POSTSCRIPT / September 30, 2014 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Opinion Columnist

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Gov’t job a shackle to a vow of poverty?

POOR WORKERS: In fairness to more than 1.3 million Filipinos in the civil service, we ask: Does working for the government mean taking a vow of poverty?

Do the children of government employees deserve less than the amenities, creature comforts, better schooling and occasional indulgence enjoyed by those whose parents are in the private sector?

These questions popped after I heard a popular radio personality demanding with ringing righteousness why So-and-So, a bureau official, drives an SUV (sports utility vehicle) when he is “only” a government worker.

The radio commentator prattled about the need for a closer scrutiny of government officials’ SALNs (statements of assets, liabilities and net worth) and the waiving of their right to the secrecy of their bank accounts.

His point about the SALN is well taken as this is required by law, but I have my misgivings about a discriminatory disclosure of their private bank accounts without an order of a competent court.

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LEGIT EXTRA INCOME: With their comparatively low pay, government employees should be given a chance to earn extra money provided it does not conflict with their work and the laws against taking bribes or commissions and other prohibited acts.

There are many decent ways civil servants who have the time and talent for it can legally earn extra income without jeopardizing their office responsibilities.

It is understood that whatever family business they may engage in outside the office must not compromise their work schedule and performance.

For some employees who have worked hard and managed their finances well, or who were not exactly that “poor” to begin with, or have legitimate family businesses, an SUV is no big deal.

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MODEST LIVES: There is this admonition in Article XI (Accountability of Public Officers) of the Constitution that says in Section 1:

“Public office is a public trust. Public officers and employees must, at all times, be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency; act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.”

My layman’s interpretation of leading a modest life is that the public official who has served well must still live within the law and his legitimate means and never flaunt his earthly possessions.

There are other limitations for officials such as being prohibited from influence-peddling, engaging in any profession, appearing as private counsel in a court case and being materially interested in a contract or transaction with the government.

If I may add, officials should lead exemplary public lives and serve with honesty – to be a role model for school children and the mass of underpaid employees in government.

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4-DAY WEEK: If the idea behind the four-day work week in government agencies in Metro Manila is only to ease traffic congestion in the metropolis, the Civil Service Commission better rethink it.

The scheme will see personnel working from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. from Monday through Thursday to complete a 40-hour work week. It will spawn other problems that can negate whatever little improvement in traffic flow results from it.

Everything and everyone must be re-oriented first. There seems to be minimal integration of the four-day plan with other aspects of life and work in the metropolis where some two million people drive or commute daily to and from work.

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OVERSTRESSED: Efficiency drops when personnel who are used to working eight hours daily are suddenly made to labor 10 hours. The human body, especially after going through chaotic traffic and foul weather, can stand only so much stress and strain.

Going home late at night, workers will reach home two hours later than before. In many cases, they still have to cook or reheat a late supper, then look after the needs of their children who will go to school very early the next morning.

The public clientele of the offices opening only for four days but for extended 10 hours into the night will have to readjust transaction schedules and reset other errands they normally run after 5 p.m.

Chaotic public transportation will still be there, because buses and jeepneys will just adjust their pickup time to the 7 p.m. dismissal of workers. Note that office flexi-time is not allowed – meaning a worker cannot report an hour earlier/later and knock off an hour earlier/later.

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GREENPEACE SETBACK: Media colleagues who thought that the powerful European pressure group Greenpeace could intimidate the Supreme Court seem to have misread the writing on the wall.

The SC has junked Greenpeace’s demand that it exclude a major non-governmental organization composed of scientists from being heard in the case before it regarding an eggplant variety developed through biotechnology. The SC allowed the group to intervene in the case.

Greenpeace had mobilized top lawyers to ensure that the scientific group does not get its voice heard in the case. The lawyers had put together a derisive position against the scientists that many wondered why Greenpeace was deathly afraid of them.

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PEST-RESISTANT: The SC case has to do with a petition by Filipino scientists to junk a stop-order of the Court of Appeals against field trials being done by the scientists for the pesticide-free Bt Talong, an eggplant variety that is genetically pest-resistant.

The CA issued the stop-order at the behest of Greenpeace which had long fought efforts by the University of the Philippines-Los Baños (UPLB) to propagate pesticide-free crop varieties developed through biotechnology.

It looks like there were many stakeholders who were excluded and whose voices were not heard when Greenpeace was still working on the CA to follow its bidding.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 30, 2014)

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