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‘Buro-cracy’

“Buro,” as in “pagbuburo,” is the old Filipino style of fermenting food in high concentrates of salt. The salt inhibits the growth of microbes by draining fluids from meat, fruits and vegetables, which then delays spoilage. The dry-salted food can last for several months, or even years, if preserved well.

However, along with buro’s savor is the stink. I remember loathing the stench of buro that my lolo used to prepare when I was a child. He would rub chunks of pork and fish meat with a thick coating of salt and store them in jars. The buro stayed there for weeks, and so did the rotten smell.

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It took some maturity on my part to appreciate the taste of buro. “Cover your nose. Take it in,” I was told. That’s how I learned to stomach the buro’s stink for its hidden savor.

I encountered bureaucracy the same way as buro. Similar to lolo’s salting of meat, bureaucracy is a lot like being drained and rendered dry. I’ve come to loathe the ministerial tasks and the unending culture of delay. There are days when I feel the rut brewing as early as 8 in the morning. And just after lunch break, I would be pleading for 5 p.m. to please hurry up.

State bureaucracy is believed to uphold efficiency. In theory, that’s true. But with how employees comply with the demands, bureaucracy, as it turns out, is just an overarching excuse for the government’s defective system. Public service is extended to five working days only to make sure all documents are printed in triplicate copies and initialed by a long list of signatories before getting the approval stamp. And there is that age-old wisdom: “Gobyerno kasi. Masasanay ka rin.”

I am writing to the young Padawans — the ranks of job order workers in government. These words would probably rub more salt on our buro, but let us share the stink and savor of the bureaucratic republic together, shall we?

In the university we came from, grades are equivalent to the performance and test scores we earned in class. In the government, however, performance is inversely proportional to grades, or in adult terms, the salary grade. Bureaucracy sets aside merit for seniority. As twentysomethings, we should realize early on that working on extended hours and taking more tasks on our plate would only feed us more cortisol and caffeine.

There might be some credits for a job well done on favorable days. But, hey, no matter how flexible and expandable our signed terms of responsibilities are, the digits on our monthly payroll are fixed, to be depleted some more by our unavoidable tardiness and absences at times. Holidays are the closest thing we get to a bonus. But monetary bonuses are a privilege exclusively enjoyed by the regulars. Let’s just say they are the Jedi order of the workforce.

Since we have to start from the bottom and our grip on power is nil, all we have to do for now is stay hopeful and do our job. We are going to be in the Jedi ranks one day, but that one day might take a while. Or, if we’re lucky, it might happen a little sooner given these circumstances: retirement, resignation or death.

Fret not, my fellow Padawans, for all these things largely depend on the Jedi who came long before us. A vacant “plantilla” position in government indeed takes a lot of patience, if hardly any potential. It’s not our fault there’s a long drought in promotions. In fact, many of those ahead of us would rather choose to leave and seek better opportunities outside the bureaucratic republic.

Just thinking of the hierarchy and hassles of bureaucracy is frustrating. The longer one stays and internalizes the trade, the more inevitable it all becomes—from spliced budgets to late salaries; from tedious administrative works to monthly reports; from TORs to covert “pakisuyo.”

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The proverbial “Gobyerno kasi! Masasanay ka rin” I now clearly understand. Yes, we may feel the rut once in a while. We may think it is hopeless to shake up the system and make change happen from within. But bureaucracy is how the republic preserves power.

“Buro-cracy” — allow me to say it — will forever stay with its stink. The choice is upon us if we want to savor it by simply covering our noses and taking it all in — or leaving before we end up becoming “buro” ourselves.

* * *

Christele Jao Amoyan, 24, is a development communication graduate of the University of the Philippines Los Baños.

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TAGS: bureaucracy, buro, Christele Jao Amoyan, fermented food, Young Blood
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