Friday, July 30, 2010

The Great Purge

This week hundreds of "non-career" senior government officials will vacate their positions as Memorandum Circular No. 1 takes effect today, July 30, 2010. These non-career officials, most of whom were appointed by former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, issued a last-ditch appeal (thru the media) that they be allowed to stay one more year to give them enough time to study for the CESB exam and acquire their CESO-eligibilities. Francisco Duque, the chair of the Civil Service Commission, claimed that while he is supportive of their plight, said that eventually "it's the decision of President Aquino, that's his prerogative." The Career Executive Service Board (CESB) for their part also issued a "careful" statement by just stating the facts: "the entire Philippine bureaucracy needs at least 6,000 CESO holders. At the moment, there are only 2,000 CESOs currently working in the different departments and bureaus of the government. This means, 4,000 cannot be filled," CESB said.

A paper written by Dr. Toby Monsod (UP School of Economics) for UNDP entitled “The Philippine Bureaucracy: Incentive Structures and Implications for Performance” gives a good idea of the real situation in the bureaucracy. For example, the Monsod study reveals that there are exactly 6,388 Career Executive Service (CES) positions existing in government as of late 2007. Out of this total, only 40% of CES positions (or about 2,500) were occupied. On the supply side, there were 1,109 CESOs and 3,944 CSEE-eligibles in the CESB pool as of 1st Quarter 2008. Miss Toby Monsod also notes that “the share of CESO eligibles occupying CES positions has been falling beginning around 2004. A decreasing share indicates that the share of political appointments is increasing and/or that CESO eligibles are leaving voluntarily. Note from the numbers alone that this decreasing share cannot be attributed to a lack of supply of CESO eligibles to fill in CES positions. There is even a decreasing trend in the share of CESO eligibles even in GOCCs that are SSL-exempt. In other words, the monetary incentives in these agencies could be inviting greater political intervention in the hiring of personnel. In turn, such interventions may be causing CESO eligibles to leave."

This means that there was increased "politicization" in the government appointment process when President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo started her second term in office (in 2004) which led to the marginalization of our senior career civil servants. This has pushed many of our competent CESO-eligibles to find employment in the private sector, where the pay is not only better but the job less "complicated."

Memorandum Circular No. 1 reminds me of the "Great Purge" that the other Aquino administration undertook in the aftermath of the first People Power Revolution. On March 25, 1986, President Cory Aquino promulgated the Freedom Constitution and began a top-down campaign to "de-Marcosify" the entire bureaucracy. She abolished the Batasang Pambansa, asked all Marcos-era bureaucrats to vacate their posts, replaced all governors, mayors and other local government officials perceived loyal to the ousted President Marcos with her own OICs (officers-in-charge), and even asked the Supreme Court justices to resign. The Cory administration justified the "Great Purge" as a requirement for the "restoration of democracy" (and the media bought their line) but it is now clear that what was restored was Philippine democracy "pre-Marcos style."

MC No. 1 seems to me like a mini-version of the "Great Purge of 1986." The justification given is that government needs to erase all vestiges of the corrupt Macapagal Arroyo administration and that President Noynoy needs a "clean, fresh start" if he is to reform our government. It is a page taken out of the Cory Aquino template. But things are a little different today because, unlike his mother, Noynoy cannot just abolish the Constitution and assume dictatorial powers to make the Mercy Guiterezes and Renato Coronas of government go away.

In the end, the more important question is what the Aquino government proposes to do once it accomplishes its goal of "erasing all vestiges of the corrupt Macapagal Arroyo regime." After purging government of Gloria's non-CESO appointees, what does it plan to do next? Ano ba ang "landas na tuwid" sa isyung ito, if I may borrow the President's words.

If all the Aquino administration intends to do is replace the non-CESO Macapagal appointees with their own non-CESO appointees, then they will only be perpetuating the age-old "spoils system" in Philippine politics. Government will still be run by "dilletantes in public service" (read: political appointees); the only difference now is that the Gloria "dillettantes" are being replaced with Noynoy "dilletantes." Then they will be no better than the previous administration they describe as morally bankrupt and four-five years down the line many of them will become the ogres they once sought to slay. This Aquino administration will be repeating the mistakes of the previous Aquino administration. But if the real goal of MC No. 1 is to restore the principle of "merit-and-fitness" in the Civil Service, then I am all for it.

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