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Santa comes to the camps

Then President Benigno S. Aquino III, in my opinion, alienated large swathes of the bureaucracy when he instituted a performance-based system for bonuses in government offices. A bonus, he said, on several occasions, is precisely that: an addition, in reward for exceptional service, and not an entitlement or a right obtained simply by being in the public service. That across-the-board benefit, after all, he pointed out, was what the 13th-month pay was for.

The uncharitable would likely attribute this alienation to laziness and the “tayo-tayo” system among bureaucrats, since bonuses only accrue to regular employees, and the government plantilla is so inflexible as to be practically in rigor mortis (which is why the government probably has the biggest percentage of contractual workers).

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The charitable would point to the law of unintended consequences, as the cause of the alienation, for example, in terms of families who’d made the expected annual bonus the source of funding for their children’s education or other, fixed, expenses. Without the annual holiday bonuses, these civil servants now had emergency situations confronting their household budgets.

Whatever the reason, I believe the previous administration actually lost heavily, in terms of votes, in government offices as the rank and file voted in favor of a return to the old, more generous ways.

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So you can add this political phenomenon to the long list of examples of what Randy David has called “the crisis of modernity” that has been gripping our country, where the old ways have stopped making sense, but new, more modern ways require too much in the way of sacrificing the few privileges people already think they have—particularly when those privileges are so routine as to become a necessity.

And if that was the problem in the bureaucracy, consider the running battle then President Aquino had with the military and police over their pensions being linked not to salaries retired soldiers and cops got when they were in the service, but the salaries and wages of those still in the force. In the end, he lost that battle, since no legislation was passed to reform the system. The sigh of relief that followed his leaving office must have been a big one, indeed.

Aside from pensions, in the modern world performance in the military and police is rewarded in one of two ways: with a promotion or a medal or, sometimes, both. Lucky generals who pleased the powerful from Napoleon to Hitler received not just medals and field marshal’s batons, but also property and cash from their grateful sovereigns. Modernity frowns on treating the public treasury like a public purse, or on professional soldiers leveraging battlefield success into real estate granted by the government.

But we are living in an era where the price of modernity was too painful over the past six years—and where happiness over the return of the old ways that played fast and free with the rules but which at least shared the blessings of power, is too evident.

And so at Camp Servillano Aquino a couple of weekends ago, President Duterte addressed the troops and said he would be giving them—maybe not all of them, but many, if not most, of them, he pointed out—a little extra something for Christmas, because “we have a little savings.” Just the other day, the chief of the Philippine National Police joyfully announced that cash gifts ranging from P100,000 to P400,000 would be given to “key officers,” and when he was asked where the money was coming from, he brushed the question aside by saying the important thing was that it didn’t come from drugs and that it probably came from the President’s intelligence funds.

Back in their crusading days, civil society fixtures such as the current secretary of education would have asked fearsome questions about these announcements. To their credit, some in the media are asking these questions instead. And so Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella did a quick retreat yesterday and announced the bonus was not (yet) “forthcoming.” The military is luckier. No one questioned the President.

Twitter: @mlq3 FB: www.facebook.com/mlquezon3

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TAGS: 13th-month pay, across-the-board benefit, alienation, bonuses, Camp Servillano Aquino, intelligence funds, paskong pinoy, performance-based system, President Benigno S. Aquino III, Randy David, Santa Claus
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