“Say not always what you know, but always know what you say” is a quote attributed to the Roman emperor Claudius. And the Greek philosopher Plato is believed to be the origin of this insight: “Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.”
Relating the quotes to the passport mess and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., some may ask: Did he really have something to say – something that he truly believed then to be a fact – when he responded to a query on Twitter? Or, was it just an overwhelming urge for him to say something?
People furious at the prospect of another massive data breach similar to “Comeleak” might be more forgiving of Locsin if they thought they were getting the whole truth from him. But for Locsin to say something that can be so earthshaking to many people, only to backtrack later and virtually eat what he had spat out, can be the height of recklessness and irresponsibility.
Dishing out inaccurate, unconfirmed, unverified, or vague information can certainly do so much harm not only to Locsin’s credibility, but to how Filipinos ought to perceive the government amid the principle that “sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.”
For government to inspire trust, support, and cooperation from all sectors of society in the pursuit of excellence, credibility is essential. And accuracy is key to nurturing credibility.
Of course, Locsin has all the right to make a fool of himself when he shot from the hip in giving the impression from his tweet that a contractor had ran off with passport data, and the Department of Foreign Affairs “did nothing about it or couldn’t because we were in the wrong.” But to do so as DFA chief speaks volumes on his ability to head one of the most essential departments in the executive branch of government.
It’s a good thing former DFA Sec. Perfecto Yasay and cybercrime law expert Atty. JJ Disini, in a TV interview with Karen Davila on ANC, managed to assuage the worst fears of people and give some enlightenment on what might have happened. The notion was put forth that the previous contractor, Francois-Charles Oberthur Fiduciare of France or “Oberthur,” could not have run away with the data, but that such had become simply not accessible.
Yasay stressed “it is preposterous and malicious and completely false for the DFA or anyone else to say that Oberthur ran away with the data because they could not run away with it.” And, as if to insinuate the current DFA boss can be easily duped by subordinates, Yasay said Locsin might have been misinformed.
Locsin eventually backtracked on his claim, saying the data is indeed not “run-away-able” and is still in government hands, though “made inaccessible” and “corrupted.”
“On Twitter, Locsin toys with Filipinos by dispensing information on passport data and processes like so much gossip, and makes a mess that he still has to mop up,” wrote Inquirer columnist Rosario Garcellano.
“Public officials need to exercise some caution and get their facts straight before they post potentially damaging half-truths on social media. We are all for transparency in government, but public officials need to rein in their Twitter thumbs and get all the facts, and not impulsively blast out tweets off the top of their heads,” screamed a Manila Standard editorial.
Using Twitter per se isn’t really that bad, considering that messages get across instantly. But tweets that do nothing but stir panic are foolish and despicable indeed.
If Locsin values whatever is left of his credibility and hates being branded a fool, he might want to heed this advice: Stay away from Twitter on sensitive issues. But if the urge to tweet is irresistible, then please think before you click. And, precisely at that fleeting moment just before you click, think again!