Retiring with a smile-A A +A
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
RETIRED but obviously not tired assistant ombudsman Virginia Palanca-Santiago has always been high-profile, at least in Cebu.
I remember joining her and a few other personalities in a forum organized by students of the University of San Carlos a few years ago. When it was her turn to speak, Santiago got the audience’s attention by her stories about government service and dealing with public officials. She wasn’t bombastic but she spoke with a conviction laced with humor. After the forum, students gathered around her like she was a movie star.
After serving the Office of the Ombudsman-Visayas for 16 years, Santiago has retired and she will be missed primarily because she became virtually the face of that office for more than a decade. Reporters sought her out when they needed information about the status of cases filed against government officials, and she accommodated them willingly.
Sun.Star’s story on her retirement yesterday described her as “one of ombud’s tireless officials.” But she wasn’t just tireless, many consider her as incorruptible, too, which says much about people’s perception of her work in the anti-graft office. She was also proud of not using the “padrino” system to push her up the promotion ladder.
Indeed, among the more memorable acts she did during her stint in the anti-graft office were her attempts (twice?) to snag the post of Deputy Ombudsman even without big-name politicians backing her up. She failed every time. That didn’t mean her good deeds weren’t recognized. The post of assistant ombudsman, I reckon, was created for her instead.
“Ma’am Virgie,” as she is called, is proof that a good person can retain his/her sanity, or even thrive, even while working in the country’s graft-ridden bureaucracy.
I used to think this is impossible in, say, the Bureau of Customs. But in the end it all boils down to character. One can stay honest as a public servant if one decides to.
Then again, Santiago would not have survived had she not known how to compromise. It’s called pragmatism. I could sense a mellowing in her in the last few years of her stint, especially during the latter part of the administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo when corruption became rampant and the Office of the Ombudsman generally looked
the other way.
Many high-profile cases against some local government officials that Santiago and her office investigated ended up being mothballed. Like a good soldier, she didn’t let out even a whimper to complain. And she refused to talk about these cases in public, specifically with reporters. That can be considered a fault as it rendered her office ineffective.
It didn’t help that she got caught a number of times in the political conflict in Cebu City and the province. A politician or two lambasted her for the investigations her office conducted and for her openness to talk about controversial cases in the media.
I think this is among the reasons she chose to recede in the background later.
Overall, however, this fault is merely a small blemish in the largely positive public review of Santiago’s stint in the anti-graft office. I could imagine her retiring with a smile and head held high.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on July 18, 2012.