Gems in government
The newspapers are filled these days with stories of entire police stations gone rogue and the continuing exposés on government officials who are on the take.
It is not as if the ordinary person did not know these things existed and have been happening since time immemorial.
Media is often accused of being sensationalist and focusing only on the negative. As Henry David Thoreau noted more a century ago: “And I am sure that I never read any memorable news in a newspaper. If we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked, or one steamboat blown up, or one cow run over on the Western Railroad, or one mad dog killed, or one lot of grasshoppers in the winter, - we need never read of another. One is enough. If you are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for a myriad instances and applications?”
I am not so dismissive about this as Thoreau. I believe that the exposure of abuses is important. I also believe that because “media” now includes social media which is more participative, the watchdog function of media has become more effective.
It will need more time before we can fully assess the current administration's attempt to deal with this problem. Certainly, we are seeing erstwhile allies in the elite go after each other as never before. The situation is such that we see even more clearly the pervasiveness of the problem.
I also continue to hold on to the hope that this is indeed a different time. That a more empowered citizenry has dealt a blow to patronage politics in the gains against pork barrel funds and the continued vigilance against the plunderers involved in the Napoles scam.
For these reasons, I tip my hat to the media and other crusaders against corruption.
It is not so much the focus on the corrupt in government that bothers me. It is the lack of recognition for the incorruptible. The sensationalism of media, the feudal nature of our governance systems and the blindness of some groups who style themselves as anti-corruption, are equally involved in this shortcoming.
I too was guilty of this. Having come from the anti-Marcos communist underground, my perception and ideological position was that the majority of government workers were corrupt. I saw the military and police as concrete manifestations of state power used to uphold the interests of the few. Little wonder that the military and the police are even more prone to corruption. The good ones in government served only to deodorize a system that should be overthrown.
Perhaps the majority of our citizens do not have the same radical analysis as I had, but many have the same black and white view of the people in government, especially the police and military.
These attitudes against government personnel need to be nuanced by a reality that I saw upon joining government as an employee of the University of the Philippines.
Not everyone in government is corrupt. The incorruptible are not as few as the one-sided media reports, the cynicism of the Left and the elitism of the upper class, would have us believe.
I will concede that well-designed studies about these government employees need to be undertaken. I cannot tell what percentage of employees are corrupt. We can only guess that some agencies are relatively more corrupt than others.
But there is a reality that is not captured by the mainstream beliefs. The stereotypical picture of government corruption hides the fact that there is a tremendous resource within the civil service that can be energized for reform. And yet, they are ignored and remain hidden. If they are referred to at all, it is for purposes and agendas that are not of their own making.
They are there too
I have traveled the country training policewomen (and some men) on how to respond to violations of our anti-violence law. They ask me the most heartbreaking of questions. The most common one is where, other than their own homes, they might take battered women for shelter. The law mandates shelter, but government has very few. These cops are dedicated and are often more advanced in their thinking about women's issues than their more highly educated upper class sisters.
For one of my research projects I talk to the personnel of some government agencies. I have talked to some of the rank and file of the national statistics office, PhilHealth, GSIS and SSS. The emphasis of our talks has been on making things easier for the citizen. I see how patient they are, explaining over and over again about benefits, procedures, possible solutions.
As a doctor I have met government people who serve in the remote rural areas in outpost schools or health centers. And they are just as much heroes as the urbanized, middle class professional who decides to set up a school or a clinic there.
These are the people who the scalawags hurt when the they besmirch the reputations of their institutions and agencies. These are the people who are insulted by those who make generalizations about the entire government in order to rally people against it.
These are the people who the top bureaucrats, like the current police administration, point too as proof that not all in their command are scalawags. In my mind, this is condemnable. The hard work and integrity of the rank and file must not be used to cover up for their leaders shortcomings and the abuse of the misfits.
These are the people who are at the mercy of the political appointees. The people whose only hope is that the new boss is not abusive and corrupt. The ones who nevertheless know how to survive if the new boss does turn out to be abusive and corrupt.
There are hardly any stories about the clerk who comes to work on time for decades, does her job with fidelity and is helpful to her co-workers. There is, after all, nothing dramatic about daily service to the ordinary citizen, carried out to the best of one's ability, often in demoralizing conditions.
Yet it is people like these whose ideas and integrity we need to harness. We forget that systems and policies are only part of the answer. More important are the people who implement them. It is the presence of competent and incorruptible people that every sincere government supervisor should not ignore if they are to be successful managers.
We must continue to give people such as these not only encouragement and recognition. Systems and procedures need to be put in place to assure an environment where the competent and incorruptible flourish. And there is enough experience and knowledge to get this done. It is only a question of political will.
Without such reforms, scalawags will dominate, their exploits will get exposed, the general public will remain alienated from the institutions they should invest in. Absent that, the good people in government will just need to find it in themselves to carry on.
I am not saying that all that these people need is praise or consultation. Our civil servants should organize and fight for better salaries and working conditions.
But it would be a disservice to say that this is all they are interested in, given that they show every day that they serve for interests beyond the personal. And so, I hope that even this small bit of support will be appreciated.
Mine may be a small voice but I will shout with it nonetheless. To those of you who get up each day to do the right thing for our people – thank you. I can only hope that greater validation, in the form of real support, will come your way soon. - Rappler.com
Sylvia Estrada-Claudio is a doctor of medicine who also holds a PhD in Psychology. She is Professor of the Department of Women and Development Studies, College of Social Work and Community Development, University of the Philippines. She is also co-founder and Chair of the Board of Likhaan Center for Women's Health.