The book “Endless Journey” is about the life of the infamous General Jose T. Almonte who served in various capacities under different presidents but with a role as simple as a crusader. Due to his “wealth and stealth” of experiences as a security and intelligence officer, General Almonte became a controversial public figure in his personal quest to build a nation and not to be an “ogre” in the process. A monster or a hideous giant in fairy tales is called an ogre. But to both General Almonte and former President Fidel V. Ramos, a well-meaning person, either a volunteer in an election campaign or an aspirant to public office, can potentially turn into an ogre if he or she is swallowed by the “snake pit” created by government power.
This ogre in real life is cruel, wicked, if not barbarous in his exercise of power. Decidedly, the system can potentially turn every person into an ogre! All of us can be ogres since the temptation to serve personal interests first before the common good is so powerful that only a few can and have overcome it. With corruption as a lingering menace, I seriously wonder why certain powerful families have chosen and succeeded to make politics as their “business,” unless they have an ogre-proof armor.
A month into a new administration, there have been hundreds if not thousands of applicants for positions in government requesting to be appointed by the President and other heads of agencies. These aspirants all want to serve and help solve the problems of the country, or so they claim. I still think that fighting corruption, poverty, inequality, and other troubles that beset our country depend on the quality of service that these “temporary holders” of government power can provide. In my 12 years in the Army and five years in the Bureau of Immigration, I faced the biggest problem of all, to which General Almonte agrees in his book, which is culture deficiency. Our core values—as recited in the preamble of the 1987 Constitution—of “truth, justice, freedom, love, equality, and peace” are hardly visible, much less imbibed in government agencies, save for a few due to an upright “temporary holder” of power. For those in the vetting committee, please be reminded of what inspirational author John Maxwell said about power: “In most cases, those who want power probably should not have it, those who enjoy it probably do so for the wrong reasons, and those who want most to hold on to it don’t understand that it is only temporary.”
Understanding that most appointees are subject to the pleasure of the President or appointing authority, all political appointments are deliberately vetted, hopefully with an “anti-ogre test” in the process. More than competence, vetting should look at character through a person’s conduct, past or present, to gauge the intensity level of that eternal ogre within. Former Singapore President Lee Kwan Yew engaged the services of a battery of psychologists and psychiatrists to help him recruit ministers, mostly from the private sector, who will succeed the “old guard” in his administration. But the best test of character is future conduct in keeping with what former US President Abraham Lincoln once said—“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
Once inside public service, Almonte offered three suggestions on how not to transform into an ogre: 1) never take advantage of the system, 2) commit to work for the common good, and 3) be ready to accept the consequences of your action. In my limited and smaller role in public service, may I suggest a fourth, which is 4) always consider that God is watching and serve to please Him and not men. My predecessor in the Bureau of Immigration, former Commissioner Ricardo David Jr., installed many CCTV cameras at the airport. His predecessor, former Commissioner Marcelino Libanan, institutionalized a 24-hour national operating center that monitored activities in all ports, in real-time. Both leaders thought that a constant surveillance can serve as a deterrent against corruption. It did, to a certain extent, until human ingenuity came to play. But if those in government will invoke the omnipresence of our Almighty God, no amount of human intervention can perpetuate the power of the “snake pit.” Hence, those who want to join or have already joined public service, suggestion number 4 ought to help in fighting your own ogre. His presence is endless as much as your journey to develop a culture of love for God and others in government is endless. His power and authority over you are permanent, unlike your journey in government, which is temporary. That day certainly will come that you will pass that baton of responsibility and power to another, whether you are the President or an ordinary civil servant. Realizing that such journey is endless and my participation is temporary, my personal mantra during my government years that I carry until today is, “leave everything a little better than you found it.”
For public servants, the endless journey is to genuinely participate in nation building while not transforming into an ogre (corrupt) in the process. For students, the endless journey is not really to just get good grades and graduate but to learn and keep on learning. Relatedly, all of us remain students in the school of life, which teachings include how not to become an ogre (arrogant) in our achievements. For farmers, the endless journey is to make their crops grow, have a bountiful harvest, and sell for a reasonable profit. To this extent, we are all farmers hoping that what we do in life will give us dividends in the long run, whether in our chosen profession or in business, and not become an ogre (selfish) by not being an agent of blessings to others. For believers, the endless journey is not only to remain faithful to His Word but also to share what we know about the life-saving message of Jesus Christ! Whether in words or in deeds, believers are expected to be the salt and light for others to know and hopefully experience God’s presence in their lives. In the Bible, the apostle Paul was eager to fulfill his obligation of spreading the Gospel, especially to non-believers. (Romans 1:13) Believers can potentially become an ogre (complacent) too unless they feel that urgency to honor God in everything they do and make disciples from every person they meet.
In his book, Almonte referred to one of the beatitudes as his spiritual guideposts, “God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6). In my case, I think whenever leaders, whose decisions will have far-reaching effects in nation building, acknowledge God in every instance and, more importantly, aspire to please Him, they are building not only the nation but also their souls! The ultimate builder of the nation is found in the soul of each public servant who values love for God and for country in that order. We cannot overcome the ogre within us singlehandedly. But with God’s presence, it will be a mismatch! The biblical reminder given to us in Proverbs 3:6, “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” will help us fight the ogre in our endless journey.
A former infantry and intelligence officer in the Army, Siegfred Mison showcased his servant leadership philosophy in organizations such as the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Malcolm Law Offices, Infogix Inc., University of the East, Bureau of Immigration, and Philippine Airlines. He is a graduate of West Point in New York, Ateneo Law School, and University of Southern California. A corporate lawyer by profession, he is an inspirational teacher and a Spirit-filled writer with a mission.
For questions and comments, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.