Government Blues: The Sad Truth About Working for the Government

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Last August 1, on our eleventh year anniversary,  a few days after I started this blog. I meet up with my fiance for dinner and he reveals to  me some very disturbing news; their positions in Subic are uncertain because of some controversy that the agency is going through.

(Side story: my whacked guilt complex immediately thought I probably jinxed things because I wrote about being a desperate subic housewife even before my move became final.  Self-centered much? :))

The absolute sad truth is, his boss had nothing to do with whatever anomaly that was happening.  People find this hard to believe,  but he really just does want to do legitimate work in the department. Those people directly involved in the fiasco weren’t even his people, they were inherited from a previous administration.

But because it happened under his watch, and because there are plenty officials  in government who want their own guys in his position, his post is being threatened. And because my fiance is co-terminus with his boss, if anything happens, he will also lose his job.

After weeks of countless hearings and meetings,  I seriously thought things were starting to stabilize.

But then there was another bombshell.  Friends who were in another agency were leaving their posts because their boss is the current flavor of the month of the media lynch mob.

Aaaand, wait for it: By some twisted government fate, word on the street is, this controversial official might end up getting re-assigned to Subic, to replace fiance’s boss. (Disclaimer: this is just speculation among countless other speculations, nothing has been confirmed. Need to clarify before someone decides to take me too seriously. Still a bit disconcerting though).

What a trip. It’s like Melrose Place meets West Wing  (just realized that the younger generation might not get my allusions to dated TV shows. Um… Gossip girl rigodon with the Game of Thrones power struggle.. is that better?? Sorry!! I have antiquated pop media knowledge).

The thing is, when my fiance started working for the government, it really didn’t take me long to realize that it was nothing like what we envisioned it to be.  Like every idealistic, optimistic citizen, I figured that if your intentions were in the right place, and if you just did your job the way it’s supposed to be done, you have the capacity to promote change. But things are never that clear-cut.

Here were some hard lessons I learned while living vicariously through my boyfriend’s experience.

1. The government isn’t a telenovela. People are not divided into heroes and villains. 

My first awareness of the Philippine government was during the Martial Law time, when Marcos was about to be ousted. In those days,  it was very easy to distinguish the protagonists from the antagonists. The heroes were in yellow and green. The bad guys were in red and blue (I was six years old. Cut me some slack). In that era of turmoil, when every act defiance against a clear-cut dictator could be deemed life-threatening,  even pre-pubescent children  can identify who they were going to root for.

But after everything stabilized, lines and colors became blurry and you were just left with alot of gray. Even politicians who we would like to canonize as saints have their shortcomings when it comes to running the country, and those who we think bartered their souls to the devil have nuggets of good and greatness left in them.

The thing is, I think the Philippine society still has that tendency to over simplify things. Our natural tendency is to separate the “good guys”  from the “bad guys” .

I think it would be much, much better for us as a society to really stick to issues and what’ s actually being said instead of rooting for personalities and clamoring for a real-life version of Walang Hanggan (grabe that series has the most caricature-like depiction of good and evil. It’s so riveting! If you need drama in your life, let go of TV Patrol and watch that instead).

2. We can’t rely on the media to  stick to the facts either

Call me naive, but I was truly utterly shocked when I learned that certain  media people were on the take. They spin stories in certain ways either to sensationalize  and give them more airtime/coverage, or to protect politicians that their companies were siding with.

I didn’t really believe it at first. It sounds like something a vindictive official would say to explain why he’s being lambasted in the news. But I actually saw it happening. There were  “reputable” reporters who would refuse to run another side of the story without asking for some sort of compensation, those who would ask officials how they wanted to “spin” certain stories and even much worse (at least in my book), journalists who would just take out lies out of their asses and masquerade them as facts.

Here’s an easily verifiable example: A certain Subic reporter, who was very unhappy with the changes my fiance’s boss was trying to make, wrote a scathing article about how fiance’s boss did not know what he was doing and was sending the agency to ruins. In that piece, the columnist gives a brief background on him and claims that he was the reason why a certain private company (he was a retired  corporate executive before he took this post in Subic) went into financial bankruptcy. I balked at this last piece of information because a bunch of my batchmates had worked under him when he was in the said company. He came in when they were losing money and totally turned everything around. You can easily check the company records to verify this. I really didn’t understand where the columnist got the basis for this malicious claim.

Just very recently too,  our friends’ boss  (same official mentioned above) has been demonized by the media for engaging in “suspicious” behavior. I’m not privvy to this official’s  business nor can I vouch for his character, but it seems extremely unfair to prematurely hurl accusations at him and deduce conclusions from the little facts that were presented.

What’s doubly frustrating is that people actually eat this crap up. I’ve long stopped giving me two cents worth when it comes to political scandals  because I’ve become increasingly aware that, like the rest of the public, what I know is nothing close to what’s really happening (once in a while, I give in to the urge to vent though…sorry Tito Sen. I restrained myself for the longest time, but you made it soooo easy). I just refuse to brandish my ignorance and add to the muddled clutter of “truths”  people seem to delight in exposing.

3. The inability for the system to change isn’t just because of corrupt government officials or a flawed system

There is corruption in the government. Granted. From entry-level clerks to high officials, there are anomalies that happen every single day in every single department. But there are also well-meaning officials who would like to turn things around. The thing is, not only do they have to fight a flawed system, but they also have to deal with adversity from ordinary citizens who  feel entitled to take what they can take from the government, but refuse to make the sacrifice to make things better.

It’s very frustrating for me to hear people whine and whine about what the government is not doing or how things could be better if we had better roads, less corruption etc. But when push comes to shove, these same people will not give up their own personal comfort to cooperate with officials. Like what JFK said, it’s always what the country can do for us, and never what we can do for the country.

When my fiance was working for a councilor in a particular city, they were bombarded with monetary requests from various informal settlers who needed certain things. There were the usual solicitations, asking for help because their son was in the hospital, they needed money because they needed to pay they next semester’s tuition fee etc. And there were ridiculous requests. The worst I’ve heard, people asking for donations for gay pageants or  raffle prizes for Christmas parties. Wtf right?? Seriously? You’re asking for tax payers’ money to pay for your tiaras???

When you would explain to these people that their requests cannot be granted because there were citizens that needed to be prioritized, they would throw a fit. To them, because they voted for this particular official, they were “entitled” to get dole outs from them whenever they needed it. They would totally disregard the fact that budget allotted could be put into better use.

And that mentality isn’t even exclusive to formal settlers. In Subic, my fiance’s agency is currently looking into imposing CUSA on residents  so they could pay for basic services (security, lighting, road maintenance). CUSA. I know every single building and village in the Philippines impose this on their lessors. And it’s not as if these residents do not have money. As a matter of fact, to prove a point, they have hired a lawyer (whose professional fee is  probably  much more expensive than the actual amount being asked of them) to stop this from being implemented.

Efforts to meet them halfway or to explain the current state of the agency have been met with scorn and suspicion. It astounds me how supposedly highly educated people refuse reasonable efforts for improvement because it will cost them a bit more.

I know I’m not the one in government. But alot of people close to me are. People who actually want to make legitimate changes for the country. It’s very painful to watch my fiance’s frustration especially since I know his heart is in the right place. Truth be told, a career in government (especially when you’re not engaging in shady business) does not pay alot.  His peers are earning double or triple of what he’s getting. He augments his salary by taking  two or three short-term consultancy jobs at a time.  Thus, not only is he getting payed peanuts compared to most of them, he  probably works doubly hard to earn a fraction of what they’re getting.

I know my fiance’s predicament is not unique. And there are probably hundreds of them just like him, from blue-collared government workers to higher -up officials, who are trudging on despite the difficulties of their respective circumstances because they believe in what they’re doing.

And I guess I just want to give a shout out to these men and women. I want you guys to know that there are actually people who are rooting for you. People who are aware of the personal sacrifices you had to make to work for a thankless job,  to serve ungrateful citizens. I honestly don’t know how you still manage to do your job well despite all the negativity.

So cheers to each one of you. Like you, I’m praying that your efforts will one day bear fruit.

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