Malacañang is no. 1 agency with excess hires – CSC

Part 2 of this two-part report looks into the costs and impact on governance, real and hidden, of political appointments.

PRESIDENT GLORIA Macapagal Arroyo herself gives the lie to her administration’s avowed efforts to trim the bureaucracy of excess personnel.

A 2008 study by the Civil Service Commission lists Arroyo’s office as the agency with the biggest number of undersecretaries, assistant secretaries, advisers, assistants and consultants in excess of caps set in law, and without civil service eligibility.

What to do with these Arroyo appointees is the acid test that Ricardo Lirag Saludo must hurdle in his new post as CSC chairman with a fixed seven-year tenure.

From 2002 and until he was nominated to the CSC last Monday, Saludo had served as secretary to the Cabinet and is known everywhere as a rabid defender and loyal functionary of Arroyo.

Saludo now recognizes that the “bloated bureaucracy” is “clearly an issue” but whether he will move against his boss of seven years, and their political friends and allies, bears watching.

On October 2, 2004, Arroyo issued Executive Order 366 directing “a strategic review of the operations and organizations of the Executive Branch and providing options and incentives for government employees who may be affected by the rationalization of the functions and agencies.”

The EO instructed all departments and agencies of the executive branch, as well as government-owned and -controlled corporations, to scale down, phase out, abolish, deactivate, merge, consolidate and regularize any and all agencies that do not deliver “quality public service.”

As well, the EO sought to rationalize and improve “the quality and efficiency of government services delivery by eliminating/minimizing overlaps and duplication.”

Last January, members of the Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE) marched to protest what they claimed was the impending retrenchment of about 420,000 civil servants.

The Office of the President has the biggest number of undersecretaries, assistant secretaries, advisers, assistants and consultants in excess of caps set in law, and without civil service eligibility. [photo courtesy of website]

But the CSC has clarified that only the 700,000 employees of the executive branch, and not all the 1.4-million civil service workforce, would be affected by the rationalization program.

Under EO 366, an employee may choose, “on a voluntary basis,” to opt for early retirement or transfer to a similar position in another office.

COURAGE national president Ferdinand Gaite avers that last January alone, a total of 8,120 personnel from the National Food Authority, Metro Manila Development Authority, Senate, Bureau of Customs, Bureau of Internal Revenue, and Department of Social Welfare and Development were in line for retrenchment.

In July 2005, at a dialogue on EO 366 attended by 90 managers and union leaders of national government agencies, civil servants decried the exemption that the order accorded Arroyo’s executive hires.

A report said that government workers expressed their “anxiety” at the forum thus: “Presidential and political appointees must be the first to go. In past reorganization efforts, although positions were dissolved, others were created by political action, especially at the top management level.”

Indeed, Arroyo is the biggest violator of her own EO.

Karina Constantino-David ended her seven-year term as CSC chairperson on February 1, 2008, with a final broadside. “You didn’t have this kind of excess in any previous administration,” David told the PCIJ in an interview.

A 2008 CSC study that David disclosed last January shows that Arroyo has hired an excess of 81 undersecretaries and assistant secretaries, apart from 53 presidential advisers and presidential assistants, and an unknown number of consultants.

The Administrative Code of 1987 and various laws, executive orders and administrative orders stipulate that there should be at most 163 undersecretaries and assistant secretaries in the 24 executive departments.

But the Office of the President has the biggest number of excess hires for these positions at 31, followed by the Department of National Defense with eight, according to the study.

The Department of Agrarian Reform comes in third with seven excess hires, then the departments of Health, Justice, Foreign Affairs, and Interior and Local Government, with four excess hires each, the study said.

Other official sources offer slightly different, but similarly big, numbers of excess hires.

The 2008 Government Directory published by the Department of Budget and Management lists the names of 14 undersecretaries, nine assistant secretaries, 42 presidential assistants, two advisers, and one special envoy under the Office of the President.

An online directory of personnel posted on Malacañang’s official web site lists 34 presidential advisers, 34 presidential assistants, three special envoys and three consultants, all in the Office of the President Proper.

In addition, the Office of the President’s Staff Directory enrolls the personnel of the Executive Secretary, Presidential Management Staff, Presidential Legislative Liaison Office, and the Private Offices of the President (Protocol, Appointments, Correspondence, Internal House Affairs).

This supplemental list names 30 other Arroyo appointees with the rank of undersecretary (11 persons), deputy executive secretary (7), assistant secretary (4) regional development officer (3), presidential liaison officer (3), special assistant to the President (2), and dozens more of directors and executive assistants.

To be sure, David affirms that Arroyo’s predecessors Joseph Estrada and Corazon Aquino have had their fair share of political appointees.

Aquino came to power in “an unusual situation” and had to rebuild government from scratch, hence so many of her managers were political appointees without civil-service eligibility, David reckoned.

But in his first administrative order, Estrada directed members of his Cabinet to respect the positions of career service executive officers in their respective departments, David said.

By 1999, two reports said Estrada had hired 20 presidential consultants, 22 presidential advisers, and 28 presidential assistants, or a total of 70.

Fidel V. Ramos, political tutor and patron to Arroyo, only had a handful of advisers.

Yet unlike Ramos, and despite her issuance of EO 366 supposedly to trim the bureaucracy, Arroyo turned the bureaucracy fatter at the top.

Arroyo gets more than full assist on sundry policy issues and programs from 27 Cabinet-rank secretaries, and the executive directors or heads of 38 other executive agencies, commissions and committees under the Office of the President.

Table 3: Top Ten Most Bloated Agencies
Source: Civil Service Commission

Office of the President 4 2 6 37 31 1
Department of National Defense 1 0 1 9 8 2
Department of Agrarian Reform 1 1 2 9 7 3
Department of Foreign Affairs 3 11 14 19 5 4
Department of Health 1 2 3 8 5 4
Department of Interior and Local Government 2 3 5 10 5 4
Department of Justice 3 0 3 8 5 4
Department of Social Welfare and Development 2 3 5 9 4 5
Department of Tourism 4 0 4 7 3 6
Department of Education 4 4 8 9 1 7
Presidential Management Staff 1 2 3 6 3 6
Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council 1 0 1 4 3 6
Office of the Press Secretary 2 1 3 4 1 7

Still, she has chosen to procure a coterie of advisers and assistants for various specific, and often similar or overlapping roles.

For instance, she has a presidential adviser each for Constituency Affairs, Jobs Generation, Strategic Projects, New Government Centers, Cooperatives, Muslim Communities, Culture, Military Affairs, Police Affairs, Eastern Visayas, Northern Luzon, Southern Tagalog, Regional Development, Agricultural Modernization, Appointment, Muslim Royalty Concerns, Cagayan Valley, Infrastructure, Foreign Affairs, Rural Electrification, Revenue Enhancement, Subic-Clark Alliance for Development, Energy Affairs, External Affairs, and Region VI.

In addition to the presidential advisers, Arroyo has hired presidential assistants for Media Affairs and Religious Affairs, CARAGA, Western Visayas, Central Visayas, Foreign Affairs, Education Affairs, Youth Affairs, Religious Affairs, Mining, Anti-Smuggling, New Government Centers, Culture, State and Foreign Visits, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Muslim Affairs, Central Luzon, Bicol, MIMAROPA, Eastern Visayas, North Luzon Growth Quadrangle Area, Central Visayas, Region IX, Region X, Region XII, Panay.

Arroyo has also employed special envoys and consultants on “DILG Matters,” Transnational Crimes, Entertainment Industry, and a secretary-general for the “Ad Hoc Council on Values Formation.”

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita acknowledges that the list of Arroyo advisers, assistants and consultants may be interminable, but asserts that their maintenance cost does not add up to much.

In a news report, Ermita had maintained that only one or two presidential advisers were receiving salaries.

Former budget secretary Emilia Boncodin. [photo by Isa Lorenzo]

But government service should not be a pro bono or gratis work, according to resigned Arroyo budget secretary Emilia Boncodin.

“So why are they there?” asks Boncodin. “I think the answer is they just want the title. [T]he title is more important.”

The fact of the matter is even without salaries, there are hidden costs government carries for political appointees.

For one, these appointees are accorded at least office space, work stations, cars, secretarial and administrative staff, and some access to miscellaneous expense accounts.

David, the CSC’s ex-chairman, did the math and estimates that at the very least, the total salaries and allowances of Arroyo’s excess executives, and that of their staff, amount to about P122 million a year.

Of this, she says about P65 million a year goes to compensation of the staff personnel of the excess undersecretaries and assistant secretaries.

It might be a drop in the bucket, compared with the P300-billion budget in 2008 for personnel services of the entire bureaucracy, “but P65 million is P65 million,” Boncodin says. “You can make use of that for a lot of, but…you’re assuming that all of these are non-performing assets. I wouldn’t say that.”

Political appointees are a burden on the budget but to other analysts, the more serious adverse impact of too many of them are beyond monetary value.

There is, in the view of Social Watch convenor Leonor Briones, a question of confused roles, inefficiency and waste of resources.

Briones, a professor in public administration at the University of the Philippines who served as national treasurer under Estrada, asks: “Why should she (Arroyo) have a Presidential Consultant on DILG matters when the DILG secretary is at her beck and call every hour of the day?”

“Why does she need a Presidential Adviser on Revenue Enhancement when the Secretary of Finance and the BIR and Customs Commissioners are constantly at her side? Why Presidential Assistants for Panay, Pampanga, Bicol, Cagayan Valley when there are directors and governors who regularly troop to Malacañang?” Briones adds.

To UP political science professor Clarita Carlos, yet another issue is that political loyalties, more than meritocracy, seem to drive appointments to key government posts. “For God’s sake, why isn’t there a deeper bench in terms of choosing better people?” Carlos queries.

A career service executive officer at the defense department points to other adverse results of the too frequent turnover of managers in his agency — programs are disrupted and career service personnel denied a chance to get promoted.

The officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, says: “A lot of the military men here (DND) are presidential appointees serving at the pleasure of the President, so continuity (of programs) suffers, plus, of course, they come in at the top, so you deprive people an opportunity to go up.”

“There was a time here na since the group at the top were not aware of how a program grew, procurements ito, it took about two years and the program did not move,” he reveals.

Horacio Gonzalez, chief of administrative services at the DND who holds CEO-VI eligibility as Director IV, says it would have been better if appointments to senior government posts were made more competitive. Unfortunately, “there is no competitive screening and a lot of subjective decisions are made, pagdating sa appointment.”

The big puzzle to both Briones and Boncodin is how Arroyo can deal with so many advisers and assistants when she hardly has time to breathe given her work load and pace.

“Does the President have the time for 50 hovering advisers when she has the entire national bureaucracy?” Briones asks.

In Boncodin’s mind, the question is: “How many people can you listen to? What is your span of control? So the limit should be what is a reasonable span of control for the President.”

It must be stressed that it was during Arroyo’s term that 129 task forces, including many born and bred during her predecessors’ watch, were abolished. However, in their stead, Arroyo has also created over 20 new task forces.

Low and iniquitous — by all accounts that is how government pays its workers. It remains a mystery to David, the CSC’s former chair, why a bounty of political allies and friends had signed up with Arroyo.

At the clerical level, the government pays 20 percent more than a medium-size Filipino firm, says David.

Those at the professional level — including teachers, accountants and lawyers who make up 70 to 75 percent of the bureaucracy — receive 30 percent less.

Those at the managerial level that represents 1.5 per cent of the civil service receive 70 percent less than they would in the private sector.

“It’s no joke to work for 25 years or 30 years and get a take-home pay of P23,000. And you’re already a Director. So compensation is a major aspect,” David says. Queuing up to work as presidential adviser or assistant or consultant seems, to David, simply “irrational and unrealistic.”

By law, government positions from the rank of assistant secretary down are career service positions subject to eligibility requirements. The post of undersecretary in some instances could be occupied only by career service personnel, and in others, by political appointees.

Political appointments now cut wider and deeper in Philippine bureaucracy it has started to worry development agencies and investors.

A recent National Trade Estimate (NTE) report of the Office of the US Trade Representative cites concerns that some Arroyo appointees may have been chosen more for political considerations rather than their expertise.

“Investors also have raised concerns that regulators rarely have any background in economics, business or a competitive economic system, which enables entrenched interests to manipulate the legal system and regulatory process, whether by bribery or through exploiting the lack of expertise among regulators, to protect market positions,” the NTE report adds.

There is a bill called the Government Compensation and Justification Act pending in Congress which aims to review the salary of bureaucrats. Another pending bill, called the Career Executive System Bill, aims to reverse errors and the contradictions in law that create many gray areas.

The bill provides for the CSC to appoint people to rank, from which the President would choose whom to assign where. This means that disciplinary power is with the CSC, and that it will be able to check appointments. Cabinet secretaries would also be chosen by the directors of each agency, with the power to choose the undersecretary and assistant secretary left to the President.

In David’s view, the bill would be progress enough because it “reduces the appointing powers of the President.”

Career service personnel share the sentiment. When it comes to appointments, the CSC process and tests of “competence and fitness” must be followed, and not the will or whim of the President, they say.

“Working in government should compel people to establish their eligibilities,” says Gonzalez. “Having government recognition of your profession gives you good credibility and you have a sense of tenure and permanency.”

“Being part of the Career Executive Service should not be the prerogative of the President,” adds David.