“What’s in a name? That we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet?” asked Juliet who had fallen in love with Romeo Montague. She reasoned, in the name of love, that a name is an empty norm, and that she is in love with the person who carries the name of Montague, not the name Montague or the family that her family is at war with. A name is shaped by the character, thoughts and deeds of the person. However, titles are of a different standard. They carry pre-conceived values that must be honoured by the bearer, be it a royal title or not. Royal titles have always carried with them the notions of upright and impeccable behaviour, which was why Prince Harry’s callow ways in his teenage years, when he wore the KKK costume to a party, was heavily criticized. The Prince should have risen above such puerile behaviour.
I have always believed and upheld that one must live up to the title they hold. It is a benchmark of one’s worthiness to hold it. A title says to the world one has something that makes him/her a cut above the rest and serving an inspiration to others. An editor, for example, must have an expansive vocabulary and more than adequate editing skills. One of my former editors fumed at me when I used sea change because she didn’t understand the word. Another editor I knew, who used her position to get freebies, edited an article by simply cutting the first and last paragraphs.
Regular titles carry with them values that are no different from that of royal titles. In politics, titles of mayor, congressman/woman, senator and President are highly valued and revered, making the bearers heroic, even God-like. Some public officials in the Philippines have lived up to their titles such as the late Jesse Robredo. I never met the man but the outpouring of kind words alongside grief over the Net attest to his unparalleled character and trustworthiness to serve the people he vowed to represent. Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Conrado de Quiros in wrote, “But however he is weighed as a secretary, it is the mayor of Naga City that he will always be remembered by his grateful constituents. It was in that capacity that he left a legacy to governance, a fact recognised by the Ramon Magsaysay Award. It was in that capacity that he left a legacy to the nation, which gave him a higher office than governor, or congressmen, or senator. It was in that capacity that he became a national figure after all. Naga City never had a better mayor.”
Continued de Quiros: “As mayor for most of the 1990s, he wrought an amazing transformation on the city, turning it into the real capital of Bicol. Before he became, so, in 1988, at age 29, which made him the youngest mayor in the country, Naga City was a sluggish town, home to poverty and small-town politics as much as the province, Camarines Sur, that circumscribed it.”
Stories shared in Facebook painted a picture of a very humble civil servant. One friend related that this public official never cut the queue to get into the lift. Another shared how Robredo didn’t pretend to be someone else. He didn’t hide his true self behind suits – his tsinelas (slippers in Filipino) were good enough for him to meet people. Someone also wrote that he never talked down, talked at or above people – he met them as equals whatever his or her station was.
But there are some public officials who have fallen very short of the titles they hold. Currently caught in an imbroglio is a Philippine senator whose qualifications of actor and noon time TV host didn’t erase the doubt in the intelligent voters’ minds of the foregone conclusion of his ineptitude. The FB status of an old high school classmate succinctly summed up the predicament: “Sobrang nakakahiya na to [This is very embarrassing].”
Sotto played the role of a student who never graduated from school in Iskul Bukol and was a co-host in Eat Bulaga. His reputation as a comedian was the popular raison d’être for his win when he run for office. He had the opportunity to change the minds of his detractors and to honour the title of Senator, but he had copied parts of the work of US blogger Sarah Pope in his speech against the Reproductive Health bill. It’s not a knee-slapper like his act in Iskul Bukol but it’s funny in a macabre way. The big picture shows the collapse of moral rectitude, absence of integrity and honour and, at the very least, mediocrity. He has sullied the title of Senator and no amount of formal statements of defence from his wife, brother and daughter can erase the almost heinous mark on his record. Further fanning the foolhardiness of Senator Sotto was the statement of Hector Villacorta, which only served to justify plagiarism. His chief of staff said in Philippine Daily Inquirer, “Copying is a common practice. Why do you need to think of a brand-new measure when a good one that was not enacted already exists? It’s really copying…Why exert effort when these bills are just lying around?”
One would have thought that the nightmare would come to an end. Close at the heels of the grievous gaffe of Sotto is another Philippine senator. Pia Cayetano, chair of the Senate women and family relations committee, in Philippine Daily Inquirer, has been accused of “copying sentences without saying they came from reports of the Department of Health and the United Nations Environment Program in her speeches.” It’s inexcusable because her title of senator is backed up by stunning credentials as written in the newspapers: “graduate of the UP College of Law, graduating with ‘academic distinction (no. 7) in her class’ and a member of the Honour Society, Order of the Purple Feather.”
Cayetano, who has yet to formally address the accusation, has a lot to live up to than Sotto but it doesn’t excuse the latter from comporting himself with intelligence and integrity. An excuse of gross oversight on Cayetano’s part is unacceptable because, as a UP student, another heavy title to bear, she knows acknowledging related literature is de rigueur. As for Villacorta, his statement begs the question, “Does the common practice of plagiarism make it right?” It completely subverts the concept of honesty, of not taking someone’s ideas/words and passing them as one’s own, drummed into students. Plagiarism is plagiarism. For teachers to continue lecturing students on the virtue of uprightness becomes an exercise in futility because reality undermines the precepts they inculcate in the students. Where is the logic in Villacorta’s words or Sotto’s actions? Teachers keep telling students to be careful, to think things through, and to not make mistakes yet the role models are constantly committing blunders that shouldn’t have been committed in the first place. If adults make such grievous mistakes and there are no forms of penalty for their transgressions in sight, how can one teach students to act with dignity, intelligence and integrity? Sadly, the one model that can be cited perished suddenly.
Titles symbolise the aspiration to rise above mediocrity, short-sightedness and greed. A title shouldn’t be taken lightly and, conversely, shouldn’t be taken seriously that one loses sight of what is wrong and right. A balance must be achieved between upholding the ideals attributed to a title and remaining relevant to the times. A leader has always to conduct him/her with intelligence, dignity and humility as exemplified by the late Jesse Robredo. However, these days, politicians seemed to have forgotten the real reason they ran for office, assuming they truly had good intentions. Whatever title it is – politician, teacher, editor, writer, student, friend – it is not bereft of lofty ideals of integrity, intelligence etc but it can be made to ring hollow when the holder chooses to alter the ideals to suit his/her needs. There’s a title for that – wrongdoer.