Controversy surrounding Bong Go “protégé” Christopher Lao highlights Philippines’ dysfunctional civil service system

The brouhaha at the Department of Budget Management (DBM) caused by Senator Bong Go’s protégé Christopher Lao, former Undersecretary at the Presidential Management Staff–Office of the Special Assistant to the President, has brought to fore the issue of how political patronage and the bureaucracy contribute to the culture of corruption in government. It’s not wise to speculate on the outcome of the investigation into his alleged involvement in extortion but there is the issue of the appointment of unqualified individuals to government posts. The concept of civil service is the bureaucrats would be appointed on the basis of qualification standards and promotion given on the results of performance evaluation and continuing education. But this is not the case with our government. Undersecretary and Assistant Secretary positions are given out on the basis of the candidate’s “MBA” — May Backer Ako. This works both ways in case Sen. Franklin Drilon is reading this. His brother Cesar, has been a long-term appointee at the country’s de facto embassy in Taiwan, the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO).

Senator Ping Lacson, for his part, has disclosed in several fora that he is not for new taxes in a bid to increase government revenues. He would rather ensure that the national budget allotments are spent for the specified purpose and that the practice of pork barrel funds for Senators and Congressmen is stopped. His proposal of adopting the zero-based budget process focuses on the need to determine outcomes after the time period for the allotment has expired. This is a variation of his proposed Budget Reform and Village Empowerment (BRAVE) Bill which specifies allotments of development funds to local government units (LGUs) up to the barangay level which is not subject to the control of the national government or the Congressmen of the LGU.

The development funds would be released on a quarterly basis to each local government unit (LGU). Under the bill, provinces would receive P500M – P1 billion per year, cities up to P200 million per year, municipalities P50 million to P100 million per year and barangays up to P3 million to P5 million per year. The local development fund (LDF) for each province, city or town will be based on the 50 percent of the prescribed amount for first-class LGUs, 60 percent of the prescribed amount for second-class LGUs, 70 percent of the prescribed amount for third-class LGUs, 80 percent of the prescribed amount for fourth-class LGUs, 90 percent of the prescribed amount for fifth-class LGUs, and 100 percent of the prescribed amount for sixth-class LGUs.

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Lacson is also the first to propose the digitization of the bureaucracy in order to minimize corruption and speed up transactions of the public with government departments and agencies. This is essential in moving forward with the mindset that the pandemic is endemic and that lockdowns should be granular instead of covering a large area which hinders economic activities.

The Opposition, on the other hand, continue to indulge in politicking which is detrimental to the public interest. Vice President Leni Robredo’s “solutions” are nothing but PR stunts designed to make her popular but without much impact in addressing the needs of the public during this challenging time. Lacson’s scrutiny of the 2022 budget serves a specific purpose because if it happens that he and Senate President Tito Sotto emerge as winners in the May 2022 election, this is the budget they will be working with for the remainder of the year. This is why it is imperative on the public to focus on the issues in this election and not the sideshow that politicking brings. If only Vice President Leni Robredo would present a platform of government to the public like Lacson does. It’s easy to fall into the trap of negative campaigning but at this point, there is simply too much at stake. We need to find innovative and out-of-the-box solutions to the problems we face.

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