Tell it to SunStar: The hiring epidemic

Tell it to SunStar
Tell it to SunStarSunStar file photo

By Herman M. Lagon

A pervasive epidemic has long infiltrated our government institutions, with “lagay” (bribe or grease money) and “palakasan” (favoritism, including nepotism, its subset) serving as the virulent pathogens. These unwelcome elements have transformed into a widespread contagion, deeply entrenched in public sector hiring practices, far outstaying their welcome. Sadly and deeply rooted in our culture, this open secret outbreak has allowed unqualified individuals to breeze through the hiring process, causing inefficiency and distrust for many decades.

Take these hypothetical yet appalling and highly likely contagiously recurring scenarios:

John, a bright-eyed graduate at the top of his class, applies for a government job. Despite his qualifications, the position is snagged by someone whose uncle plays mahjong with the hiring manager. Then there is Pedro, whose cousin works in city hall. His application for a permit zips through the bureaucracy like a hot knife through butter, thanks to the “palakasan” system. Meanwhile, others queue under the tropical sun, their papers moving at a snail’s pace.

Consider Maria, who dreams of becoming a public school teacher. She got the credentials but not the cash to “grease the palms” of those in charge. She watches as her less-qualified counterpart, who slipped an envelope across the table, is welcomed aboard. That is “lagay” at work, quiet and corrosive. Worse, in her next application, she was again bypassed by three under-qualified teacher applicants, a relative of the district supervisor, a campaign manager with the congressman’s “backing,” and the wife of the cousin of the hiring committee member. These are “palakasan” at work,” subtler, yet more corrosive if you think about the learners that the incompetence of these new hires will shortchange.

Meanwhile, a promotion is up for grabs in a government agency. The most eligible candidate is bypassed for someone whose family throws lavish night outs and karaoke parties attended by the department head. The grapevine whispers of nepotism, and morale takes a hit.

Meanwhile, the lives of the public and workers are put in danger when this politician’s proxy contractor, Primo, bribes “backer”-hired government inspectors to ignore safety infractions in the construction project of the same politician. This type of convoluted corruption, as a product of hiring illegitimate technicians due to “palakasan,” undermines confidence in the regulatory bodies entrusted with upholding standards. The damage done is the same in magnitude as that of Jane, an insider candidate for a job in the municipal hall, who fabricates information on her CV and her eligibility, as advised by the “kumares” in the office, circumventing the process and unfairly excluding more truthful applicants, overstating, even lying, about her connections and qualifications.

Take the case of a mayor appointing his cousin as a department head despite needing more qualifications, leaving competent candidates sidelined. Bribes grease the wheels of recruitment, with positions often going to the highest bidder rather than the most qualified. A candidate with political connections secures a high-ranking position in a government agency despite needing more skills and experience. This example of “palakasan” highlights how personal relationships often precede meritocracy in public sector appointments.

More worthy students are denied scholarship opportunities when this government official, Ferdinand, exploits his power to get his child a slot over the others. This is a simple but devastating move done to shortchange poor but deserving (probably) first-generation learners. How about this: By abusing his position of power and fostering a climate of harassment and abuse, appointed Human Resource head Remy asks job applicants for money and sexual favors in exchange for employment guarantees. This criminal act is worthy of a place in Dante’s Inferno.

In a provincial village, a bridge project is underway. The contract mysteriously goes to a company with a spotty track record. But the company’s owner is the mayor’s brother-in-law. The dots connect themselves. A young policewoman is due for recognition because of her outstanding service. However, the accolade and the ensuing promotion go to another whose father is a retired high-ranking officer. The weight of nepotism pins down the badge of merit.To manipulate public opinion and mislead the public, a candidate for a government job pays media figures or journalists to produce positive articles or reports about their qualifications. When a public servant takes expensive trips or gifts from lobbyists or corporate interests, hoping to get their human resource interests done, they betray the public’s confidence and compromise their integrity.

It is election time, and government jobs are suddenly aplenty. They are handed out like campaign flyers to those who promise their votes. That is bribery masquerading as a political strategy. Across the sea, a coastal town needs a new environmental officer. The role is vital for protecting their marine sanctuary. Yet, the position is filled by the nephew of the local barangay captain, whose idea of conservation is sleeping during duty.

In the health sector, a critical position for public safety is assigned not to the most experienced doctor but to the one who is a university batchmate of the hospital director. A businessman needs a permit to start his venture. He has been told it is a matter of procedure until a “facilitator” offers a quicker solution–for a price. The shadow economy of “lagay” thrives, unseen but palpable.

The university is looking for a new dean. The most qualified professor is overlooked for someone who cannot distinguish the Dunning–Kruger and Pygmalion effects but can claim the chancellor owes him a favor. Academic excellence bows down to nepotism. How about a government-funded sports program to be led by the most capable coach? Instead, the job goes to a former benched athlete with no coaching experience but a close friendship with the sports commissioner. The playing field is far from level.

Such practices have led to decreased organizational efficiency, a loss of public trust, and a blockade against fair job opportunities, stifling innovation, efficiency, integrity, and growth. This is not just an inconvenience but an emergency compromising the nation’s learning, civil service, health, electoral, political, and economic stability.


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