ISSUE ANALYSIS No. 02
February 4, 2008
Series of 2008
Most bureaucrats see their positions as both a power and a privilege shielded by immunities instead of as a public service that involves accountability.
Ed San Pedro (not his real name) had served five presidents, from Ferdinand E. Marcos to Gloria M. Arroyo, at the Malacanang press office. A civil service eligible and career man, he became an assistant secretary after more than two decades of unblemished public service. A few years later under the Arroyo presidency, San Pedro was forced to obey the orders of a superior which he thought were irregular and unethical. He was bawled out by the chieftain thus forcing him to resign. He died a few months later. In a tribute at his funeral, his former staff, acquaintances, and a former Cabinet secretary extolled him as being in that rare breed of government men who remain clean till the end.
In the bureaucracy of a government known as one of the most corrupt in the world, there are Ed San Pedros as there are also lowly employees who remain devoted to their work and end their service with just enough retirement pay to last in their twilight years. They watch in quiet indignation as many of their superiors, from top executives, department secretaries, and generals, to local officials loot the government treasury without remorse. Many promising career personnel, proven for their competence and meritorious service, are passed over in promotion as a new administration takes over and puts its political appointees in key positions. Loyalty to political patrons comes first in their placement within the bureaucracy. Then they claim authorship to "accomplishments" even if these are a product of labor by low-salaried career men and civil service employees.
It came as no surprise when Karina C. David, immediate past commissioner of the civil service, recently criticized Mrs. Arroyo for abusing her prerogative on government appointments. Of some 6,000 executive or managerial positions in government, David said, 3,500 were appointed by the president 60 percent of them non-eligible. The office of the president (OP) alone has 53 presidential assistants, all of them political appointees with many holding redundant positions.
Appointments were made apparently not on professionalism and public service but for political reasons or on loyalty to the president. For this reason alone, 4,000 career eligibles were passed over by the non-career presidential appointees.
The Arroyo bureaucracy is "bloated with excess officials" and agencies topping the list are the departments of agrarian reform, national defense, environment and natural resources, and interior and local government. In these departments, the number of undersecretaries and assistant secretaries exceeds the limit of five. In fact in many national government agencies (NGAs), bureau and regional directors keep their posts way beyond the legal one-year tenure.
Equally alarming is that 90 former military and police officials are now occupying key government positions.
This abuse of authority, David said, was to blame for the "worsening politicization" and "unprofessional behavior" of the bureaucracy.
Overall, the government bureaucracy has 1.4 million employees and of these, 68 percent are in the NGAs, 25 percent in local governments, and 7 percent in government owned- and –controlled corporations (GOCCs). A 2004 report of the Civil Service Commission (CSC) reveals that the executive office accounted for 95 percent or 951,120 of the total NGA employment. The remaining 5.03 percent was distributed in the judiciary (26,931 or 2.7 percent), constitutional offices (117,606 or 1.76 percent), and the legislature (5,838 or 0.58 percent).
The same CSC report shows that of the total number of employees, 89 percent or 1.3 million were career personnel while 11 percent or 160,000 were hired on qualifications other than merit and fitness, as the law requires. About 64 percent of the non-career personnel are in the local government units (LGUs), 25 percent in the NGAs, and 11 percent in the GOCCs. The report asserts that the non-career personnel are political protégés who failed to meet the qualification standards prescribed for the government positions.
All these only suggest that political patronage was decisive in the appointment of 3,500 non-career officials occupying managerial or executive positions and also of a bigger number of at least 155,000 non-career personnel spread in the rest of the government bureaucracy.
A change in the presidency leads to a revamp in the top echelon of the bureaucracy directly under the chief executive. This is an opportunity for the new president to pay political debts incurred during an increasingly fraudulent election by appointing supporters and cronies to key managerial positions in the bureaucracy starting with department secretaries. Some of the appointees come from political dynasties or from vote-rich provinces that delivered "votes" to the president. Still others are corporate bigwigs and big landlords who use their positions in furtherance of narrow family interests and ram through devastating economic policies.
In recent years, they have been the main beneficiaries of multi-million privatization contracts, import liberalization, modernization, modern infrastructure, and other schemes. Most bureaucrats see their positions as both a power and a privilege shielded by immunities instead of as a public service that involves accountability. They act like potentates privileged with the right to spit expletives at subordinate career personnel and threaten them with suspension or demotion even if, record against record, the latter are more qualified than the appointees.
Officially, the appointees are supposed to put into action whatever the president's political and economic visions are – even if what exist are myopic and short-term. But the system of political patronage dictates that their main role is to help preserve and consolidate presidential power from the national down to the local bureaucracy. In turn, the top executives pick their own protégés and minions for other key positions in the bureaus and regional offices. The same thing is true in the LGUs.
Political patronage brings no efficiency to a bureaucracy long saddled with inefficiency and exacerbates the epidemic of corruption that continues to rob the government of billions of pesos and other resources every year. Low morale and motivation prevails when professionalism and merit remain unrewarded and career personnel are relegated to middle- and even lower-level positions. Many career officers are forced to leave the bureaucracy that repays political allegiance with what David calls "irrational and unreasonable" salaries, and, to add, junkets, as well as other perks. In the May 2004 elections, many key executives were accused of diverting millions of state resources for the presidential bid of their chief superior. Secretaries use the Cabinet as a stepping stone for other purposes like running for the Senate or other elective posts, or use their credentials for higher corporate goals later.
The casualties in this politicized and elite-run bureaucracy are not only the career personnel who do not get promoted but also the teachers who remain unhired when the education budget is devoured by the fat salaries of the education department's executives and also for graft-ridden contracts. They are the millions of tenant farmers denied of lands that are converted into corporate farms or real estate and the urban poor whose communities are demolished to give way to private commercial complexes, expressways, or "modern" harbors with investors who are relatives or associates of a Cabinet official. They are the overseas workers who, under government's labor-export policy, are forced to seek jobs abroad and become victims of illegal recruitment, violence, and other social costs.
The issue of a politicized and militarized bureaucracy does not revolve around the abuse of presidential prerogative alone, however. At its core is a political system that breeds a bureaucracy long dominated by corrupt oligarchs and their lackeys instead of being used as a progressive machinery led by able representatives of the people who are driven by the single-minded purpose of serving the sectoral and collective interests of the public.
 In late 2006, a CenPEG issue analysis found that about 35 former generals and other retired senior military and police officials were appointed to Cabinet positions.
 "2004 inventory of government personnel," Civil Service Commission (CSC), Office for Planning and Management Information System.
 CSC report, ibid.
Director, Policy Study, Publication and Advocacy (PSPA)
Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG)
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