The difference between a “public official” and a “public official”
In the 1980s, with an artist friend, Impy Pilapil, I went to see a homeopath for reasons I can’t remember. He surprised me with his first question. How would I like to be remembered? I remember briefly considering the question and responding almost instantly that I would like to be remembered as a âcaring personâ.
In retrospect, is this really how I want to be remembered? It seems so weak, so lame! A roundabout answer, surely! How, indeed, do I want to be remembered?
I am now grappling with this question as I add another candle to my already overcrowded birthday cake and mourn the passing of a man I have never even known except as an interested bystander and watcher. the passing political scene.
Fortunately, I also observed that there had been no twisting of hands, no pointing fingers as a result of the widespread outpouring of grief from the public over the untimely death of this exemplary public servant.
In the end, what do we really remember about Jesse Robredo? What are all the accolades and praise about? Isn’t it one thing, and only one thing: servant leadership which defined and encompassed all that it did and stood for?
But what is servant leadership, and what does it take to be a servant leader? Christ defines it best in this passage from Mark 9:35: âSitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said,â If anyone wants to be first, he must be last and servant of all. In short, is the answer.
And there too lies the dichotomy, the succinct summary of what, in general, afflicts our government leadership. The majority of those we elect, or who are appointed to public office, are used to turning the equation upside down. They put themselves first and treat “all” others as last and servants of their own private agendas. Unfortunately, not without an obsequious collaboration of the âservedâ.
Where do we, the Filipino public, call our officials “officials?” Â»Isn’t the public service a public service? By labeling our civil servants as âcivil servantsâ we are reversing our own role as âbossâ and becoming complicit in their inability to provide a real public service.
What a nightmare story I can tell from months of paper hunting involving government red tape in the process of transferring title to my son when my husband passed away! Watch how many of these self-sufficient officials treat ordinary citizens as “supplicants” begging for special favors. He will tell you what the public service is not.
In Hong Kong, where I lived and worked for over 30 years, civil servants were never called âcivil servantsâ. They were called civil servants and that was reflected in their work. As proof, even today, it is enough to go to any government office to see the difference in the quality of the service provided by these “officials”.
May I add, however, that these civil servants are also generously paid and the envy of the private sector – a question, perhaps, to consider when seeking to understand why corruption in the civil service is the norm here, and the excellence the exception.
Going back to my original premise, and what started me on this tangent in the first place – how do I want me to be remembered? When my husband was still there, we did our part as âservant leadersâ in the charismatic Catholic community to which we belonged. Today, as a widow with kneecap issues, I mostly stay in the background, editing all the editorial material the community gives me for editing.
That does not qualify me as a servant leader, perhaps only as an armchair servant. I’m still thinking about how I want to be remembered. And I have yet to find a totally acceptable answer.
Perhaps this is because, while there is no doubt that I am definitely in the pre-departure zone, my flight is not yet ready to be called and there is enough time to define – and hopefully live – the definition of how I want to be remembered.
Blanche David-Gallardo is a retired journalist who briefly worked with the late Philippines Herald before moving to Hong Kong with her husband Bert in the early 1960s. Together they worked for a number of English publications in the British crown colony of the time, including The Asia Magazine, The Asian, Orientations, Asian Finance, Chic, The Home Journal, Eve, Dimensions and Designers Portfolio. She has lived in Manila since their return to the city on the eve of the British handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997.