September 22, 2017 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES

Serving the public

The quickest, though not easiest, way to join public service is to get a job in a government organization like the games and amusement board. Another is to accept an appointment to a Cabinet or sub-Cabinet position. The latter is a bit trickier as one has to be invited; and, anyway it has already been more than a year into the administration.


The other route is elections. Even this early, plans are being hatched by the wannabes.


Why do people join the electoral contest and spend tons of money for the votes of the indifferent masses? Why be importuned by favor-seekers in the middle of the night? What’s the attraction of turning into a punching bag of opponents, critics, and media working out their anger at the world?

What benefits does public service offer, aside from the warm glow of knowing one is helping the country have a bright future?

While business, maybe even NGOs providing service to the people in a private capacity, beckon, it is perhaps the perks that go with public service that keep the politician turned on. Even an avowed nontraditional politician already in office whose family name rings some bells, eventually entertains ever more publicly the possibility of getting to the top.

Here’s a short list of the perquisites of public life that are hard to match anywhere else. We do not include here perks and financial rewards that involve illicit means.

He is preceded by cars and motorcycles, no longer allowed to wail unless he is in a prone position and headed for eternal rest. The motorcycle escort is still allowed to display blinking lights and a siren that sounds like someone choking on a fish bone, shortening travel time considerably and noisily calling attention to the passenger’s importance.

He doesn’t line up for anything. Buffet offerings are heaped with food and brought to his table, as he glances over at the merely wealthy and assorted peasants lining up to fill empty plates.

He needs no introduction and is given special treatment everywhere he goes. There is a tremor in the voice of the emcee when potential positions dangle in the mind. And he is not searched at the entrance to any event even if he’s carrying a heavy athletic bag.

People give way to him in conversations around the table. No matter what he says, it is taken seriously. He is allowed to finish long-winded sentences without being interrupted. His jokes are always funny.

Programs halt in the middle of a song to acknowledge his presence. He always gets a good seat even in a sold-out show. (What about tickets for my friends?)

While others cannot really announce to people how much money they have (it simply is not polite, unless you are a boxer), the politician can show how important he is by the deference accorded to him, even by those much wealthier than him who want to share their good fortune.

An inflated corporate title like vice-president even in a large corporation no longer holds the mystique it once did due to the devaluation of corporate titles. A public official does not even need a calling card to impress anyone.

Sure corporate types have their perks, like company cars and private elevators, and humongous salaries, but the status points are only limited to the company they keep. The whole point of a perk is its scarcity value with no further explanation needed on one’s importance. Nothing beats a perk that money can’t buy, like instant recognition.

Being mentioned in the news every day, even if not always in a nice way, gives the politician a high profile. The tantalizing prospect of being shielded by a team of spokespersons to explain nasty turns of events and able to call a press conference in a trice can turn the politician’s head. Such are the perks of recognizable and talked-about public officials.

Politicians by definition are not a shy lot. It does not take much to convince them of their destiny and the chances of success in the coming elections. They crave recognition, especially when they feel it is their hour upon the stage and all that is needed is for them to come out of the wings.

But, when they do, will there be an audience at hand? But… could they be there for somebody else?

A. R. Samson is chair and CEO of Touch DDB.

ar.samson@yahoo.com