POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 2 September 2010, Thursday
Common Sense Isn’t All That Common
You groaned – I heard you. I’m not surprised – we’ve heard that hoary old aphorism many times before, and can cite horrifying instances from experience to prove its veracity. Thinking people often bemoan how crooked reasoning has supplanted logic and common sense, which have gone the way of either eight-track tapes (unused), steak tartare (very rare), or Jose Rizal (dead).
While not confined to those in government service, the dearth of critical thinking skills in that sector provide many jaw-dropping examples that, sadly, impact upon public interest. Here’s one incident that will make you indignant at how our tax pesos are spent, as recounted by University of the Philippines-Diliman professor emeritus Dr. Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo:
“From February 2005 to May 2010, I was vice president for public affairs of the UP System, serving under UP president Emerlinda R. Roman. Under me were the Information Office, the Office of Alumni Relations of the UP System, and the Gurong Pahinungod.
“Because UP was preparing for the celebrations of its Centennial in 2008, our work load—heavy at best—became considerably heavier. A slew of other tasks was added to the regular responsibilities of running three newspapers, maintaining the UP System website, producing regular magazine-sized reports, writing and sending out regular media announcements, providing support for the Office of the President during the annual presentation of the UP Budget to Congress and the campaign in Congress for the approval of the new UP Charter, and providing communications support for the offices of the other vice presidents.
“Among these additional responsibilities were President Roman’s alumni caravan, which took us around the country to involve UP alumni in the celebration and in the fund-raising campaign; and several special projects—a coffee table book, another book called Kwentong Peyups, a short documentary film, a UP history book project, supplements for the print media, and several Centennial contests (for the Centennial logo, the Centennial literary award, the Centennial song, the Centennial short film, etc.).
“My Assistant VPs and I worked long hours, including weekends, and out-of-town trips. Throughout this period, I continued to teach graduate courses–sometimes one, sometimes two, each semester.
“On one such weekend in June 2006, Lydia Arcellana (AVP and Director of the Office of Alumni Relations) and I had a lunch meeting with a group of UP alumni at Dulcinea, a restaurant on Tomas Morato.
“On 14 September 2006, UP received a subpoena from the “Task Force O-Plan Red Plate” of the Office of the Ombudsman, directing it to submit my driver’s trip tickets “and all other appurtenant and relative documents authorizing the use of government vehicle (assigned to my office) for the period 13-28 June 2006.” It contained the ominous threat that failure to do so within three days of receipt would “merit the filing of criminal charges” as well as administrative charges.”
The document, says Dr. Hidalgo, did not state what these “charges” were. Then-UP vice president for Legal Affairs and now UP Law School dean Atty. Marvic Leonen submitted the trip tickets and detailed the nature of Dr. Hidalgo’s job. Nothing more was heard from the Ombudsman, and they assumed the explanation and documents were satisfactory.
Four years later, on 12 July 2010, the Office of the Ombudsman wrote claiming that on 25 June 2006, the car assigned to Dr. Hidalgo was seen “in front of Tonton Thai Massage on Tomas Morato Street at 3:30 pm.”
Says Dr. Hidalgo, “The strange thing is that the accompanying photos…showed the car to be parked in front of—not the massage establishment named—but the restaurant Dulcinea with the sign above its entrance prominently shown.”
On this flimsy basis, the professor’s “…driver and I were being investigated for graft, and for “dishonesty, grave misconduct, and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service,” having caused “undue injury to the government, consisting in (sic) the unnecessary consumption of fuel and undue wear and tear of the vehicle…a flagrant wastage of government funds,” that showed “utter disregard on (sic) the policy that public officers and employees should uphold public interest over and above personal interest.”
Dr. Hidalgo, a published author well-known in literary and higher education circles, retired as a full-time UP professor and VP for Public Affairs last May. I met her for the first time in June when I signed up for her Creative Non-Fiction writing class this semester.
She describes herself as “an elderly academic” possessing an “impeccable record of 20 years of public service and numerous awards, for both my teaching and my writing. The latest is the title Professor Emeritus, surely one of the highest honors UP can confer on one of its own.”
On August 9, Dr. Hidalgo received another ‘order’ concerning the “administrative case” against her, and she complied by sending more affidavits with the same facts she had already mentioned before.
“I feel most aggrieved,” she says. “Given the countless cases of blatant graft and corruption involving billions of pesos, which seem to be resolutely ignored, why am I being singled out for this harassment by the Office of the Ombudsman?”
Now what is graft? It is “money, property, or a favor given, offered, or promised to a person or accepted by a person in a position of trust as an inducement to dishonest behavior: bribe, fix, payola.”Attending a meeting with alumni on a working weekend to raise funds for the state university is now graft?
Not only does the Office of the Ombudsman need to buy themselves a dictionary and hire a writer with a good grasp of grammar, they also got their facts wrong as to time, place, and purpose. Dr. Hidalgo says, “As indicated in the trip ticket earlier submitted, we had left Dulcinea at 1:30 pm.” How could they have still been seen in the area at 3:30pm, as alleged? The people who took photographs of the car did not check inside the establishments in the area to see where the passengers and driver of the car really were. Where is the proof that Dr. Hidalgo and company were actually inside Tonton Massage?
What I also found beyond strange is that it took the Office of the Ombudsman four entire years to process this. Dissertations have been written in less time.
The thinking mind reels in disbelief at how much time, manpower, paper, ink, and other resources were poured into this one solitary incident. Rather than going after the large sharks who have gorged themselves with money and perks at government and taxpayers’ expense, as splashed in recent headlines, the Office of the Ombudsman is flagrantly wasting government funds and resources to hound, with a nuisance non-case based on erroneous facts, a little old lady schoolteacher who rode a red-plate car one working Sunday afternoon.
Why is Dr. Hidalgo being singled out for this unwarranted attention? Makes you wonder if she gave someone a grade they weren’t happy with when they were in college. Is that what this is all about? Because, as common sense will tell you, this is not what the public is paying the Office of the Ombudsman to do. ***