Thursday, October 21, 2021

Carvajal: Silent slayer

Break Point

No, I am not talking about a silent killer of people but about a most efficient slayer of competence and honesty in government offices at all levels, the padrino system. It runs silent behind the scenes with devastating effect.

Padrino is Spanish for sponsor. As the word implies, we inherited the system from Spanish colonizers. During much of the latter’s time no Indio was good enough to occupy a high position in government. The only way to get there, if ever, was to get a political heavyweight to back you up or be your padrino.

The problem is that now that we are independent and capable of governing ourselves, we still use the padrino system (palakasan system as we now call it) to snag high and low positions in government. We actually use this system in business, in schools and even in religious institutions but it is in top government positions that it has the most negative impact on people’s lives.

It slays competence and honesty thus shorting the delivery of social services because applicants are not vetted for required qualifications but selected on the strength of a padrino’s political pull. We are all too familiar with the system’s mantra: “It’s not what you know but who you know.” Thus, someone more qualified may not get the job if somebody though less qualified has a more powerful padrino.

President Duterte is currently ramping up his fight against corruption and could be looking into the competence and integrity of government officials including, as he claims, his Cabinet secretaries. If I know Filipinos, those officials with indiscretions that might appear as a blip in the President’s radar could right now be scrambling for padrinos to help them hang on to their positions or get moved laterally to a position of the same pay grade.

That’s not all the damage though. Padrinos come with a price usually monetary at lower levels like when a school supervisor demands for the first month’s salary of someone he helped get a teaching position. But the more damaging price to competence and integrity at higher levels is when the padrino demands as payment for the favor that he/she gets to appoint, say, the undersecretaries or assistant secretaries or chiefs of staff of the Cabinet secretary he has helped to keep his/her job or to move laterally to a comparable position. You can bet the padrino’s appointees are not vetted for competence and honesty either.

I am not saying this is happening now. It’s just that palakasan is still a prevailing system in this country and could, for all we know, be at work now that juicy top positions are at stake. I write in the hope that President Duterte eschew padrinos and vet applicants to high positions mainly for competence and integrity.


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