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What is a government job for?

September 13, 2019

MA. ISABEL ONGPIN

IT is dismaying and aggravating to see the Senate and House teleserye on the investigation of corruption in government offices and agencies. No, I do not deplore the investigations but welcome them, no matter the dismal findings about how government employees somehow pervert the laws that they are supposed to implement in order to benefit themselves at the expense of society.

In fact, if it were not for these investigations vis-à-vis our broken justice system where plunderers get away with plunder and convicts get privileges while supposedly serving their debt to society, we would be clueless as to what is really going on in the kingdoms of darkness that encompass critical government offices.

It seems that no matter what lowly position a government employee occupies, there is an opportunity to acquire benefits for himself, whether in the form of money or favors because of the office.

Thus, we have the template — secure a government position no matter how humble or how seemingly inconsequential and by dint of creative dishonesty get something beyond your legitimate salary and benefits. And you do not have to exert yourself. Take two-hour lunch breaks, make people beg for your services and delay giving them, and thus you will be rewarded by people’s hard-earned money or favors as they become desperate for what they need from you as a public servant. Be sure to have civil service eligibility, which will make firing you an impossible task without incontrovertible evidence which you will take care to hide as you go about your nefarious activities.

I may be tasked for making general statements like the above, but there are too many anecdotal instances in too many government agencies where these statements are the truth.

Working or idling in this manner as a government employee seems to be the equivalent of the template of persons who enter politics to become rich and powerful, to earn fortunes that will bring their family a life of wealth for the next eight generations without their having to work or exert any effort to make a living. And never mind that it is the only goal in a position that is supposed to serve the country and one’s fellow citizens.

So, a government employee having secured the job has it made. He need not exert too much effort, just do the minimum but get the maximum returns for it. Or, if really ambitious, be extraordinarily creative to squeeze out benefits, be it from the agency he is in or from the public that he is supposed to serve.

In fact, I would venture that this template becomes so ingrained and expected by everyone that a new hire is swept into it, willingly or unwillingly. If the latter, resistance does not last long. We have all heard of “something for the boys” which is actually proportionally divided among “the boys” according to rank, which makes everyone complicit in the illicit and illegal activities that these government employees carry on doing, supposedly while performing their jobs.

Thus are established what I term the kingdoms of darkness that persist through the years in government agencies. Their heads may come and go as appointed or retired or whatever. These heads of agencies may be upright and well-meaning but they are clueless as to what goes on below them in the kingdoms of darkness. Or, helpless to stop or reform what is going on for the mayhem that the implicated employees may wreak on him. Unless these heads of agencies come from there themselves and have been complicit, then it is happy days at the expense of the public whose taxes are misused, whose money is extorted for a service that they are entitled to.

Years ago, I met a young man from a fisherman’s family from a province in the south who came to Manila to study. Somehow because he was related to some of my household staff, he asked me for help in his studies, and eventually got a government job. I was so happy and so were his relatives. But then his years in the job changed him into a despot in his division when he was promoted, a laggard at work, and suspicions of his dishonesty came soon enough. He claimed to have an academic degree he did not have for the increase in the salary scale that entitled the holder of such a degree. Finally suspected of appropriating funds, he started a slander campaign against the supervisor who had called him down for it. Everyone knew this and no one in his agency, including his immediate superior, did anything about it. It was par for the course. He was a civil service eligible or whatever. From what I judged would be a hardworking, ambitious person who wanted to serve his country in a government job, I saw the spell that came over him as he took the path of least resistance and did what everyone else was up to in his agency. Maybe he was forced or threatened or, more realistically, it was easier to go along in that direction. Whatever, he followed a familiar template that is in existence in numerous government offices that are supposed to serve the public. Just watch the characters being investigated by the Senate on this latest government office scandal.

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