Two good bureaucrats
Some community organizers believe they have discovered a major cause of much of their disappointment over the years. The fault, they believe, lies not only in the very top government officials but also, and maybe more so, in the members of the bureaucracy. These are the midlevel civil service employees of the republic in every government agency, who are supposed to implement top-level policy but who, in the words of one urban poor leader, “spend their days working to reject, distort and delay all the plans that would make life a little happier for the poor.”
These community organizers are studying the role of bureaucracies in history, and will report their findings in two months. They will give us directions on how to deal with bureaucrats.
In Tacloban we sat outside the city council session hall, waiting to see Vice Mayor Jerry Yaokasin. We were 14 fishermen, two fishermen’s wives, two community organizers, an engineer, my wife Alice and myself. We could see through the glass partition that separated us from the session hall the simple paraphernalia of democracy—a seat for the presiding officer, a row of desks for the councilors, and seats for the petitioners. There were microphones but I don’t think these would ever be needed because the whole hall was about the size of two average classrooms. Democracy doesn’t take a great deal of room. Dictators need pomp and symbols, marching bands and thousands of flags.
Soon the vice mayor arrived, and after introductions we asked his permission to base our artificial reef construction project along the beach in Payapay, Barangay 89-90, in San Jose District, and to put our “reefs” in the waters there. It is an area that was mauled by “Yolanda,” and where over 480 persons died.
Fishing is poor now throughout Leyte Gulf; the stocks of fish are down. We seek to build artificial reefs, using the concrete rubble that litters the beach and the remains of the grand houses of the well-off people who once had their vacation houses there. We also want to set up a fishermen’s wharf where the fishermen can prepare their catch for sale and then market it in a co-op manner. The women will have a place where they can prepare fish filets for sale, debone the bangus, collect crab meat, and cook fish soup for sale in the city.
We asked Vice Mayor Yaokasin to help us with all these plans. He could have told us that everything that we wanted was outside the scope of his office. I suspect it was. Most bureaucrats would have told us that, and everyone would have gone away sullen and disappointed. Instead, he called Noel Ligtas from the city’s agricultural department, a man connected with maritime matters, who came, looked at our pictures and sketches, and told us we had a good plan and he would help us. He promised to get a marine scientist to show us where to put the concrete reefs in the waters. He promised other help.
We left the session hall after taking pictures, making plans to meet again, and saying goodbye. We were tempted to say a prayer in the session hall, our symbol of democracy.
Later that day we went to the Bureau of Fisheries to meet Regional Director Juan Albaladejo. We had talked to him before about our plan. He, too, was helpful. He promised the fishermen help in protecting their fishing and fish production areas. He pledged an ice cooler to help us prepare the fish for market, and promised to help us build the wooden buildings needed for the wharf, and to find marine divers to help us put our reefs in a proper place. He and the Vice Mayor said they didn’t have cash for work, but directed us to the Department of Labor and Employment and the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
As in the vice mayor’s office we left the bureau with gratitude to the regional director.
We ask government bureaucrats to treat the poor as the vice mayor and the regional director did. Be positive. Help and don’t discourage. The poor are not the problem, and the poor don’t expect miracles.
Government officials have distanced themselves from the poor. It’s hard to believe that the government cannot provide every man P260 a day if he is willing to work to support his family. We can spend billions of pesos on roads and flyovers in Metro Manila. They won’t support a government, but happy working people will. Women, too, need work. Help them farm, care for the sick and aged, and make beautiful objects for sale. A simpler way to ease traffic is to cut down on the number of cars.
The two fishermen’s wives in our group told me that their children are often sick with diarrhea and fever, now much more often than before. There is only one feeding program they know of, which gives porridge to children once a week. Food is a problem, they said. But the big need is for jobs. Can the government find some time to care for its poor and vulnerable? These are hard times for the fishermen; there are very few fish or crabs.
Can we have Senate hearings on the problems of the poor? Maybe such hearings would help. We will let you know how to deal with bureaucracies.
Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates ([email protected]).