To the good people in gov’t
Most of the time, nobody knows. Of the sacrifices you make, the narrow paths you take, the difficult people you have to deal with. Of saying no to opportunities within the system that would have been great for you and your family, but bad for our nation. Of saying no to prospects outside that would have been great for your career, but not for our country.
When you entered the government, you were idealistic, and genuinely thought that you could make a difference. Surely there were other, more pragmatic reasons, like the security of tenure and retirement benefits. But you were young, and, flush with the sense of nationalism you learned in college, your main motivation was really to serve.
Of course, even then you were not naive, and knew what working in the government entails. You’ve seen cases and heard stories of how people can easily get devoured by the system. You knew from experience how painfully slow the bureaucracy can move. Still, your optimism prevailed.
Yet, despite your tempered expectations, you are disillusioned. When you look around, you notice that the same security of tenure you value is also the reason for the poor motivation of some — and the mediocrity of many.
And then, one by one, you experience the various aspects of the bureaucratic culture. First, pakikisama: of trying to be on the good side of every person and faction; of unwittingly participating in the gossip that you thought was harmless until you find yourself at the receiving end of it.
Then, palakasan: of making sure you’re on the good side of your superiors, even when they ask you to do things beyond your official tasks.
Frustratingly, you also have to cope with the kalakaran, the way things are done, the red tape. The electric fan broke in your office, and knowing that it will take many weeks and even more signatures to replace it, you end up buying your own.
Far worse than a broken fan, moreover, is the politics: the jockeying for promotions, positions, and all kinds of opportunities. Despite your good performance, people pull you down. Despite their mediocrity, others find their way up. The boss you admired is suddenly leaving because he found himself on the wrong side of politics. The policy you worked hard to implement is suddenly being reversed, simply because the new boss said so.
Blind loyalty, you realize, is weightier than excellence, and truth is no weapon against power.
And then, at last, you are caught with the ultimate dilemma: On one hand, to work with a corrupt boss is to be complicit in a broken system, but to refuse to do so is to abandon your work and the incremental gains you have helped achieve. And so you find yourself contemplating — or actually doing — what you thought you would never do: to make compromises.
There will always be the “what ifs.”
What if you decide to leave? When you see your former classmates on Facebook, you wonder what could have been had you decided to take their path. And from time to time, there are offers: to work in the private sector and even to go abroad. But having gained all the institutional knowledge and a sense of responsibility for the work you do, you decide to stay. Besides, there are the retirement benefits …
What if, part of you might add, you decide to abuse your position, just like everyone else? You look at your colleagues and how they quickly rose from the ranks, and you feel the inevitable pang of envy. But you hold your ground and resign yourself to the wish that someday, someone will appreciate your integrity and the merit of your work. Or that someday, you can be that person and guide the next generation, on which your hopes now lie.
All these thoughts resurface whenever you hear people denouncing our government. On one hand, you understand what they are saying, but you still feel hurt, not just because you, too, are part of it, but also because you know that one cannot so easily generalize. “If only they knew,” you want to say. But you feel no need to explain yourself, because you have long accepted your fate as an unsung hero.
You know who you are. And fortunately for the country, you are not alone.
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