Up to voters if candidates' honesty matters to them – Malacañang

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – It is up to the voters if honesty is a trait they would look for when electing government officials, Malacañang said on Thursday, March 7.

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo engaged in a bizarre back-and-forth with Palace reporters on Thursday as he hesitated to say unequivocably that government officials must be honest.

Reporters had asked him for Malacañang’s stance on the remarks of presidential daughter and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte that honesty should not be an issue thrown at her senatorial candidates. (READ: Sara Duterte: All candidates lie, honesty not an issue)

When asked if honesty is crucial in choosing a candidate, Panelo answered: "For every voter iyon eh. Hindi mo kasi – Bakit may mga nahahalal na hindi honest? Ibig sabihin, marami ring hindi kinu-consider ang honesty. So depende sa botante siguro iyon."

(That depends for every voter. You can't – Why do dishonest candidates get elected? That means many do not consider honesty. So maybe it depends on the voter.)

Panelo was asked if he, as presidential spokesman, thinks honesty should be an election issue. At first, he tried to evade the question, claiming any answer he gives would be seen as favoring a candidate.

"First, I'm not a candidate. Second, it's prohibited for me to make a statement that could be construed or misconstrued as favoring or campaigning against. I'd rather not respond to that question," he said.

Exercise of judgement

After being pressed for a more definite Palace position, he said: "I have no opinion on that simply because I'm not a candidate. As a voter, I will have to exercise my judgement, whether honesty will be a part of my choice." 

He then went on to say that anyway, it's difficult to tell if a candidate or official is honest. Thus, he found it reasonable for Sara to say honesty should not be an issue.

"How would you know if I'm honest because you don't have experience of dealing with me. You need to have personal experience that's why Mayor Sara can say, let's not talk about honesty because how would you know?" said Panelo.

But he soon contradicted himself by saying there are some dishonest politicians who get elected, which supposedly proves that some voters don't think honesty is an important consideration when choosing who to vote for.

Admitting that some dishonest individuals get elected logically means honesty and dishonesty can be proven. He even described lying about one's educational attainment as "fraud" – precisely the issue currently facing Hugpong ng Pagbabago senatorial candidate Imee Marcos. 

Marcos has been accused of lying about getting a degree from University of the Philippines College of Law and even graduating cum laude, and earning a degree from Princeton University.

Excuseable lies

Panelo then said there are times when dishonesty is excuseable for a public official. 

"Kung nagsisinungaling ka lang tungkol sa girlfriend mo or tungkol sa mga kaaway mo, basta sa trabaho mo matino ka, wala kang gagawing masama in violation of the law and regulations," he said.

(If you are lying about your girlfriend or about your enemy, but in your work you are decent and you don't violate the law and regulations.)

However, Sara had lashed out precisely at her political enemy, Otso Diretso candidate Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano, for supposedly "lying through his teeth" about her senatorial bet Bong Go.

Does President Duterte think honesty is an important virtue for a government official? Panelo appeared not confident enough to give an "accurate" response to the question.

"I will have to ask him that.... Not that I'm not sure, I have to ask him so it's more accurate," he said.

But he emphasized that Duterte has called for "credible, honest elections." – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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