I still remember the purple markings on those papers.
They were instructions from my former boss, an undersecretary of a government agency, written on the last document received by our office that evening. The document was a photocopy of a letter sent by a single mother who narrated her concerns to the agency. My boss instructed me to draft a response to thank the sender for the feedback and offer ways to help. ASAP.
She attached a separate paper with a detailed note to gather more information about the existing policies related to the concerns raised in the letter, which she thought may also affect other Filipinos, especially those in the vulnerable sectors. She drew me a table with headers: existing policies, good practices in past administrations, problems/issues, current studies/evidence, possible solutions, offices involved, timeline, etc. At the back, she scribbled some more notes: How to improve processes so they will not experience the same thing again? She double-underlined “must be evidence-based and participatory,” which at that time I didn’t quite understand. Finally, on a yellow sticky note, she wrote—set a meeting with the directors so we can discuss this. She ended with a thank you and a smiley face.
I was surprised that what I thought was just a rant from a random person had made an impact so loud that it was heard by a top-ranking official.
The next morning, as I was about to draft a response letter to the sender, my boss came in with ready responses to her own questions. She must have studied and prepared the whole night. I did regularly hear from her to always focus on those we are serving. Make decisions with them in mind, because we owe it to the Filipino people.
During the meeting, the discussion included specific action steps on how to be able to understand the needs of the people. The boss scheduled meetings with local leaders and requested surprise visits to field offices to check whether data were correct or whether resources and materials had been delivered. Even details that are usually taken for granted were still given importance, such as remembering to serve non-pork dishes out of respect for our Muslim participants, or requiring people to not spend a single centavo for their visit. In one of the field visits, I remember seeing welcome greetings with our boss’ name written on chalkboards instead of in printed tarpaulins.
I had always been told to find work first in the private sector, to help me grow as a professional. To start a career in government would always be frustrating, they warned. “Baka makain ka ng sistema!” which would supposedly rob me of any hope for our country. Because our government is full of red tape. Corrupt officials. Employees who would be happy to pass on work to those willing to do it for them.
But it wasn’t true in my case. In my early years of professional work, I was given the opportunity to do staff work for top officials of a government agency. I became a fangirl of my boss and my boss’ bosses. I had the privilege of working under such wonderful government leadership—one that I never thought existed.
They are experts who are competent in and committed to their work. They talk about the issues that plague the agency. They talk about viable solutions, not just among themselves but with actual stakeholders. They listen to what ordinary people, the faceless people in the communities, have to say. They listen to what the research says. They listen to other experts in the field. They also accept and handle criticisms and opposing views, and decide on what is best for their constituents at the end of the day.
They are people who are willing to get their hands dirty. And, no, not the one that deals with dishonesty and corruption, but the dirty hands you get after working on all aspects of your job.
Working with them, I realized that public service is a thankless, extremely difficult job. Leaders should be willing to spend hours reading, researching, understanding, and doing what needs to be done, as they owe this to the Filipinos they serve.
I think Filipinos have become desensitized to the usual clown-led government that instead of demanding accountability from current public officials, they just point out that previous administrations were no better. The standards had been made so low by empty promises that we tolerate incompetence as if it were a given. We forget how good governance can change and improve our lives and the lives of the most vulnerable in society.
In good governance, you actually see things being done that would benefit the greater population in the long run, and not just a quick fix. Issues raised by regular citizens are studied, understood, and addressed not with the useless defense of “Sinisiraan niyo ako. Ikaw na lang maging presidente/mayor.” In good governance, corruption is dealt with decisively, and not with the stupid alibi that “lahat ng namumuno ay sinungaling at magnanakaw.” That is such an insult to public servants across the country, and to Filipinos as a whole.
I salute those leaders who do their tasks well. The leaders who come to meetings on time, prepared with solutions based on research, policies, and data, whose words make sense, and not just with baseless whims and emotions against critics of their work. I respect those officials who can expose their SALNs and be transparent with government funds, and those who uphold the rule of law. I appreciate leaders who give credit to work done by previous administrations or other agencies. Those who do not ego-boost by putting, not their names and faces on tarpaulins, but the offices they work for as a sign of accountability.
This is not a dream or an exaggeration. This reality exists. We need to know that we have real leaders in our midst who have both the competency and the passion to walk the extra mile for the Filipino people. Let us raise our standard for public servants and remind ourselves what good governance is all about. Let’s find and elect these people in the next election.
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JF Gonzales, 29, is proud to have worked with a former public servant under the Noynoy Aquino administration.
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