A few good men

AS POLITICS gains ground in the bureaucracy, the government starts to lose a few good men and women with career-service eligibility.

When Juan Miguel Luz was first offered a position in the fledgling Aquino government, he refused. But after a series of failed coups, he decided to join, along with others from the so-called middle forces, to help secure democratic institutions.

Luz was appointed Presidential Management Staff director in 1987. The first three years of the Aquino administration were spent in rebuilding, and with his political science background, Luz found this exciting. “We can shape government, the way it’s organized.”

Aquino enacted Executive Order 292, the Administrative Code that reorganized national agencies, in 1987 on the eve of the restoration of Congress.

In 1990, Aquino issued another administrative order that required all government employees, from the position of director up to career executive service officers (CESOs), to take eligibility tests so they may have permanent work status.

Luz took and passed the CESO exam in 1991, but soon left government service to pursue graduate studies.

He returned in 2002 as an undersecretary in the Department of Education, at the urging of long-time acquaintance Edilberto de Jesus, who had been appointed education secretary.

Luz was part of a team in the Asian Institute of Management that had been tasked by the Caucus of Development NGO Networks (CODE-NGO) to conduct an assessment of the education bureaucracy in 1999 and 2001.

Luz remembers his stint at the DepEd as “great fun.” After his experience at AIM with management cases, the DepEd was like a continuing case.

Luz helped reform the lending system to teachers and their payroll program. Instead of borrowing from loan sharks, teachers could now avail themselves of a private lending structure. Schools in the provinces also received money directly from the Department of Budget and Management, instead of through DepEd divisions and regions that did not release the money.

Luz also assisted de Jesus with academic matters. They instituted a library hub and Brigada Eskwela program, and pushed for parental involvement. They also ran a 10-year budget simulation program, and mulled introducing universal preschool, grade seven or 5th year high school.

“That was really exciting, building systems,” says Luz. This despite the “very poor” salary that he received. His salary of P28,000 plus an allowance of P6,000 was “less than 20 percent of what I was getting at AIM.”

Perhaps this is why corruption persists, he reckons. “I can understand why people steal a lot because salaries are too low.”

Luz calls it ironic that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, a former teacher at Ateneo de Manila, was “not interested in education.” He says that she never visited schools or joined Brigada Eskwela, and only once attended an educators’ conference.

Luz says that the only time the President took an interest in teachers was in 2004, an election year, when DepEd and the teachers criticized the Government Service Insurance System eCard program.

Despite the reforms that Luz was able to institute at DepEd, he resigned in 2006 after Malacañang fired him and ordered his transfer to the Department of Labor and Employment. This was after he refused to clear postdated checks that the President’s Social Fund had issued to DepEd to fund the scholarship program of Zambales Representative Antonio Diaz, a close Arroyo ally.

The checks were released during congressional hearings on the impeachment complaint against Arroyo. Diaz was among those who voted to junk the complaint.

Luz eventually sued the Palace before the Civil Service Commission, asserting his security of tenure as a career executive service officer and denouncing his reassignment as being politically motivated.

Sadly, Luz is not the bureaucracy’s only casualty as a result of politics creeping into the civil service.

Former Civil Service Chairperson Karina David says that the first violation of the rights of career public servants during the Arroyo administration was when the Palace effectively fired Pag-IBIG president Manuel Crisostomo.

“Mike Defensor wanted to hold everything, and the President of the of the Pag-IBIG fund, which is an agency that only holds funds in trust, ayaw niya na maging under the control and supervision ang Pag-IBIG ng what would have been the secretary of housing, because it would politicize the entire fund.”

David adds that Defensor became angry when Crisostomo spoke up. The President then issued a letter to Miro [Romero] Quimbo designating him acting president of Pag-IBIG. A PCIJ report cited CES insiders as saying that it was the first time that a high-ranking CESO was treated as shabbily.

“In the first year, even what you saw in front of you, you could not believe nagra-rationalize ka pa rin,” says David. “Pero disconcerting talaga…and then nagsunod-sunod na (I started hearing about the usual abuses, of people being moved out, people floated, and so on.)”

Crisostomo was removed in 2002 after he opposed the suggestion to put his agency under the proposed Department of Housing to be headed by Michael Defensor. Crisostomo quit the government after 17 years of service in Pag-IBIG.

The Career Executive Service Board (CESB) subsequently accused Malacañang and the Cabinet of “transgressions” of civil-service laws, rules and regulations in a 2006 resolution, citing Luz and Crisostomo’s cases.

Resolution 619 also raised the following issues: CESOs placed on “floating” status; CESOs relieved from their CES positions and replaced by non-eligibles or demoted to non-CES positions; excess undersecretary and assistant secretary positions; political appointees designated to career positions; and non-CESOs and non-eligibles appointed to CES positions despite the availability of CESOs or third-level eligibles.

A few days after the resolution, two of the CESB’s eight members lost their seats. Two others — one of whom was reportedly forced to resign — were replaced after a couple of weeks.

David managed to keep her post until the end of her term, but due to the continued interference of Malacañang, the bureaucracy lost qualified career civil servants like Luz and Crisostomo.