Repairing the ship as we sail it | Inquirer Opinion
On The Move

Repairing the ship as we sail it

When Marcos Sr. declared martial law, the first thing he did was to decree the Integrated Reorganization Plan as Presidential Decree No. 1. That reorganization plan took four years to formulate and update. Previous plans under President Magsaysay failed because partly rejected by Congress, the opposition of the agencies concerned, ambiguous provisions of the plans, compliance with the letter but not the spirit of the plans, and lack of resolute executive action.

When Corazon Aquino became president, she issued in two weeks an executive order creating the Presidential Commission on Government Reorganization. Some 36 years after, the bureaucracy has become seriously overstaffed but undermanned.

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The lessons are similar. It takes a Marcos Sr. “revolution from the center” or a Cory Aquino revolutionary government to even initiate a serious reorganization effort. In the long run, the gene of gigantism and malformation resurfaces in the bureaucracy. Bureaucratic sculpting succumbs to backsliding. There is no substitute to a system where bureaucratic housecleaning, like janitorial work, happens every day.

Now the Marcos Jr. administration has committed itself to “rightsizing” the government without command powers or even a contrived revolutionary atmosphere. How far will rightsizing go? Not too far unless the President, Cabinet, and consultants mitigate these 10 risks:

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1) Rightsizing for the wrong reasons. The idea of rightsizing is inspired by the consequences of recent calamities such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the Duterte administration. It is seen more as a belt-tightening measure than as an effort to make the government more responsive to the objective and felt needs of the people.

2) No ready-made study and plan to enact. The Marcos Jr. administration will have to start from scratch, or foolishly attempt a top-to-bottom government reorganization without a real study and strategy.

3) Rightsizing detracts from the urgent business of government. It is building and repairing a bureaucracy that has left the port and is now sailing toward ambitious destinations. There is not enough time, resources, effort, and commitment to achieve both.

4) Rightsizing requires executive leadership and moral suasion. The captain of the ship is a politician with experience but no demonstrated skill as a navigator and commander of the ship of state. Rightsizing will make a carnival of inexperience.

5) The bureaucracy does not have the fluency for rightsizing. The ethos and systems of rightsizing will be lost in translation as it moves down the bureaucratic hierarchy, where executives will exercise human discretion.

6) Rightsizing strikes fear in the hearts of government employees and their families. It will be the “laglag bala” (airport extortion scheme) of our time. All the job orders, contractual, casuals, and other endo types in government will be distressed and cast about for padrinos. Based on our experience so far, not even a Career Executive Service Eligibility or rank, the gold standard of career security, will prevent an official’s marginalization and consignment to the dustbin of the bureaucracy.

7) Rightsizing will mobilize a musical chair grab for government employment. Family members, relatives, schoolmates, and townmates will badger government officials to secure government positions. Like any crisis, rightsizing will open great opportunities for career advancement.

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8) Rightsizing will be like dancing without music. There will be no time to enact the necessary laws, pilot and calibrate the implementing rules and regulations before being finalized, and create the systems for implementing the new rules and regulations. The whole bureaucracy will dance, but each unit to their own “music.”

9) Rightsizing will victimize the defenseless. The finality of separation falls on the poor, vulnerable, disadvantaged, and marginalized employees. All others will seek exemptions or appeal their cases.

10) Rightsizing will be the ultimate witch-hunt. In a land where a missing copy of a statement of assets and liabilities is puffed up to be the excuse for the removal of a chief justice of the Supreme Court, everybody except cronies and enablers huddled with the president are fair game.

There are lessons to be learned from this impending episode of rightsizing. Unfortunately, when the “father of the nation” shoots himself in the foot, the whole nation bears the pain. Ang sakit ng kalingkingan ay damdam ng buong katawan. (Pain in the little toe radiates to the whole body.)

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TAGS: Bongbong Marcos, Cory Aquino, martial law
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