Moral vs. Legal


by Ali G. Macabalang

Critics and skeptics have downplayed the act and intent of the “government of the day” of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front-led Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) in advocating moral governance, at least in the transitional period.

They were pessimistic about the possibility of the slogan amid pervasive media reports about graft and corrupt cases in many nations. They give more credence to manifest inclination of most people for materialism or worldly life over religious or spiritual prescriptions for heavenly rewards in the eternal life after death.

For me, the critics’ argument is not rational. Amidst a corrupt climate, setting and pursuing a goal for good governance manifestly is by itself already a feat. It is significant that the BARMM government has given the public a standard of yardstick for periodic assessment. Every year, the public can say whether the regional actors failed or succeeded.

No worldly affair is perfect. But for public servants to faithfully discharge their functions in pursuit of the goal, whether they fail or succeed, is noble. Unsatisfied sectors can collect proofs and file administrative or criminal suits against any erring BARMM official. The worldly justice system may exonerate guilty people, but they will never elude the perfect adjudication on the Day of Judgement.

Let me present here the empirical experiences I had unearthed and faced in my interrupted years of government service. These will somehow prove that not all moral undertakings are legal, and not all legal acts are moral.

When I was the provincial coordinator for Lanao del Sur and Marawi City during the Marcos’ Martial Law era under the defunct Ministry of Public Information in transition to the Office of Media Affairs (OMA), I had deviated many times from the official itinerary of travels – something that internal auditors would later deem “illegal but tolerable.”

State auditors would say that spending even a single cent worth of public funds outside the approved itinerary was illegal. My arguments always overwhelmed the auditors’ assertion.

Let me cite an example. I was tasked one day to execute an official journey from Marawi City to Malabang, Lanao del Sur for a day-long trip. While cruising the highway, I (driving our vintage Nissan Patrol vehicle) and my lone staff (the late scribe Rex Dumarpa), saw a pregnant woman fainting along the roadside of Madamba town. I fetched the woman and ferried her back to Amai Pakpak Provincial Hospital in Marawi City).

We saw to it that the woman recovered well before we proceeded again to Malabang. Necessarily, the extra trip had entailed additional fuel expense, which auditors almost disapproved later for reimbursement.

In my brief debate with our auditor, I admitted that the extra fuel consumed in the extra (deviation) was illegal per se but it was definitely moral. “The government is for the people, for the people and by the people…And saving life is supreme to man-made palliative rules,” I told the auditor, who nodded his head in agreement.

On other occasions, I also argued with other auditors. I said the government’s auditing and accounting system is one source of TOLERATED corruptions in the government.

Because auditing and accounting rules allowed P120-per diem in those days, public workers when rendering official travels to big cities were being tolerated to bloat the period of actual travel for three days to two weeks. The only justification is a certificate of appearance. The unrealistic per diem was not sufficient for actual life in the city for three-square meals and a stay in a hotel or even a lodging house.

Higher government executives were allowed to cash advance in a fashion that was equally replete with anomalies to fabricate justifications such as hotel and restaurant receipts containing BLOATED or DOCTORED figures to cover the deficiency in auditing and accounting rules.

The aforementioned facts, I believe, still happen nowadays. This explains my belief that in government service, what is deemed legal may be moral, and what is moral may be deemed illegal.

For well-meaning public servants, their consolation lies in the Islamic principle that on the Day of Judgment what is going to be judged is the intent of the acts. Only the Almighty God knows who among us are guilty or innocent. (AGM)

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