Oppose re-engineering, press for job security and higher salary for more efficient public service

The city, during the last few weeks, was besieged with issues on the proposed restructuring of the city’s bureaucracy as embodied in the document, Reengineering Program of the City Government of Davao (RPCGD) released last April. As part of this measure, main offices such as City Treasurer’s Office, City Assessor’s, CSSDO, CCRO, CCDO, City Agriculturist’s and CHO shall decentralize their operations at the district level, departments are to be created namely: City Information Technology Center, Public Safety Office, City Economic Enterprise Development & Management Office, City Architect’s Office, City Housing Office,  Investment & Promotion Office and the City Tourism Development & Management Office, the last two offices, to be merged as one department. Among others, the said guideline, proposes “expansion of authority and services” and “merging of units” which directly translates to trimming the number of plantilla personnel/staff and employing more contractual services. The exclusion of “custodial, janitorial and security positions” in the staffing pattern is very much an issue as abolition of such affects hundreds of both plantilla and contractual employees hired by the city government for decades.

As a form of retirement and/or separation package for those “re-organized/affected personnel”, gratuity benefits, refund of retirement premiums, other mandated retirement benefits, separation gratuity and other forms of retirement package/separation pay are enumerated in the RPCGD to somehow salve the blow of those who will lose their jobs.

What is also noticeable is the preference of those aged 50 years old and below in the employment and re-employment of personnel. Notwithstanding the fact that for employees serving the government for 20-30 years, salary rates were never upped considerably and even calls for P125 and P3,000 across the board were never acted upon by the past three national administrations, including the present.

COURAGE, a national alliance of employees unions in different government offices, pointed out that the last time the salaries of state employees were increased was in

2001 July. The basic pay of a police personnel ( PO 1), for instance, is currently pegged at P8,605, including allowances at P13,155. Meanwhile a government employee (salary grade 1) earns a basic pay of only P5,082 excluding mandatory deductions such as withholding tax, GSIS Premiums, PAG-IBIG contributions and Philhealth. The Arroyo administration released a P1,000 allowance last year but to date some employees have yet to receive the amount. A proposal for a 10% salary increase is set to be implemented in July this year but the government workers are less enthusiastic as “ten percent is simply not enough, translating to a mere P508 a month increase or P860 for the police”.

It is glaring that employees across the country demand for a flat rate or an across-the- board increase such as P3,000 for them to live decently as well as to benefit the low salaried personnel who comprises the bulk of the bureaucracy.

In scrutinizing re-engineering policies, the general objective is to somehow re-invent the bureaucracy by a so-called “new paradigm of governance”. As presented in Davao City’s proposed plan, it is aimed at “embracing the overall functions of the office, reflective of its mandates”, “placing premium on quick response and faster service delivery”, among many others, which at the least, is foolish if not completely deceptive.

Time and again, proponents for the reengineering of the bureaucracy would attribute the public discontent against the government as mainly due to the inefficiency of the government bureaucracy. Yet the government has conveniently blamed the inefficiency of its bureaucracy and reversely used efficiency as a reason to design schemes which in the end, actually pose anti-worker policies and promote dissent among the ranks of contractual, rank and file, and even plantilla personnel. It is no surprise then that the proposed reengineering was met by protests from City Hall employees and even from the City Legal Officer.

Reorganization as one reform strategy, more often than not, focuses on its size whereby adopting staff reduction as a permanent and main feature. It always reduces the issue to big and slow public organizations with more number of workers than needed and that this unnecessarily drains the national coffers. This raises real concern as wave upon wave of implementation of this scheme curved nothing more than the print of the victimization of hundreds of thousands of civil servants who were dismissed without cause, to be later on replaced in greater quantity.

To cite a study conducted by Joel V. Mangahas, it is incorrect to say that the Philippine bureaucracy is big unless we are definite as to what the appropriate size should be. Comparatively however, the data of six years ago reveal that the ratio of government employees per 100 population in the Philippines rank four (4) from the lowest and twelve (12) from the highest worldwide from "A Study of Size, Growth and Rationalization of the Bureaucracy". Further, among ASEAN countries, it only bettered Indonesia. Considering that the government has successfully laid-off 323,441 or an average decline of 107,813 per year since 1991, while the population increased, the ratio has correspondingly worsened. It is worth to note that the ratios increase as countries are considered with more developed economies and improved services.

Likewise, the argument that the test of the bigness of the bureaucracy is to compare its growth rate with that of the population growth over a certain period of time is sweeping without checking if the ratio of the number of workers vis-a-vis the population has improved. As a matter of fact, the ratio barely increased by over one percent over thirty one (31) years from 1.3 in 1951 to 2.5 in 1990 as aptly stated by a study made by Joel V. Mangahas… "Although it is indeed true that the government size of the Philippines in terms of public expenditure and the number of civil servants has been growing, the growth has been relatively small. To a great extent it can also be claimed that the present size of the Philippine public sector is appropriate or "just right" (or even small) especially when related to growing administrative and pressing socio-economic problems of the nation."

Indeed, there is no certainty that with a reengineered, or a vastly reduced Davao city bureaucracy, we will have a more efficient public service.

Far from addressing the problems of effectivity in the bureaucracy, the proposed reengineering of the City Government merely victimizes hundreds of thousands of innocent civil servants who will be retrenched en masse and the subsequent creation, abolition, re-creation, division, of departments/units that are actually dispensable.

In the early 70s, the Marcos dictatorship thru its Integrated Reorganization Plan, massively purged government personnel who were suspected to be unfriendly to the dictatorship but who were eventually replaced in greater quantity presumed to be more loyal to President Marcos. As soon as it took over the government, the Aquino administration immediately launched her own purging campaign which resulted to the mass lay-off of 120,000 who were mainly temporary, casual, and contractual workers (IBON Databank, 1990). Although the justification made for the purge were to attain a lean government and make it efficient, it can be seen as an attempt to "de-Marcosify" the bureaucracy which was supposed to break the padrino or patronage system and thereby stunt the professionalization of the bureaucracy according to IBON Databank, 1990.

The Ramos government has been so far successful in the implementation of the various schemes of staff reduction as it has laid-off a total of 328,441 or an average of 107,813 civil servants per year between 1991-1994 citing "A Comprehensive Employment Strategy Program…Public Sector Employment", by Patricia Sto. Tomas. It has reduced the number of government personnel to the 1980 level, yet aside from the revelry of the Ramos administration for having been praised by the IMF-World Bank for faithfully implementing its conditionalities, the bureaucracy is still suffering from an image of bloatedness as the Filipino people remains deep in the worsening socio-economic crisis.

In 1991, the Aquino regime passed the Local Government Code (LGC) which it considered as a milestone step to address the problem of overcentralization of government. The devolution of functions from the National Government Agencies (NGAs) to the Local Government Units (LGUs) is supposed to empower the latter to improve services to their respective constituents.

However, contrary to its intent, the implementation of the LGC proved to be another arena of competition for turfs among the various interest groups in government. While it relatively diffused the pressure from the national government as the LGUs became the receiving end of complaints and buffer of the NGAs, they remain incapable and unable to respond to even just the basic social services of the more than 75% of the population who reside in the rural areas. As the functions and responsibilities were devolved, there were no corresponding changes in the power structure and fund allocations in support of these.

The immediate impact was on the more than 100,000 civil servants who were dislocated due to their transfer to the LGUs. They were either forced to resign, were not absorbed by the LGUs, or suffered reduction in pay due to lack of funds.

The public estate system, on the other hand, which is supposed to rationalize the production and delivery of public goods thru the use of Government-Owned and Controlled Corporations (GOCCs), is intended conceptually to ensure the availability of basic services to every Filipino household. Over the years however, these GOCCs failed to live up to the expectations due to large scale inefficiencies, exorbitant expenditures, massive losses and huge foreign debts in studies conducted.

We cite that the plans to reengineer the bureaucracy on principles of frugality and prioritization, steering, and compartmentalization is just academic as it did not at all clarify its applicability in the concrete realities of its environment and context. While it claims to promote a “lean and mean” staffing pattern, the process of re-engineering the bureaucracy also serves as a means “to pay-off or isolate the progressives in the ranks of the Career Executive Service Officers (CESOs) and the crackdown on the organized and militant section of the civil servants”.

From the point of view of the CESOs and the rank and file of government employees, the process of re-engineering the bureaucracy is but another exercise of patronage system in the positioning of the protégées of the politicians and the high bureaucrats while in the process, victimizing hundreds of thousands of government personnel who shall be dismissed in violation of the merit system of the civil service and their security of tenure.

For the public sector workers, this is another round of their continuing struggle to defend their rights as workers much more their right to a source of living and livelihood. And so the call now rings for government employees to unite and oppose the policies of privatization and re-engineering the bureaucracy. As we are yet to see the fruition of our struggle for higher salaries and wages, this is highlighted by measures which again continue to violate the security of tenure of public sector workers as well as the merit and promotion system for career officials in the face of proposed re-engineering policies.

One of government's key policy of privatization has resulted to mass lay-off, a recent case of which was the sale of the Metropolitan Waterworks & Sewerage System (MWSS) that turned its remaining 5,600 employees as contractual after 2,000 of them were retired earlier.

Thus, government employees’ contentious issues on salary increase, job security, full union rights will always be legitimate and demand our most urgent attention. It will be too late to oppose the re-engineering program being proposed when it’s already implemented and mechanics are in place.

In going against dictated policies on mass lay-off and promoting the protection of the basic right on job security, I express my personal position to vehemently oppose the proposed re-engineering scheme of the city as well as all schemes of mass lay-off such as the mandatory 5% reduction of personnel every six months, abolition and mergers of agencies, internal restructuring, regularization of GOCCs, and the like.

If we are to expect government employees to be more efficient in public service, it starts with addressing their needs, it ends with a reorientation of the socio-economic and political system where the government thru its public officials truly serves the interest of the majority poor people, and not the interest of foreign big business and the social elite.