When politics pollute civil service

New CSC chief faces pack of ineligible bureacrats

Last Monday, Malacañang announced the designation of Cabinet Secretary Ricardo L. Saludo as chairperson of the Civil Service Commission. All at once, government critics raised howls of protest and called Saludo “a rabid Arroyo lackey and anti-government employee.”

But Saludo has a lot more than protesting civil servants to deal with. Our latest report shows that Saludo himself tops a long list of political appointees who have not secured eligibility credentials that the CSC requires for career service executives.

Last January, Saludo rushed to the defense of President Arroyo after his predecessor, Karina Constantino-David, decried the huge number of ineligible appointees, a phenomenon that now cuts wider and deeper across the bureaucracy.

In his new job as CSC chair, Saludo himself will have to parry questions about his own lack of eligibility as top manager of the 1.4 million-strong civil service workforce.

Part 1 of the report delves into the virtual capture by political appointees of senior government positions previously reserved for career service personnel.

THE RECENT nomination of Ricardo Lirag Saludo as chairperson of the Civil Service Commission (CSC) effectively signals the capture by political appointees of managerial positions in the bureaucracy that had previously been reserved to career service personnel.

Newly appointed Civil Service Commission Chair Ricardo Saludo. [photo courtesy of gov.ph website]

A rabid defender and loyal functionary of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Saludo joined the government service in March 2001 as a political appointee and over the last seven years opted against securing career service eligibility.

A former journalist, Saludo was recruited by Arroyo as undersecretary and head of the Policy Group in the Office of the President. In January 2002, he became secretary to the Cabinet.

In his new job as CSC chair — a tenured position which does not require eligibility — Saludo may skip the issue for now, even as CSC old-timers say it would have been a bonus if their leader had full credentials for the post.

Still, Saludo’s record might haunt him. He now has to deal with hundreds of his and Arroyo’s political allies and friends who comprise a growing cabal of undersecretaries, assistant secretaries and senior managers ineligible and unqualified, by civil service standards.

Saludo graduated from the Ateneo de Manila University with cum laude honors in 1977, and for this he could have applied, by virtue of a special law, for “Career Service Professional Eligibility” that is good for second-level government positions.

Asked if he had actually applied, Saludo curtly replied: “No, I have not. Thank you.”

CSC Assistant Commissioner Rogelio C. Limare explains that political appointees who occupy career positions in government are required to secure eligibility, or their appointment will remain temporary.

Limare says the designation papers of political appointees must not exceed 12 months. As a pattern, however, Limare adds that these papers are not renewed year on year by the President, allowing political appointees to remain in office “de facto” or without proper work papers.

The President appoints about 3,500 third-level career executive officers, including undersecretaries, assistant secretaries, and directors. In addition, 6,500 other less senior positions are also subject to appointment by the President.

Four-level test

CSC records show that under Arroyo, over half or 56 percent of government managers, including Saludo before his CSC nomination, have failed to pass the required four levels of eligibility — an examination, a simulation exercise for managerial eligibility, on-the-job-validation, and an interview.

From date of hiring, an appointee has two years maximum to secure CSC eligibility, corresponding to his or her rank or position, in order to get permanent appointment.

Karina Constantino-David, former CSC chairperson. [photo by Isa Lorenzo]

Saludo’s predecessor, former University of the Philippines Professor Karina Constantino-David, reveals that 113 of the 203 undersecretaries and assistant secretaries of the Arroyo government are ineligible. The figure excludes ambassadors and appointees at the Department of Foreign Affairs.

All civil servants, from the rank assistant secretary down, and some career undersecretaries are required in law to secure eligibility commensurate to their position.

Even worse, Arroyo and her Cabinet secretaries have started to populate mid-level positions of bureau directors and agency heads with more political appointees and a large number of retired soldiers and police officers.

This invasion of career service positions by political allies now cuts wider and deeper in the Philippine bureaucracy. It has sparked concern among policy analysts and demoralization among civil service personnel.

A 2004 study by Sanjay Pradhan of the World Bank’s Public Sector Group notes that the “depth of political appointees” in the Philippines has reached the level of service director, regional director, and bureau director, yet the situation has not translated to enhanced “bureaucratic capability.”

In contrast, South Korea names political appointees only at the level of ministers, yet scores better in terms of bureaucratic capability, the study adds.

The study cites that “some factors correlated with corruption” are the low wages of civil servants, compared with rates in private manufacturing sector, and the low “index of meritocracy” in the civil service.

No meritocracy

Eligibility is supposed to be a stamp of approval by the CSC that assures the security of tenure of career service personnel. Eligibility promotes the principle that meritocracy, not patronage, should drive reward and punishment systems for civil servants.

The civil service workforce has three tiers of personnel: clerical, professional, and managerial.

Only 10 percent or 14,000 of the bureaucracy’s 1.4 million personnel are non-career officials (political appointees, co-terminus hires, elective officials, casual or contractual workers). Yet they supervise and command the 90 percent required by law to be eligible.

The irony is that the fewer but more favored ineligibles Arroyo has appointed now lord it over the multitude of eligible civil service rank-and-file personnel. The sad result: a politicized, less professional bureaucracy.

The government is the country’s single biggest employer. Personnel services take up 31.4 percent, or P384.8 billion of the total P1.23 trillion national budget this year.

In contrast, capital outlay for 2008 for the entire bureaucracy comes up to a pithy P131.5 billion, or just a third of the amount that goes to salaries and compensation for the bloating bureaucracy.

Haven of ineligibles

Data from the Civil Service Commission show that agencies with either the biggest budgets or the most lucrative and sensitive regulatory and revenue functions — or both — also have the biggest number of ineligible and unqualified undersecretaries and assistant secretaries. (see Table 1)

Table 1: Top Ten Agencies with the Biggest Number of Ineligible Undersecretaries and Assistant Secretaries
Source: Civil Service Commission

Department of Energy 0 0% 4 100% 1
Office of the President 4 11% 33 89% 2
Department of Justice 1 13% 7 88% 3
Department of National Defense 2 22% 7 78% 4
Department of Tourism 2 29% 5 71% 5
Department of Agriculture 3 30% 3 70% 6
Department of Education 3 33% 6 67% 7
Department of Environment and Natural Resources 5 45% 6 55% 8
Department of Labor and Employment 3 50% 3 50% 9
Department of Trade and Industry 5 56% 4 44% 10
Office of the Press Secretary 0 0% 4 100% 1

These 10 agencies alone account for 79 undersecretaries and assistant secretaries without civil service eligibility, or more than two-thirds of the 113 total ineligibles for their rank in the Executive branch (excluding DFA appointees).

The PCIJ had requested the personal data sheets and resumes of these officials for this report. Yet up to today, over a month later, only three agencies have provided the information requested. These are the Office of the Press Secretary (no eligibles), Presidential Management Staff (33 percent not eligible), and Department of the Interior and Local Government (70 percent not eligible).

Three other agencies — Office of the President, Department of Tourism, and Department of Agriculture — denied the PCIJ’s request, while the remaining seven agencies — Department of Energy, Department of Justice, Department of National Defense, Department of Education, Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Labor and Employment, and Department of Environment and Natural Resources — have yet to provide information.

Data from the DND website show that none of the undersecretaries are Career Executive Service Officers (CESOs). Only two out of five assistant secretaries are CESOs, and only six directors are eligibles.

There are also four other DND staff who are eligibles. An undersecretary, meanwhile, has passed the first and second stage of the third level examinations, along with 12 DND employees.

A fondness for ex-soldiers?

Arroyo seems to have a particular fondness for former soldiers — she appoints them by the droves to civilian posts, sometimes, just days after retirement. It is now not clear how many of these appointees got posted on merit, and how many, as loyalty perks.

Table 2: CESOs, CSE and CES Eligibles at the Defense Department
Legend: CESO (Career Executive Service Officer), CSEE (Career Service Executive Eligible), CESE (Career Executive Service Eligible)
Source: DND

Asec. Ma. Joji V Aragon CESO III OASSA
Dir. Ramon El Martinez, Jr CESO III IMO
Dir. Alexander T Gonzales CESO V OASIL
Atty. Ernesto G Matibag CESE OLS
Dr. Nona F Legaspi CESE VMMC
Asec. Roberto Emmanuel T Feliciano CSEE OASPP
Dir. Horacio S Gonzalez CSEE OAS
Dr. Anne Marie P Sta Ana CSEE OASPER
Dir. Ronald I. Flores CSEE OCD
Dir. Norma C. Talosig CSEE OCD
Ms. Mariciel Estacio CSEE OUSIA
Ms. Rachel F. Cruz-Bacordo CSEE ASO

Arroyo came to power in 2001 after senior military officers renounced loyalty to then President Joseph Estrada.

To be sure, UP political science professor Clarita Carlos says all presidents before Arroyo had sent many ex-soldiers to retirement haven in civilian service posts.

During the Aquino administration, at least 15 retired officers were appointed to key civilian posts in the DND, Malacañang, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), and other agencies.

Ex-soldiers had a field day during the Ramos government, which rewarded at least 100 retired and active duty military officers with government positions and board seats formerly held by civilians, according to journalist Glenda Gloria in her book We Were Soldiers. Fifty-two of them were appointed to the DND, Malacañang, DFA, and other agencies.

The number of military appointees went down to 28 during the Estrada administration, including 18 named to key positions.

By all indications, Arroyo takes after Fidel V. Ramos, a retired soldier himself, when it comes to allowing ex-uniformed men a revolving door in civilian service. By 2002, Arroyo had named at least 51 retired and active-duty military officers to civilian posts, according to Gloria.

The CSC, meanwhile, has compiled a partial list of at least 48 retired military officers in the Arroyo government. David notes though that more than 90 ex-soldiers and ex-policemen hold key positions today in the bureaucracy.

One ex-soldier also stands out for having a series of four Cabinet portfolio appointments: Angelo Reyes, the Armed Forces chief of staff in January 2001 who led the generals’ mass defection to the Arroyo side during the second EDSA people power revolt.

Four Cabinet portfolio

Reyes retired from the armed forces in 2002. Yet it seems like he has yet to spend a working day out of Arroyo’s Cabinet. One after another, he had served as Arroyo’s secretary of National Defense, Interior and Local Government, Environment and Natural Resources, and presently, Energy.

A career service officer who saw Reyes’s work at the DENR laments the invasion of the bureaucracy by political appointees. “You look at that as a continuing downward [spiral],” says the officer. “You’re demoralized, then disgruntled, then callous, then passive. You’re dead.”

David, the CSC’s chairperson for seven years until last February, calls the situation as “the politicization of the bureaucracy.”

How it unravels, she says, is simple enough to understand. Explains David: “When you know as a career person that your future is dependent upon a political act, and not on the constitutionally-prescribed merit and fitness… then your tendency is to be timid, to say yes, not to step on anybody’s toes. That makes you ineffective.”