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No Free Lunch

Recognizing true public service

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Are true public servants a dying breed? Indeed it is easy for most of us to find fault with government and the people who make it up. For many an ordinary citizen, government is that bureaucrat sitting behind a window or counter, standing in the way of a required document such as a birth certificate, passport, driver’s license, or clearance from some agency of government. For others, government is that politician whose likeness or imprint is all over town, in posters greeting us a happy fiesta or whatever occasion, or in public facilities like lampposts bearing his initials. For most Filipinos, dealing with government tends to be an unsavory experience, often marked by inefficiency, incompetence or arrogance.

Still, I believe that the vast majority of our civil servants have been true to their calling. Unfortunately, the bad eggs in government also tend to be the loudest and the most conspicuous. The good ones go about their work largely unnoticed and invisible to the public eye. That is why it was fitting that as the nation marked the 112th anniversary of the Philippine civil service last week, a number of individuals and teams were recognized for true public service. I had the honor of serving as vice chair of the board of judges that went through the rigorous process of selecting this year’s recipients of the Presidential Lingkod Bayan Awards. (Incidentally, some media reports erroneously identified me as an awardee myself, which had me receiving a number of misplaced but well-appreciated congratulatory messages.) Awards were also given for two other categories, namely the Dangal ng Bayan Awards and the Pag-Asa Awards.

This year’s Lingkod Bayan awardees were led (posthumously) by the late Secretary Jesse Robredo, whose death in a plane crash last month brought to all Filipinos’ attention the true meaning of public service that he exemplified. The citation on his Lingkod Bayan Award aptly summed it all: “His life’s work set the bar for the kind of servant hero or  lingkod  bayani  our country needs.” The other Lingkod Bayan awardees included two military officers, a police official, three local chief executives, a technocrat scientist, a revenue district officer and two government teams, all of whose distinct contributions are worth recognizing here.

Maj. Harold M. Cabunoc, chief of public affairs in the Philippine Army, had successfully enlisted both civilian and military support to implement education, health, sanitation and environment programs particularly in Basilan and Sulu.  He was also instrumental in bringing former combatants of the Moro National Liberation Front to the mainstream of society as productive citizens. Brig. Gen. Romeo T. Tanalgo, now chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Command Center, also helped secure the peace in the province of Sulu. As commander of Joint Task Force Sulu, he crafted   a 6-year peace and development roadmap  for the province that provided a perspective template for other conflict-affected areas in Mindanao. Police Chief Supt. Arturo G. Cacdac Jr. made his mark in the modernization of crime laboratory operations of the Philippine National Police and the upgrading of the skills and competence of its forensic experts, turning the PNP Crime Lab into a world-class facility.

Batangas Gov. Rosa Vilma T. Santos-Recto has shown that celebrity and genuine service can go together. She was recognized for, among other things, improving water quality in Taal Lake, concreting 99 percent of Batangas roads, modernizing district hospitals and establishing the first province-based center for overseas Filipino workers. Mayor Oscar Rodriguez of San Fernando, Pampanga led his city in achieving various breakthroughs, including a 141-percent growth in local revenues, substantial rise in school enrollment and in tourist arrivals, streamlining of business processes. Young Mayor Jose Enrique S. Garcia III of Balanga, Bataan has literally brought the city government closer to the people by holding office in a barangay for a week, in turns. He also strengthened eco-tourism, reduced smoking prevalence and secured substantial partnerships for infrastructure development in the city.

Dr. Jaime C. Montoya, executive director of the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development, empowered and enhanced the capabilities of health researchers nationwide. He developed diagnostic kits for life-threatening diseases employing state-of-the-art technologies and biomedical devices. I was particularly impressed by the work of Chief Revenue Officer Aminoding B. Macarampat of Marawi City, who substantially increased revenue collections in one of the most difficult regions of the country to collect taxes in. He personally led the conduct of extensive information and education campaigns that made his revenue district office top revenue collection performer in his region.

The Philippine Overseas Labor Office-Libya Team was recognized for defying risks and danger in repatriating thousands of OFWs in strife-torn Libya, including the household help of former ruler Moammar Gadhafi. The Philpass

Remit System Team of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas provided a faster, safer and cheaper alternative to sending remittances, benefiting hundreds of thousands of overseas Filipinos and the Philippine economy in general.

Most of us know of someone in the public service who deserves such recognition. Most serve in relative obscurity. Give them a word of encouragement next chance you get, for Lingkod Bayan Awards don’t come every day, nor do they find everyone who is worthy of the award.

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E-mail: cielito.habito@gmail.com


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