Maj. Gen. Taguba, others, tackle ethics in political office at press club panel
SAN FRANCISCO, California – Spurred by recent corruption scandals in the California state legislature and the upcoming statewide elections, the Philippine American Press Club held a kapihan on ”Ethics and Politics,” April 26 at Golden Gate University.
Ret. Major General Antonio Taguba, U.S. Army, who exposed official culpability in the Abu Ghraib tortures in Iraq started the discussion by distributing an official guide on conduct by government executives and explaining how even stricter rules applied in the military.
Esther Chavez, president of the Philippine American Press Club, had set the tone in her welcome by quoting German philosopher Immanuel Kant, who said that “in law a man is guilty when he violates the rights of others. In ethics he is guilty even if he only thinks of doing so.”
Raymond Buenaventura, Daly City Councilman, former mayor, and candidate for Judge in the San Mateo County Superior Court, explained that having to raise money for one’s candidacy places big pressures on a candidate and increases the temptation to give in to donors’ narrow agendas.
David Chiu echoed the same frustration and pressure for so-called pay to play transactions between elected officials and private interests. Chiu is president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and candidate for California State Legislature to represent San Francisco’s 17th Assembly District.
Chiu said the country needed electoral reforms including public financing of campaigns to eliminate transactional relationships in politics and stressed the importance of transparency in government affairs. He also described examples of the successful use of coalitions among groups that have succeeded in overcoming the power of huge donations from the wealthy.
Discussants were Dr. Willie Britt, adjunct professor of government, business and society at GGU EMPA Program, Prof. Debra Nebreda, adjunct professor of public finance and Budgeting at GGU and Rene Ciria Cruz, US Bureau Chief of Inquirer.net. Emil Guillermo, columnist and former NPR anchor was moderator.
Guillermo stated that the discussion was taking place on the heels of three state senators, including Sen. Leland Yee, coming under a cloud on allegations of corruption in office.
He also noted that the US Supreme Court had lately ruled as constitutional corporate donations and unlimited personal contributions to candidates, which critics say raises even more the power of money in determining winners and their subsequent policies.
Professor Britt commented that the moral compass within each individual is ultimately the deciding factor in one’s action. “There has to be individual / self-accountability. This has to come from education, examples, practice, role models and faith,” he said.
Professor Nebreda commented that the moral compass has been skewed for many reasons. “It includes the appearances and perceptions of misconduct by very visible officials, lack of or unfulfilled expectations of parents for themselves and/or of their children, and differences of values or erroneous understanding of the ethics of others.”
Inquirer US Bureau Chief Rene Ciria Cruz said that individual responsibility wasn’t enough as politicians have different moral compasses. “There must also be some coercive force that can put them all in line.” He reiterated Chiu’s call for electoral reform and full and exclusive public financing of campaigns to level the playing field, remove fundraising pressures on candidates and to lessen the temptation to commit “quid pro quos.”
The discussion segued into how Filipino Americans could harness their numbers to become a solid and influential political block, Filipinos being the biggest Asian community in California and second nationwide. Coalescing with other minorities, encouraging Filipinos to run for office and increasing voter registration were among the suggestions.
Joaquin “Jay” Gonzalez III, Mayor George Christopher Professor of Government and Society at the Edward S. Ageno School of Business of Golden Gate University in San Francisco, California and chair of GGU’s Department of Public Administration had suggested the panel discussion to the press club and quickly offered the university as venue.
(Jafilam dela Cruz, president of the Filipino American Society of Architects and Engineers (FASAE), contributed to this report.)
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