Senator Zubiri resignation: Is it an admission of guilt?

Quite a number of Filipinos were shocked by the news that Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri had filed his resignation following allegations of electoral fraud during the 2007 senatorial elections. The move was a first in Philippine political history. There has been no Filipino public official on record who resigned out of delicadeza or shame in the past. Normally, any protest against a politician would either get drowned out by another fresh set scandal or get withdrawn from lack of evidence; the latter not for lack of witnesses who can corroborate but for lack of witnesses who can cut a good deal in exchange for coming out. And cutting a good deal is where the names Ampatuan and Bedol come in.

The allegations of cheating initiated by losing senatorial candidate Koko Pimentel reached a turning point after two high profile witnesses came out. Suspended Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao governor and Maquindanao massacre suspect, Zaldy Ampatuan and former election supervisor in Maguindanao, Lintang Bedol admitted that they acted as if they were members of “The Adjustment Bureau”. Unlike the movie in which members of an incognito mob are sworn to secrecy, Ampatuan and Bedol are not holding back on alleging who is the mastermind behind the “twisting of the fate” of the candidates during the elections.

Ampatuan and Bedol have publicly named former First Gentleman, Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo as the one who instructed them to “fix” the results against the senatorial candidates who were part of the opposition. People can be forgiven for thinking that there is something in it for those two “witnesses” who are themselves, also in trouble with the law. But I digress…

Zubiri insists that he is not guilty of cheating and even said that he did not ask anyone any favors. He also insists that he is as much a victim of the so-called election syndicates:

Zubiri, however, said that he did not ask anyone for any favor regarding the elections. “Ang inyong lingkod ay lalabas ding biktima noong botohang naganap noong 2007 (I am also a victim of the 2007 elections),” he said.

Resigning from their posts is something that many public officials who were embroiled in controversies in other countries have been known to do. In Japan for example, they change Prime Ministers like they change shirts. If it’s dirty and needs washing, they need to go. A public official who is involved in an imbroglio or who does not deliver his duties must resign without even waiting for any calls for him to do so. He does this to save face and it is part of their culture. The people readily accept this practice as normal and will likely not raise an eyebrow over the next one.

Most western nations use shame or guilt as an agent of social control. Mounting criticisms or protest by the general public against an unpopular act, can make by the public official resign from his post. Here in the Philippines, most Filipino public officials act like psychopaths because they do not seem to feel guilt or remorse for their wrongdoings. As mentioned in my previous article:

Psychopaths are said to be those who lack any true sense of guilt or remorse for harm they may have caused to others. Instead, they blame their behavior on someone else, or deny it outright. They lack moral bearing (in comparison with the majority of humans) and are unable to evaluate situations within a moral framework. They also have an inability to develop emotional bonds with other people.

Philippine society keeps trying to model its way of life based on the western model but we fail to grasp the fundamentals of what make Western society work. A lot of our public officials do not have a sense of guilt or do not feel remorse for not being able to fulfill their social obligations and for causing harm to the rest of society. They also blame their behavior on someone else, make all kinds of excuses and therefore do not feel accountable for their actions.

Added to the lack of sense of guilt or remorse, Filipinos in general are averse to giving a critical evaluation of our public officials based on their past performance. This is part of the reason why the public officials who are guilty of embezzling public funds or those who simply do not do their jobs to the best of their abilities still get re-elected or worse put on a higher ranking position like the presidency. There is no shame in having accomplished mediocre work because Filipinos just “let the matter slide” into pwede na yan (“that’ll do”) oblivion and hope that things will become better eventually.

Our false sense of hope has gotten us nowhere. I hear a lot of people say, “There is still hope for the Philippines” but until we develop a sense of shame or guilt, there is no hope for the Philippines. We do not like being criticized at all, whether it is a fellow Filipino or a foreigner doing the criticizing, Filipinos tend to lash out or dismiss the criticism as lacking in merit. We as a people, lack the ability to evaluate our circumstances or apply a bit of self-reflection.

Sadly, our religion also plays a big role in how we quickly remove our sense of quilt and shame. We have been made to believe that our “sins” are forgiven once we confess to a priest or a member of the Catholic Church; it is as if our conscience can be wiped clean of every abominable act — and then we are ready to do it all over again. There is no real sense of atonement or remorse after the confession but the cycle of dysfunctional behavior continues until it becomes part of our system. In short, a lot of Filipinos hide behind their religion as they continue their fraudulent activities. We often see a lot of households adorned with the images of saints and the members of the holy family. It makes some Filipinos believe that they are holy despite their unholy acts.

According to cultural anthropologist Ruth Benedict, shame arises from a violation of cultural or social values while guilt feelings arise from violations of one’s internal values. It may make sense that Filipinos do not feel guilty or shameful about fraudulent activities if we perhaps consider that our internal values may be flawed. Worse, there seems to be a highly developed unconscious justification for deceptive actions within the Filipino mind. What we value as a society seems to be more around saving face by way of acquiring material possessions, family connections and having a good time.

If we are to imitate the culture of shame by the Japanese or to genuinely adapt the western culture using guilt as an agent of social control, we need to develop a sense of responsibility for others and ourselves. The only way we can attain stability and progress is to honor our promises and value what is best for the whole society and ourselves in the long-term, and not just focus on trivial pursuits that only cater to instant gratification. In short, we just need to develop a conscience.

Juan Miquel Zubiri’s reason for resigning might have been personal but he did the country a favor by putting an end to another media circus, which the public has grown accustomed to. For some Filipinos, his move makes him look guilty and to a handful of Filipinos, his move might seem laudable on the outside but they are still wary of his motives. After all, this is the Philippines where the padrino system trumps all other systems in place.

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22 Comments on “Senator Zubiri resignation: Is it an admission of guilt?”

  1. In the US, we’ve lately had two congressmen “do the walk of shame” — most everybody’s heard of Anthony Weiner, and the other was some guy from Oregon who I honestly didn’t pay much attention to, I think it was another sex thing. There have been others before, of course.

    In all those cases, there was some period of trying to weasel out from whatever nasty accusations were being hurled against them, before they finally came around to saying, “Yes, I did…something…and I apologize.” Maybe they didn’t come right out and admit whatever it was they’re supposed to have done, but they at least admitted to “making an error in judgment” or “getting involved in an issue that took away from properly representing the voters” or whatever, i.e., owning up to some kind of mistake and taking responsibility for being the cause of the situation.

    Then we have this clown, who stood up and announced that he’s resigning because he’s being persecuted. Sorry, but I don’t buy it. Being civilized people who uphold legal institutions, we are obliged to presume he is innocent, but the problem there is all that leaves us with is the impression that he’s a coward. He can’t hack it. For crying out loud, he’s a politician — he got this far before he caught on that it’s a rough business to be in?

    Without another obvious reason for him to leave office, what he’s doing now is violating the public trust of those who elected him to the position. A representative of the people serves at the pleasure of the people, not his own. So even if he really didn’t do anything wrong in connection with the alleged electoral fraud, from my point of view, he’s done something very wrong now.

    1. So even if he really didn’t do anything wrong in connection with the alleged electoral fraud, from my point of view, he’s done something very wrong now.

      Unfortunately, this inspires confidence in neither the system nor Zubiri himself. Former Gen. Angelo Reyes did something similar in the past (although his was a bit more on the extreme.) It only left many more unanswered questions in many people’s minds.

    2. I heard about that Weiner guy. He’s one narcissist, all right. I still can’t shake the image of his…nose. He is living up to his name.

      Yeah, I know what you mean about those who eventually owned up to their mistakes after adamantly denying the accusations. I have to hand it to Clinton though. He owned up but did not resign. I guess it was nobody’s business anyway what he was doing with an adult like Monica Lewinsky.

      Zubiri’s case is different though, if it’s true that the first gentleman took it upon himself to make sure that their party mates won in 2007, then I guess Zubiri just wants to stress that he did/does not want to condone the act of “kindness” which resulted in him getting a seat in the senate.

      Even if he were not guilty, the media would continue to give him a bad rap. I am guessing that he couldn’t do his job properly knowing that he might not have had the public’s vote in the first place. I can believe this considering he said that he might run again in 2013 just to prove that he can get the votes.

      1. I think we should also keep in mind that we’re talking about a “Philippine Senator” here, something which would serve as a pretty good dictionary definition for “sinecure”.

      1. You mean Senator “I have a wide stance” Larry Craig? He still went through the whole try-to-weasel-out-of-it process first, and he’d even been arrested for public indecency.

    3. @BenK
      hell YEAH!!! ever heard of the saying
      “The wicked flee when no one is pursuing, But the righteous are bold as a lion”

      OR

      “The guilty flee but the innocent stand proud and strong as a lion”

      if you are innocent you will fight honorably and true so to Juan Miguel Zubiri:

      “fvck you Sir”

  2. In Japan, it is your face, that you have to put value on…Integrity is foremost; it’s all you need in dealing with your business partners. Once, you lost face…nobody will deal with you anymore…
    We in the Philippines…it’s crookedness with self-respect. Duplicity with honor…”kung makapal, ang mukha mo. A-asenso ka”…
    Our values are already upside down. Sen. Zubiri has his own reason in resigning…we have to respect it…

    1. Most of our public officials probably have this mantra that they just need to “hang in there” until the scandal dies down. I guess since the word delicadeza was borrowed from the Spaniards, it is not in our public servant’s nature to act with consideration for others.

  3. So even if he really didn’t do anything wrong in connection with the alleged electoral fraud, from my point of view, he’s done something very wrong now.

    Due to a lack of an objective criteria that would bring closure to many of our issues, the Philippines carries so much collective baggage right now.

    What “da Pinoy” masses tend to take as reliable criteria for objective truth are typically either hearsay, anecdotal evidence, TFC or ABiaS-CBN (especially to teleserye addicts), their “kumpares” or “kumares”, a gossiping co-worker, someone wearing yellow, their “kabits”, popular opinion, and other sensational media source all of which of course are full of holes and actually unreliable. Much like Taliban fanatics, they believe that regardless of any lack of objectivity, as long as the accusations are said with enough conviction and “religious fervor”, they may pass as reliable.

    Let’s even assume there was indeed cheating done on his behalf. In order to give this issue some closure, the accuser has to establish a direct link leading to Zubiri himself. The political world is full of people with vested interests. There would be many who would be willing to do the dirty work for their pet candidates regardless of whether said candidates are cognizant of it or not. (Noynoy for example may not be aware of the smear campaign and dirty work being carried out by his yellow supporters on his behalf, or that his being the president is protecting his Cojuangco family’s unfair advantage or his “KKKs” special privileges).

    1. Let’s even assume there was indeed cheating done on his behalf. In order to give this issue some closure, the accuser has to establish a direct link leading to Zubiri himself. The political world is full of people with vested interests. There would be many who would be willing to do the dirty work for their pet candidates regardless of whether said candidates are cognizant of it or not. (Noynoy for example may not be aware of the smear campaign and dirty work being carried out by his yellow supporters on his behalf, or that his being the president is protecting his Cojuangco family’s unfair advantage or his “KKKs” special privileges).

      So true. So far, the statements from Ampatuan and Bedol do not implicate Zubiri. It does not even prove that he knew about the cheating.

      Same with PNoy. We all know that he’s got a PR machine that went to great lengths just to make sure people did not forget the “sacrifice” of his father and mother. And in order to look like real martyrs, they made the opposition look like real villains. Still, if PNoy was a smart boy, he should know if the people’s mandate was genuine or not. He should also know his own limitations, which means he should never have over promised to begin with.

  4. Very thought provoking article. I hope you accept comment from those branded on GRP as lying, manipulative, overly sensitive, clueless, gender biased persons.

    To BenK’s point, that the good ex-senator pointed the finger of blame at others as the reason for resigning, I would offer up that this is not a characteristic consigned only to Filipinos, and that, indeed, modern media and sound bite distortions are making this a way of life worldwide. It is too easy to snipe and gain attention and make an undermining accusation. For sure, you can bet that neither Democrats nor Republicans in the US will connect their failure to reach a quick, easy, harmonious extension of US debt limits to the economic panic that hit today. They will deny responsibility for undermining confidence, and blame the other party.

    I also don’t know how you arrived at the conclusion that he resigned because of “delicadeza or shame . . .” I read his statement and he did not say he was ashamed of anything, but, rather wanted to protect his family from further abuse. Being of sound western mind, I can’t say for sure you are wrong, because I truly (another word for honestly, a state of my mind which you are free to accept or deny) don’t understand the nuances of Filipino inter-personal behavior.

    I have posted on my bulletin board Benigno’s definition of ‘pakiramdaman (roughly translated: “trying to to gauge one another’s inclination to make good on one’s words”). ‘

    Do I assume you are reading between or beneath his lines and do not trust his public utterance? You are convinced he feels ashamed, even though he says differently?

    The Senate’s reaction to his resignation was also interesting. They all bailed from any responsibility on the matter whatsoever and said something to the effect of “we accept his resignation at face value and need not vote on it”. From that, I presume there is no law requiring the Senate to approve a resignation.

    For sure this is a complicated situation, a veritable rats nest of Ego and power, anger and shame (perhaps); a glimpse in a nutshell of the difficulty of finding true, factual reasons for anything hereabouts. Everything is pasted over in nuance and misleading renditions.

    1. I was making a general statement when I wrote “There has been no Filipino public official on record who resigned out of delicadeza or shame in the past.” I was not necessarily referring to Zubiri.

      The English translation of delicadeza: tact, discretion, consideration.

      In Filipino, delicadeza refers to having a “sense of propriety”; consideration in dealing with others and avoiding giving offense. A few people have written about it:

      What’s the Deal with Delicadeza?

      Redefining delicadeza

      Delicadeza

      1. Okay, so you are not suggesting that Mr. Zubiri did.

        Thanks for the reference links. I shall educate myself with regard to this term.

        I found various quotes from people regarding the resignation interesting, along with the notion that he may be cleaning things up in advance of running again. That obviously presumes he is not guilty of rigging the election. I’ll snip in the quotes below, separate from this comment.

        1. Hi Trosp

          I am very patient. 😉

          It’s funny how Malacanang said that Zubiri’s resignation was “an act of statemanship”. It’s not very consistent with their action in the past. I distinctly remember how calls for the resignation of PNoy’s shooting buddy, secretary Puno over the hostage fiasco fell on deaf ears before. How convenient. Does that mean his friend is not very statemanlike?

          And Sec De Lima is speculating too much: “Is that face saving or is it because he knew already the outcome of the election protest or is that a strategy for possible reelection?” she asked.”

          She shouldn’t be making comments like that specially since she used to be the lawyer of Pimentel. She is showing her bias too much. She is already holding a different position now. She should be more professional.

  5. Perspectives from the sidelines:

    Justice Secretary Leila de Lima

    “We have to determine the extent of his knowledge. He may not have participated, but clearly he was a beneficiary. A beneficiary may either be completely innocent or he acquiesced to the commission of the fraud. We have to know the extent of his knowledge.”

    Zubiri counsel George Erwin Garcia:

    “[Senator Zubiri] declared before the Filipino people by way of a privilege speech in the Senate that he is resigning as a duly elected and proclaimed Senator of the Republic of the Philippines. It was a rare and commendable, historical and final commitment, the first in the history of the Philippine Senate.”

    President Aquino’s spokeswoman Abigail Valte:

    “We think it’s an act of statesmanship on his part.”

    Losing Candidate Pimentel (lauding Senator Zubiri’s decision to end counter-suits):

    “It’s an indication that he no longer wants to delay the proceedings.”

    Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago (saying Senator Zubiri must continue reporting for work):

    “The Penal Code prohibits the crime of abandonment of office. It is committed by a public officer who, before acceptance of his resignation, shall abandon his office to the detriment of the public service.”

    Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) chair Henrietta de Villa: (saying the resignation would boost the joint investigation on the electoral fraud in 2004 and 2007):

    “It is a very good development for the investigation… I welcome what he had done.”

    Senator Zubiri:

    “I am a victim because I did not finish my term, he is a victim because he did not start his term.”

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