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Commentary

Civil service is back to Commonwealth era

The modernization of our civil service was based on the Bell Report of 1952. Two major government reorganizations were done in 1954 and in 1969-1972. Two omnibus civil service laws were enacted—Republic Act No. 2260, The Civil Service Law of 1959, and Presidential Decree No. 807, The Civil Service Decree of 1975. The 1987 Revised Administrative Code (RAC) improved PD 807 by defining in detail the functions of the Civil Service Commission (CSC). These initiatives completed the modernization of our merit system as envisioned in the Bell Report.

The major change in the structure of our civil service was the division of the career service into the Open Career Service and the Closed Career Service. Under CA 177, there was only a single Career Service, and its limitation was exposed when RA 708, The Philippine Foreign Service Act (1952) was enacted into law. RA 708 was patterned after the Rogers Act of 1924, which established the Career US Foreign Service. This Act created a Closed Career Service. Thus the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), although in the Closed Career Service, had no status under CA 177 and could not prescribe strict rules on merit to ensure that only the best professionals qualified enter the DFA. Under RA 708, anybody with connections and even without any civil service eligibility could get appointed as a foreign service officer.

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RA 2260 overlooked the need for a Closed Career Service. Hence, the DFA still had no status under this Act. Fortunately, the 1969 Reorganization Commission was established. The Civil Service Panel of this commission corrected the omissions of RA 2260 and established the Closed Career Service in Sec. 5, PD 807.

The Closed Career and Open Career Services are compartmentalized. Each operates under its separate rules of recruitment, examination, salary system, promotion, assignment, retirement, etc. The rules of employment in the Open Career Service are found in PD 807 and the RAC. The rules for the DFA Closed Career Service are found in RA 7157. An exception to compartmentalization was on the issue of discipline. Under Sec. 54, RA 7157, the DFA can use the rules of discipline as provided in the RAC. This is the only exception to compartmentalization.

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OPINION

The CSC is supposed to be the guardian of the merit system. However, it initiated the breakup of the current merit system by extending the services of foreign service staff officers beyond age 65. Sec. 23 of RA 7157 provides that DFA personnel are “x x x compulsorily and automatically retired xxx“ upon reaching age 65.

This author challenged the CSC action in extending the services of Angela Sta. Maria when she was given a six-month extension of service beyond age 65. I pointed out that under the provision of Sec. 23, the CSC’s action was an amendment to the law that could be done only by Congress.

In response to the complaint, on Jan. 18, 2007, Rogelio Limare, a CSC official, stated that as the central personnel agency, “x x x ( it) has the authority to extend the services of all government employees beyond compulsory retirement age x x x whether they are in the open or closed career service x x x.” He claimed, in effect, that the CSC has legislative powers by amending Sec. 23 of RA 7157.

In due course, based on this CSC ruling, all the other agencies of the government, including the Commission on Audit, the Ombudsman and the Supreme Court, ignored the special status of the DFA and applied the merit rules under the RAC instead of under RA 7157 on the DFA staff. Sans the Closed Career Service, the structure of the civil service reverted to CA 177.

The precedent of extending the services beyond age 65 in the DFA was exploited by senior officials of the DFA in getting extensions of service for themselves, which by now must have cost the government over P1.6 billion. They confined these benefits only to themselves in a “tayo-tayo” system.

These violations were all reported to Congress. However, this legalized plunder of public funds continues, and will continue unless Congress acts. Our civil service is back to the Commonwealth era.

Hermenegildo C. Cruz participated in the formulation and implementation of all the steps needed to modernize the civil service as envisioned in the Bell Report, from the 1972 Reorganization Plan to RA 2260 and PD 807. He also drafted RA 7157, The Foreign Service Act.

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TAGS: Bell Report of 1952, Civil Service, Commonwealth era, omnibus civil service laws, Republic Act No. 2260, The Civil Service Decree of 1975, The Civil Service Law of 1959
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