This will be one of those columns I write that will probably make some people roll their eyes. But I feel I have to write about it.
To prepare for this article, I checked online the etymology of the word honor or honorable. According to etymoline.com, as a surname, Walter le Onorable, it means “worthy of respect or reverence” also “ensuring good repute or honor.” From Old French onorable, it means “respectable, civil, and courteous.” And from Latin honorabilis or onorare, it means something “that procures honor, estimable and honorable.”
From Wordnet, the meaning of honorable is someone who is not disposed to cheat or defraud; not deceptive or fraudulent, and, therefore, worthy of being honored and entitled to honor and respect.
One can infer from the etymology of the word “honor” that an honorable person is a man or a woman of principle. To be dishonest, having no moral compass, and blindly disregarding the adverse impact of one’s decision on people are disqualifying elements, to my mind, of what an honorable person is.
The title of “Honorable” is often used to address all kinds of people who are appointed in high government offices, like judges, ambassadors, and department secretaries. They are supposed to be introduced as “honorable” during public events.
The same title also applies to elected politicians. For example, during congressional or senate hearings, these politicians are always addressed as “Your Honor.” It’s good to the ears. It probably boosts a politician’s ego when he or she hears it.
But how many congressmen/women and senators really deserve to be called “honorable” or be addressed as “Your Honor”?
I squirm like a worm everytime I watch on TV these politicians addressed as “honorable.” I cannot avoid asking myself the questions: How many of them are worthy of respect? How many of them really treat their constituents honorably?
How can a senator who refuses to return to the Philippine treasury millions of kickbacks through the pork barrel scam be considered honorable?
How can a congressman charged with a graft case at the Sandiganbayan over a security service contract without public bidding be considered honorable?
How can a lawmaker who brands a reporter un-Filipino for telling the truth be considered honorable?
These politicians belong to the same flock of “honorables” that in reality are not worthy of the name.
This brings me to the issue of the seventy “honorable” representatives who thumbed down the franchise application of the ABS-CBN network.
What I have concluded from the decision of the seventy representatives is that they are bereft of honor. Let me explain. Honor to a public servant is fundamentally working for the good of the people. That is their solemn duty, nothing else. What the seventy representatives did was to betray their constituents, resulting in 11,000 workers losing their jobs. What a heartless decision to make, especially at this time of pandemic, all for the sake of political expediency.
Yes, let’s call a spade, a spade. What was important for the seventy representatives was their political survival, giving them no other choice but to please an irate president. The entire hearing was a cop-out, perpetuated by “honorable” men and women with no backbones.
Remember the adage, when you lie down with dogs, you get fleas. That’s what happened to the seventy representatives. In the end, the committee where they belonged became a miasma of lies and schemes that devoured whatever decency was left in them. The lawmakers just lost it: Where was the compassion for those workers who would soon be unemployed? Where was the kindness? Where was the respect?
I am reminded of what President Obama said at the funeral services for the late Representative Elijah Cummings, “Being a strong man includes being kind. There’s nothing weak about kindness and compassion…You’re not a sucker to have integrity and to treat others with respect.”
The 11,000 workers and their families are not mere statistics. They are human beings with children to feed and amortizations or rents to pay. But this did not matter to the seventy representatives. They did not really care because their decision did not personally affect them. After all, they have the resources to survive at this time of pandemic. They will still have food to eat. They will not go hungry. They do not have to worry about being evicted. They are able to buy computers for their children for their virtual classes.
Honor for a politician means standing shoulder-to-shoulder with one’s constituents for better or for worse. It means having the courage to do the right thing regardless of the consequences to oneself. The seventy representatives failed in this regard. How can one honor politicians who, at a time when they are needed the most, are nowhere to be found? Where I grew up, these folks are described as “Mayong kwenta” or “Walang kwenta,” meaning, they are hopelessly inutile.
Nowadays, much value is given to political subservience so that it encourages politicians to abandon their principles, resulting in appearing to be tough even when they are not. Sticking to their sense of honor appears to be a non-issue anymore to many politicians. It’s impossible to move forward as a country when our leaders are losing their sense of honor. It’s like losing one’s soul. The sad thing is they don’t mind anymore. They are on a slippery slope toward a life prone to anomie.
In his article about honor that appeared in The Atlantic in 2018, Adam Kirsch identified several virtues most urgently needed today: honesty, to counteract the corruption at the highest levels of government; compassion, to spur action to help the poor and powerless; patience, to deal with an increasingly toxic public discourse.
Tamler Sommers, a philosopher at the University of Houston, has added another virtue – Honor. He writes in his book, Why Honor Matters, “Honor is indispensable … for living a good life in a good and just society.”
Yes, honor still matters, and there might still be hope for our current lawmakers in both Congress and the Senate to conscionably take this to heart for them to be appropriately addressed as: “Your Honor.”