Senator Zubiri, please look into RA 7157 | Inquirer Opinion
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Senator Zubiri, please look into RA 7157

Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri’s prompt action on the case involving Ambassador to Brazil Marichu Mauro’s abuse of her maid is most commendable. However, may I respectfully suggest that the senator get to the root of this problem and order an investigation of the implementation of Republic Act No. 7157, the Foreign Service Act of 1991. The Civil Service Commission (CSC) initiated this debacle by amending this Act, usurping the lawmaking function of Congress.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) was established as a Closed Career Service just like the military, meaning that it will have its own rules of recruitment, promotion, retirement etc. different from the rules applicable to the rest of the civil service, which is in the Open Career Service. This setup was dismantled by the CSC.

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The CSC ruled on Jan. 18, 2007 that it can extend the DFA retirement age notwithstanding the provision of RA 7157 that DFA personnel “x x x who have reached the age of 65, shall be compulsorily and automatically retired from the Service.” The CSC wrongly used the rules of the Open Career Service, which allows such extensions.

The DFA needs a Code of Conduct for its personnel. All foreign services have such codes requiring its personnel on foreign assignment to adhere to stricter norms of conduct than ordinary civil servants. The CSC decision undermined this provision of the Foreign Service Act. The reasoning is if the rules of the Open Career Service applies to the DFA as decided by the CSC, then there is no need for a Code of Conduct. Thus, Ambassador Mauro will be judged by the standard of the general civil service, instead of a stricter rule had a code of conduct been issued by the DFA.

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The decision by the CSC continues to devastate the career service. Based on the CSC ruling, career ambassadors who returned to their positions after serving as secretary of foreign affairs or undersecretary or assistant secretary of human resources got multiple extensions of service after reaching age 65. These three positions are “the guardians of the career service” under RA 7157. However, the rest of the career service personnel, upon reaching age 65, are still “compulsorily and automatically retired from the Service” under RA 7157. Each ambassador abroad collects around $30,000 in emoluments a month. A one-year extension of service is worth $360,000 or P18 million. One career ambassador who got six extensions of service collected $2,160,000 or P108 million pesos.

This hemorrhaging of public funds will continue unless Congress intervenes to correct this anomaly. The Senate had been very active in exposing corruption in government. However, the CSC action on just the issue at hand exceeds the funds lost in most of the corruption scandals the Senate has investigated.

Let me close with this question which has been asked on many occasions: How come corruption is common in our part of the world, and our neighbors like China, Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia each have their share of corruption, but nonetheless they have progressed while we remain the laggards in our region?

The answer is these countries allow corruption but have zero tolerance for inefficiency. In our case, we tolerate both shortcomings. In China, those who commit acts of inefficiency are punished for “capitalist deviation” or economic sabotage. In our country, we allow inefficiency to remain unchallenged. The Civil Service Committees of both houses of Congress have not held any hearings on the implementation of the merit rules for many years. This writer had on many occasions in the past sent letters of complaint to these committees, but all were ignored.

Hopefully, Senator Zubiri will direct the appropriate committees in the Senate to hold this overdue investigation of the Foreign Service Act and our merit laws, and in this manner address the issue of inefficiency in our government’s operations.

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Retired ambassador Hermenegildo Cruz served in the Civil Service Committee of the Integrated Reorganization Commission in 1969-72 and was one of the authors of RA 7157, the Foreign Service Act.

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TAGS: Career Service, DFA, Foreign Service Act, Republic Act No. 7157, Zubiri
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