traffic division. On 16 February 1993, he was directing a very heavy traffic at an intersection giving priority to lanes with more vehicles. When Doran, who was resident foreigner, passed Yabut at the center of the intersection, he hurled unsavory words towards him and even gave him the “finger”. Yabut and Doran hit each other which resulted into a brawl with the other traffic enforcers coming to the aid of Yabut and mauling Doran. The latter then filed a case against Yabut which was endorsed as an administrative case to the Office of the Ombudsman. Yabut was preventively suspended for ninety days. After the proceedings, Yabut was sentenced to suffer the penalty of two months suspension without pay. He moved for reconsideration but the same was denied.
Officials Cannot be Onion Skinned
The Supreme Court denied the prayer of Yabut for the reversal of the decision of the Ombudsman first because an appeal from the decision of said body should only be on questions of law and not on facts. Yabut did not interpose a question of law in his appeal but merely alleged that the Ombudsman made an error in its appreciation of the facts of the case. Second, the acts of Yabut was not justified even in that situation where he was provoked or mocked by Doran. Although the act of Doran was abhorrent, the same is not being condoned. The Supreme Court ended its decision by restating the words of the Solicitor General: “A public official, more especially an elected one, should not be onion skinned. Strict personal discipline is expected of an occupant of a public office because a public official is a property of the public. He is looked upon to set the example how public officials should correctly conduct themselves even in the face of extreme provocation. Always he is expected to act and serve with the highest degree of responsibility, integrity, loyalty and efficiency and shall remain accountable for his conduct to the people.” (G.R. No. 111304 June 17, 1994). This however should not also justify any act of pure contempt or disrespect against public officials. But the public official who can endure and take on with dignity such words and acts, is an embodiment of a true public servant for exhibiting humility and selflessness.