Friday, August 2, 2013

Is resignation a vice or virtue?

Nobody likes quitters.
We generally look kindly on the hard workers, those who go against all odds and persevere just so they could stay on and get the job done. This is why the saying “Try, try until you succeed” has been around for ages.
There is something about quitting, resigning, giving up that turns us off.  It reeks of passivity and a refusal to take charge. Quitting any endeavor— a difficult job, a demanding education, a complicated relationship, and yes, a sensitive government position—is seen as a throwing up of the hands in the air and shouting, “Okay, you win, I give up!”
We thrive in difficulty. This is what shapes us, molds us into better individuals.
But there are exceptions, especially when what is at stake is something larger than oneself.
Government officials from all over have stepped down from office for various reasons. In the 1970s, the most prominent was US President Richard Nixon in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal. Accusations of corruption and inappropriate behavior are the most common triggers.
The logic behind this is that they have to make themselves scarce for any investigation to be conducted smoothly, without undue influence.
The other course of action is to cling to their posts. No, this is not a quality unique to Filipinos.  They insist that to step down would be tantamount to an admission of guilt, or incompetence. Alibis and excuses are offered instead.
* * *
This brings us to the present administration, to the resignations and the offers of resignation we have been hearing lately.
Quite a number of officials have submitted their letters of resignation to President Aquino. A weather official found greener pastures abroad.  A transport secretary said he wanted to return to private practice. The head of the corrections bureau felt he had no choice after the comings and goings of VIP prisoners was reported.
More recently, the head of the Immigration bureau and the National Irrigation Authority also resigned, shamed into quitting by the President who has no qualms berating underperformers in his team.
We saw the same attitude during last Monday’s State of the Nation Address when Mr. Aquino said officials of the Bureau of Customs were trying to outdo each other’s incompetence.
It would have been good if Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon resigned irrevocably. However, he just offered to resign, announced it on Twitter, and even copied the President’s reply, an assurance that he (Biazon) continues to enjoy the confidence of Mr. Aquino.
Offers to resign are nothing new in this administration—we’ve heard them before, and we were equally livid that someone would actually go through the motions of offering.
But resignation is a unilateral decision. You don’t ask permission to resign—you pack up and go, if in your best judgment, you are not doing the post any good at all.  Imagine still taking your salary out of the people’s taxes without being able to do what you were hired to do.
This is the kind of quitting one would respect. This is called humility —recognizing that despite our best intentions and superhuman efforts, we cannot deliver and that someone may be able to do a better job.
Public officials do not take on jobs in their quest for their personal meaning and validation of their self-worth.  There are objectives, there are expectations, and there are consequences.
I saw an old episode of Criminal Minds last weekend and one of the members of the team confronted his colleague who kept blaming himself for the continued killings because he had not yet been able to track down the serial killer.
He advised his friend: “That voice in your head? It’s not your conscience. It’s your ego.”
May those in public office be able to tell the voice of their conscience from the voice of their ego, and act on this distinction.

adellechua@gmail.com

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