An afternoon of driving through hellish, insane traffic conditions (the C5 stretch from Makati to Libis, then to the Ortigas area and the Makati-Mandaluyong Bridge) was tiring and stressful, as expected, but making the unintentional gesture of turning on the AM radio magnified the "news item" of the moment: the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona, and pulled my focus away from the traffic I was stewing in.
As the radio commentators were going off on the undisclosed millions in his bank accounts (not disclosed in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth), it got me to thinking about the time when my family was in a similar position.
No, my father was not a Chief Justice. But he was a congressman. For three terms, to be exact. So I know what it means to be "in the public eye". My parents would always berate both my sister and I to be self conscious because how we acted reflected on my father's public perception. My mom was the disciplinarian - oh, the stories I could tell on how she wielded discipline in our home - and I knew my dad had little to worry about in that respect, as he was, for many times, too occupied with work.
But even though my mom never let us forget that our dad was a public official, I never did notice a perceptible change in the way we live, what we colloquially refer to now as "lifestyle". See, before Congress, my dad was a lawyer and an accountant, but not for Big Business, and while we were never hungry or ill-clothed, we would never be considered "rich" by any standard. In fact, judging by my dad's occupations, we were the epitome of a middle-class household. Both my parents were educated in good schools, and that was their ultimate goal for their children: to sum up my mom's statements, my sister and I would "go to UP or nowhere else".
That "no change" feeling became even more pronounced in high school. By then, the kids knew each other, almost all of us having gone through the same classes in elementary. I went to a private Chinese Christian school, and knew that our alumni included many successful business people. At the time I was there, I knew kids whose families owned a softdrinks company, one of the most mentioned architecture firms up to this day, a sardines company, a plastics giant, the most sought after restaurant in the Quezon City area, a printing press company - in short, there was no shortage of "luminaries".
Everyday, these kids would come through the driveway in luxury cars, with drivers and maids afoot. They had the "latest" signature bags and accessories (it was the height of the Esprit vs. Benetton dichotomy), and in a totally unheard of act at that time, one high school student gained instant fame after she supposedly "tossed" a hundred bucks as a tip at a local eatery.
Seeing that standard of affluence, I knew we were never on that plane, to begin with. My mom did explain to me one time, that being a public official was never the secret to financial success. She saw that in my dad - he never did steal a single centavo. In fact, if memory serves me right, he would painstakingly account for each and every expense that he made every day - maybe the accountant in him is what kept him with that practice. And I think his colleagues in Congress saw in him that same attribute, as he was Chairman of a Committee that was very sensitive regarding fiduciary matters.
We had a driver, and two cars. That was it - we had to carpool whenever our mom had things to do, and sometimes we would wait long hours at school because the driver - just one - was driving for everyone in the family. We didn't have millions in the bank, and certainly not billions. My dad was also a model for punctuality and attendance - he was present at Congress for most of the time he served, and there were years he was at the required meetings 100%. (They compile statistics like who had the most absences, who had the most money requested, etc.)
My dad has been long gone from the public eye, but when we talk about the state of affairs in the government now, and how corrupt and ingenious some public officials are with regards to wealth accumulation and hiding it from view, he would sigh audibly and shake his head. There was a time my dad was in power, but he never used that authority to abuse or enrich himself.
Sometimes I wonder if my dad was just naive, that he didn't know some of his colleagues are capable of such things as well. Until he said "You know, I could have worked for a multinational company if I wanted to be rich. Or a prestigious law firm dealing with high profile cases with settlements in the millions. But I knew what I was getting into when I ran for Congress. It's public service. Nowhere in those two words can you justify enriching yourself."
Those words now ring truer than ever, in light of the current impeachment process.