[OPINION] Civil servants


It is time I talked about a large number of people who truly love the country and have done their best – the lowly career civil servants.

It has been months that I have been meaning to write this. I couldn’t. I will never know for sure that I am doing the right thing.

Because for me, and those who serve that I admire, the first rule of our service is not to brag about it. This is our highest calling. To serve our people is a work that demands the best of what we are and can be. It is the bottomline that makes us come on time, put in the hours, do the overtime and go home with our meager pay. Why brag about anything you do as a public servant when the mere fact that the people pay our salaries and give us the power to run their institutions is enough glory, honor, and flattery?

We do not ask whether Mang Pandoy or Aling Nena or Intoy Isko deserve our courtesy and efficiency. They definitely do. Rather, we ask whether we deserve the salaries they pay us. The situation is reversed for the civil servant. We ask not whether the people deserve our services but whether we deserve to be the ones to bring that service to them.

It is a never-ending task to serve and serve better. The good people in the civil service know that excellence and going-beyond is just what we should do – we are astounded when we are asked, “At ano naman ang ginawa mo para sa bayan?” Or even, “Perpekto ka ba?” We do our best but it is never enough and never the best. As long as there is a Filipino out there who is poor, or hungry or oppressed. It is not enough. Ano ang ginawa ko para sa bayan? Kulang na kulang po.

Many of us have spent years of service, have tried our best to be excellent at our jobs, have safeguarded the people’s money in their tens or in their billions in the vouchers we certify. Wala po kaming nagawa. Nanilbihan lang po. Buong buhay po. Wala naman yun.

There are thousands of us in government. The messenger, the doctor, the scientist, the administrative officer, the lawyer, the soldier. And we go on even if people around us steal, manipulate their power and self aggrandize in ways that make us squirm. We serve by displaying the same faith in our people – even if our bosses in the upper echelons of power never honor our work.

Honor and excellence

I joined government when I became a substitute instructor at the UP College of Social Work and Community Development. I didn’t have many responsibilities then. Except the rather grave one of shaping the young men and women who came to my class. I needed to teach them the most cutting-edge theories, give them up-to-date information.

While staying within the syllabus, I had to teach them the habits of life-long learning that would make them better citizens – critical thinking, compassion, love of our people. And I needed to make this enjoyable for them. I figured that since I was teaching the crème de la crème at the national university – it spoke very poorly of me as a teacher if anyone failed. I would come to class each session, teach until the end of the session. I would agonize about giving grades fairly and on time.

In order to do this, I had to make sure I read everything I could on the subject I taught. I had to test the things I taught against the realities of this poor country. I do not know when I began to realize what truth lay in UP’s motto: honor and excellence.

And sure, there were lousy colleagues. Those who sexually harassed students, those who bragged about their accomplishments instead of telling students that surpassing the teacher is always the goal of the teacher, those who delighted at failing half their classes regularly, those who gave everyone the same high grade because they couldn’t be bothered to compute, those who made learning so difficult satisfying their sadism, all the while claiming that they were doing this to teach their students about the real world.

I have since been promoted and have held positions of greater responsibility. And all it has done is call for more humility. To serve those who work under you and with you as hard as you serve the public. To ensure even more that I use my power even more responsibly.

The ethics of service

Part of being in government is knowing your place and role and the ethics of that job. And each of us has to learn the ethics of this. One of my students, a former soldier said, “I still find it difficult to have a political opinion because we soldiers must not be engaged in politics and follow civilian rule.”

As for me, I cannot dream of not being a critic because that is my role as a public intellectual. The clerk, the receptionist, the book keeper, the accountant and the judge – our jobs demand different standards of excellence. But if you are a public servant, you find out what your job demands.

If you are an information officer, you don’t spread fake news. If you are in the justice system you don’t pervert the system for the sake of political vendettas. And if you are in any way the appointing authority you make sure the people you appoint are qualified. Loyalty to you as a person is no match to loyalty to the institution and the standards of service.

Perpekto ka ba? Hindi. Tao lang. Ang dami-dami naming taong mataas ang kalidad ang serbisyo. And it is an insult, an absolute insult, to the men and women I have met in government service when incompetents, charlatans, power trippers are appointed merely because they are sycophants to the appointing authority.

And when you criticize the true public servant because we made a mistake we do not arrogantly defend ourselves by saying, “Are you, yourself perfect?” We do not defend ourselves by asking, “What have you done for the country?” As if criticizing us is an insult to the country and work we do. And we do not make “pity me” statements that we did not want the job and we are so aggrieved because we have to serve.

Our current leaders should know this. They come and go. But a core of career civil servants keeps the government going. They help the government survive every round of carpet-baggers and charlatans our broken political system throws into leadership.

Perpekto ka ba? Wala namang perpekto. Nguni’t napakaraming mahusay at tapat. Hindi nila ito sinisingil o ipagmamalaki. Kasi po, trabaho lang, serbisyo lang. Tao lang na sumusubok maging anghel dahil bayan ang ipinaglalaban.Rappler.com

Sylvia Estrada Claudio is currently the Dean of the College of Social Work and Community Development, University of the Philippines