Printed Article: Ethical Leadership in Public Institutions (Philippine Governance Digest)

Ethical leadership is an important element in governance. It is especially significant in light of current issues and challenges confronting the country and of citizenry’s clamor for a more responsive and effective government both at the national and the sub-national levels. While ethical issues dominate the limelight at the national level, they are still a concern that cannot be ignored in the context of local governance for the simple fact that decentralization is the country’s key strategic response for the democratization of development across the country. Why ethical leadership? Why not simply leadership? The following articles discuss why leadership in Public Administration is not just “leadership” per se specially in this time of increasing global interconnectedness and technological advancement; thus, there is born the need for a paradigm shift in ethical leadership.



Chairperson of the Civil Service Commission

Chairman Alicia Dela Rosa-Bala described ethical leadership as “a combination of being a moral person and a moral manager”. She also quoted Tara Duggan who enumerated the elements of ethical leadership as “trust, integrity, relationships, and transparency.” Furthermore, she explained the mandate of the CSC, which is “to promote morale, efficiency, integrity, responsiveness, progressiveness, and courtesy in the Civil Service.” Aside from this, she mentioned the mission of CSC, which also doubles as their slogan, “gawing lingkod bayani ang bawat kawani.” This slogan was meant to empower each government official and make them more than just employees, but heroes who are serving the nation. That being said, they should have integrity. The first step in doing this is to let them know what the commendable values are. However, it is hard to “teach” integrity, or values and ethics to other people. There are laws that might help in instilling ethics in government employees, but Chairman Bala reminded they are just guidelines to follow by government officials.

She discussed R.A. 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees. This Code discusses in general how officials should behave. According to this, they should always follow the 8 Norms of Conduct, which are: (1) Commitment to Public Interest (2) Professionalism (3) Justness and Sincerity (4) Political Neutrality (5) Responsiveness to the Public (6) Nationalism and Patriotism (7) Commitment to Democracy and (8) Simple living.

Chairman Bala mentioned that these provisions are in no way translatable to quantifiable measures. However, this does not mean that the law is futile because it gives an idea on what values should be upheld by public officials. Another important provision of RA 6713 is the filing of Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net worth (SALN), which is usually taken for granted by government employees. However, R.A. 6713 reminds the people that this document is a requirement, and it forms part of the effort to uphold transparency in the government.

Another important law that she discussed is the Anti-Red Tape Act or ARTA (RA 9485). It provides the Citizen’s Charter, and this should be available in all government offices through mounting of a poster that contains all the information that a citizen would need in the specific government agency. Aside from this, the Contact Center ng Bayan was established. This is a general phone number that everyone who is dealing with an agency can call. Through it, any citizen could report any irregularity or occurrence of venality. Chairman Bala joked that there are a lot of calls that they have received but not all are about dishonesty/bribery. The calls range from petty neighborhood glitches to real fraud/corruption incidents. Report Card Survey is another way how CSCcan get feedback from people. It serves as an avenue to the people to rate the services of the government agency. Aside from these, ARTA Watch, and Citizen Satisfaction Center Seal of Excellence are also implemented.

Suddenly, she restated the mission of the CSC to foresee the government officials as heroes. She mentioned an exemplary government official, a Posthumous Awardee, Ms. Melania Bitlon-Dirain, an Ecosystems Management Specialist of the Department of Environment, who was assigned in Cagayan to monitor illegal loggers but unfortunately got killed as she became a hindrance to illegitimate operations. Another recipient of recognition is Phivolcs Director Renato U. Solidum Jr. Chairman Bala explained that most Geology graduates seek jobs abroad as the agency cannot match job offered overseas, yet Director Solidum, a true loyal and nationalistic Filipino, continued to remain in Philvocs.

Lastly, she mentioned some questions from Harvey Mackay that a government employee should ask himself before doing something questionable. These are: (1) Is it legal? (2) How will it make you feel about yourself (3) Is it fair? (4) Will people in authority approve? (5) How would you feel if someone did the same to you? She explained that these are good gauges to know if what a government employee is acceptable or not. Chairman Bala shared another anecdote. When she was still holding a lower position, a local government official asked what CSC needed in their office. She answered that they needed vehicles. After some days, the same person donated a certain amount of money to the office to buy vehicles. However, after a few weeks, the assistant of the one who donated came back to the agency and asked Ms. Bala to sign a shady deal with the government that could have involved millions. Chairman Bala, still a director then, rejected the “request” even though she knew that it could be dangerous.

Finally, she explained that although the laws are important, it is necessary for every government official to realize that “upholding ethical leadership and service excellence with a heart – malasakit or compassion with action” is the way to go.



Chairperson of the Commission On Audit

Chairperson Michael G. Aguinaldo recounted an anecdote about the former Chairman of COA, Eufemio Domingo, who exemplified a truly virtuous public servanthood and whose leadership restored COA’s credibility as guardian of public funds with dedicated efforts against graft and corruption. His utmost integrity and credibility, anchored on the ideals of ethics and accountability, inspired the whole-of agency to perform at its best.

He strikingly remarked that public service should not be regarded as a “sacrifice for the country”, which is undeniably a common notion among the public servants. Rather, it should be viewed as a “privilege” to be able to serve the country for bearing the people’s trust and confidence. Guided by the eight norms of conduct, ethics and accountability in public service can be upheld. In particular, COA adheres to the principles of integrity and incorruptibility as well as independence, impartiality, and objectivity, pursuant to the international Code of Ethics for auditors set by the International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI), as called for by the nature of their function and mandate.

An equally important issue pointed out by the Chairman was how to get public servants follow the established Codes of Ethics. Likened to a “carrot and stick” approach, a system of incentives and rewards was established through RA 9713—a reward for a good act, and a punishment for a wrongdoing. It is important to establish a clear system to ensure that government agencies are intolerant to any form of corruptive practices. There have been various Civil Service Commission (CSC) programs intended to instill ethics in and professionalism in the government service like Values Orientation Workshop and other related trainings with the objective of making ethical norms a way of life among public servants.

COA, through different types of audit (financial, compliance and performance), is one with the government in ensuring that government agencies are properly using public funds in the best interest of the country and people, in accordance with the prescribed rules and regulations and in the purview of economy, efficiency and effectiveness of government programs. Lastly, COA has also taken initiatives on empowering the citizens to actively take part in the audit processes through the Citizen Participatory Audit, which promotes more transparency and accountability with the engagement of the civil society groups in the audit process of government projects.



Officer-in-Charge of the Public Affairs and Strategic Communications Office of the Commission on Human Rights.

Atty. De Guia, journeyed back to the Commission’s mandate, role, power and function. By virtue of the 1987 Constitution in valuing the dignity of every human person and in guaranteeing full respect for human rights, the Commission on Human Rights was created b (Art. II Sec. 11). It also exists to act as an independent human rights institution and as a response to the grave human experiences by Filipino people during the Martial Law Regime. Not only does it exist as an advocate to the right of life but also serves as a watchdog, an adviser, and an educator for everyone.

There are various national laws giving specific mandate to CHR including Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 or RA9344, Anti-Torture Act of 2009 or RA 9745, International Humanitarian Law of 2009 or RA 9851, Magna Carta of Women or 9710, Anti-Enforced Disappearance Law of 2012 or RA 10353, and the Human Rights Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013 or RA 10368.

In the pursuit of promoting human dignity through ethical leadership, the state has the responsibility to fulfill the realization of human rights. The human rights-based approached is linked as a basis to governance and development of strong adherence to accountability, transparency, participation, and non-discrimination. Good governance can be linked with human rights in four areas through democratic institutions, service delivery, rule of law, and anti-corruption. The concept of good governance is also echoed in the international setup. It points out to a participatory government and the entitlement of everyone to a social and international order whereby the rights and freedoms set forth in the Declaration should be fully realized.



Deputy Ombudsman for the Military & Other Law Enforcement Office of the Ombudsman

Deputy Ombudsman for the Military and Other Law Enforcement Office Honorable Cyril E. Ramos contextualized Accountability and Ethical Leadership in Public Institutions. He commenced his presentation by citing that corruption in many fora is a sensitive topic in any conversation, believing that people already know enough about corruption to be able to do something about it. He said, “Our country has not been lagging in its effort to combat corruption”. The 1987 Constitution in Article XI provides framework of accountability for all public officers. Section 1 points out that “public officers and employees, must at all times, be accountable to the people…” The Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees has also been established through R.A. No. 6713 and RA No. 1379, allowing participation of civic groups and Non- Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in the movement against corruption. These are now playing significant roles in mobilizing citizens and in promoting the government to act on related issues.

The Office of the Ombudsman is tasked to be at the forefront of the government’s anti-corruption drive. The Office performs this task within its powers and capacity and without overstepping on institutional boundaries. Punitive approach involves building, initiating lifestyle checks, conducting preliminary investigation and administrative disciplinary proceedings, prosecuting criminal and forfeiture cases in court, and monitoring the implementation of penalties. This approach focuses on engaging various sectors of society in corruption prevention efforts. Promotional approach rounds up the strategy about the programs and projects of the Ombudsman as well as various regulations against corruption and bureaucratic red tape. This is carried out through lectures, training programs, and media exposure. Common among all approaches is the engagement and the participation of critical, external stakeholders in the process of developing and implementing programs, projects, and activities that have an impact on multi-sectors of society.

The Office of the Ombudsman is aware that accountability and ethical leadership are two important elements in its own reform initiatives relative to its functions to prevent corruption and to promote high standards of ethics and efficiency in the government. SALNs, Integrity Caravan, public feedback, Integrity Management Program, ITAPS Program, website, dedicated bureaus, Investment Ombudsman program, and particular relevance to the business sector are programs, projects and activities of the Ombudsman. These programs ensure that licensure and other business and regulatory mechanisms conform to a speedy system that is free from delay, fraud, bribery and red tape. It provides an accessible avenue for the redress of grievance in the processing of business permits, licenses, and other investment-related government services and encourages the immediate reporting of corrupt inefficient practices.

The development and implementation of reform initiative of the Office of the Ombudsman is in full swing in its development. However, some outcomes may take time to be fully realized. According to Hon. C. Ramos, “it is imperative that all stakeholders are aware of the challenges facing the bureaucracy and that something is being done to address it”. The key to making sure that reforms work is to make sure that there is shared accountability and ethical leadership inherent in all level of involved organizations, especially those from within the government. Shared accountability means all stakeholders, from the rank and file in government to its officials including the Ombudsman herself, academe, business sector, NGOs, donor community and the community should know their respective role in the fight against corruption. He said, “Everybody is aware of the fundamentals of problem. Statistical facts are carefully generated, processed and shared to arrive at a common understanding of the situation. Collective effort must then be made to develop at a conjoint strategy that will maximize the strength of each stakeholder.”

The Office of the Ombudsman claimed that it could neither eradicate nor offer a false hope that it alone can do the task accountability. However, it has confidence in shared accountability and ethical leadership in knowing and doing what is right. Ethical leaders must act and make decisions and lead ethically in the ways they treat people in every interaction, in their attitude, in the ways they encourage, and in the directions in which they steer their organizations or institutions or initiatives.

Indeed, in bureaucracy, ethical leaders are needed to be a moral compass, voice of reason, beacon of righteous public service, sanctum of inspiration and motivation to decide and do what is right even when nobody is watching. The speaker quoted Robert Kennedy, “Laws can embody standards; government can enforce laws, but the final task is not a task for government. It is a task for each and every one of us. Every time we turn our heads the other way when we see the law flouted, when we tolerate what we know to be wrong, when we close our eyes and ears to the corrupt because we are too busy, or too frightened, when we fail to speak up and speak out, we strike a blow against freedom and decency and justice”. Lastly, Deputy Ombudsman Ramos shared a heartwarming letter from his grandfather reminding him to become an ethical leader.


Published originally in December 2016 in Philippine Governance Digest, 4(1-4), 19-22 (with permission to re-post here)

Co-written with Cayton, C., et al.

Philippine Governance Digest is a publication of the Philippine Society for Public Administration.

Photo by Philippine Governance Digest

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