MANILA, April 25, 2008 (STAR) By Isa Lorenzo And Malou Mangahas Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism - President Arroyo herself gives the lie to her administration’s avowed efforts to trim the bureaucracy of excess personnel.

A 2008 study by the Civil Service Commission (CSC) lists Arroyo’s office as the agency with the biggest number of undersecretaries, assistant secretaries, advisers, assistants and consultants in excess of caps set by law, and without civil service eligibility.

What to do with these Arroyo appointees is the acid test that Ricardo Lirag Saludo must hurdle in his new post as CSC chairman with a fixed seven-year tenure.

From 2002 and until he was nominated to the CSC last Monday, Saludo had served as secretary to the Cabinet and is known everywhere as a rabid defender and loyal functionary of Arroyo.

Saludo now recognizes that the “bloated bureaucracy” is “clearly an issue” but whether he will move against his boss of seven years, and her political friends and allies, bears watching.

On October 2, 2004, Arroyo issued Executive Order 366 directing “a strategic review of the operations and organizations of the Executive Branch and providing options and incentives for government employees who may be affected by the rationalization of the functions and agencies.”

The EO instructed all departments and agencies of the executive branch, as well as government-owned and controlled corporations, to scale down, phase out, abolish, deactivate, merge, consolidate and regularize any and all agencies that do not deliver “quality public service.”

As well, the EO sought to rationalize and improve “the quality and efficiency of government services delivery by eliminating/minimizing overlaps and duplication.”

Last January, members of the Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE) marched to protest what they claimed was the impending retrenchment of about 420,000 civil servants.

But the CSC has clarified that only the 700,000 employees of the executive branch, and not all the 1.4-million civil service workforce, would be affected by the rationalization program.

Political hires exempted

Under EO 366, an employee may choose, “on a voluntary basis,” early retirement or transfer to a similar position in another office.

COURAGE national president Ferdinand Gaite avers that last January alone, a total of 8,120 personnel from the National Food Authority, Metro Manila Development Authority, Senate, Bureau of Customs, Bureau of Internal Revenue, and Department of Social Welfare and Development were in line for retrenchment.

In July 2005, at a dialogue on EO 366 attended by 90 managers and union leaders of national government agencies, civil servants decried the exemption that the order accorded Arroyo’s executive hires.

A report said that government workers expressed their “anxiety” at the forum thus: “Presidential and political appointees must be the first to go. In past reorganization efforts, although positions were dissolved, others were created by political action, especially at the top management level.”

Indeed, Arroyo is the biggest violator of her own EO.

Karina Constantino-David ended her seven-year term as CSC chairperson on February 1, 2008, with a final broadside. “You didn’t have this kind of excess in any previous administration,” David told the PCIJ in an interview.

A 2008 CSC study that David disclosed last January shows that Arroyo has hired an excess of 81 undersecretaries and assistant secretaries, apart from 53 presidential advisers and presidential assistants, and an unknown number of consultants.

The Administrative Code of 1987 and various laws, executive orders and administrative orders stipulate that there should be at most 163 undersecretaries and assistant secretaries in the 24 executive departments.

But the Office of the President has the biggest number of excess hires for these positions at 31, followed by the Department of National Defense with eight, according to the study.

The Department of Agrarian Reform comes in third with seven excess hires, then the departments of Health, Justice, Foreign Affairs, and Interior and Local Government, with four excess hires each, the study said.

Big numbers still

Other official sources offer slightly different, but similarly big, numbers of excess hires.

The 2008 Government Directory published by the Department of Budget and Management lists the names of 14 undersecretaries, nine assistant secretaries, 42 presidential assistants, two advisers, and one special envoy under the Office of the President.

An online directory of personnel posted on Malacañang’s official web site lists 34 presidential advisers, 34 presidential assistants, three special envoys and three consultants, all in the Office of the President proper.

In addition, the Office of the President’s Staff Directory enrolls the personnel of the Executive Secretary, Presidential Management Staff, Presidential Legislative Liaison Office, and the Private Offices of the President (Protocol, Appointments, Correspondence, Internal House Affairs).

This supplemental list names 30 other Arroyo appointees with the rank of undersecretary (11 persons), deputy executive secretary (7), assistant secretary (4), regional development officer (3), presidential liaison officer (3), special assistant to the President (2), and dozens more directors and executive assistants.

To be sure, David affirms that Arroyo’s predecessors Joseph Estrada and Corazon Aquino have had their fair share of political appointees.

Aquino came to power in “an unusual situation” and had to rebuild government from scratch, hence so many of her managers were political appointees without civil-service eligibility, David reckoned.

But in his first administrative order, Estrada directed members of his Cabinet to respect the positions of career service executive officers in their respective departments, David said.

By 1999, two reports said Estrada had hired 20 presidential consultants, 22 presidential advisers, and 28 presidential assistants, or a total of 70.

Fidel V. Ramos, political tutor and patron to Arroyo, only had a handful of advisers.

Yet unlike Ramos, and despite her issuance of EO 366 supposedly to trim the bureaucracy, Arroyo made the bureaucracy fatter at the top.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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