Fixing a broken system

Published September 11, 2019, 12:48 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat



Jejomar C. Binay Former Vice President
Jejomar C. Binay
Former Vice President

The public hearings on the obvious misapplication of the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) Law have triggered a national uproar. While much of the anger has been directed at the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief – who has since been fired but whose integrity has been vouched for – we should not forget the culpability of  several BuCor officials who exploited loopholes and gray areas in the law and its implementing rules. It is because of their malfeasance that we now have some 2,000 convicts – murderers, rapists, drug lords – walking around as free men.

The fury is justified. Yet to blame the fiasco almost exclusively on the flaws in the GCTA Law and its implementing rules would be to miss the point totally.

We have an abundance of laws crafted with good intentions in mind. The GCTA Law, for example, was enacted to help address the very real problem of congestion in our prison and detention facilities. But the consensus is that the law and its implementing rules were vague when it should be clear, opaque when it should be transparent. As a result, certain bureaucrats saw opportunities for gain.

Critics of the present administration have pointed to the GCTA controversy as yet another example of bureaucratic ineptness and corruption that has become all too common. But a more sober reflection would lead us to the fact that this is not endemic to the current administration. These are not simple flaws in the system; they have been with us for a long time.

Oddly, there are those who just shrug this off as just the way things work. They say that the system, after all, has been broken from the start. This indifference can be summed up in the two most common explanations given by higher-ups: “Wala na tayong magagawa (We can’t do anything about it)”, or “Ganyan talaga (That’s how things are).” This would be the easy way out. It is more convenient and politically expedient to fire officials, and probably recycle them much later, than to take up the thankless job of fixing a broken system.

But to continue ignoring this broken system would be to perpetuate it. It is to guarantee that five or ten years from now, perhaps even earlier, a controversy of similar vein will rock the country. There will be the expected public anger, followed by the obligatory dismissals and the bold public assertion of zero tolerance for the corrupt and the inept. Then after a few weeks or months, when public anger and media attention has dissipated, it is business as usual. The BuCor is a good example. Scan the news reports from five to ten years back, even earlier, and most likely you would find a controversy involving BuCor and its facilities.

On a less harrowing but equally displeasing scale are the breakdowns in governance in public transportation, traffic, and other frontline activities. Governance breakdowns have become so common that it is no longer shocking. What shocks the public nowadays is when things go right.

This cycle needs to stop. But where do we start? At the top.

As I have said repeatedly, we should do away with the unwritten tradition of changing the heads of government agencies and offices with every change in administration. More often than not, the agencies and offices known for chronic inefficiency, red tape and corruption are those headed by inexperienced or inefficient political proteges.

Unless they bring with them competencies related to their government assignments – which is quite rare – or are experienced managers, political appointees are clueless about the mandate, procedures, and inner workings of their offices. As a result, they defer to subordinates in making decisions. Some of these subordinates, however, may not have the best interest of their office in mind. Again, the BuCor is a good example.

There are many other issues that need to be addressed: compensation, reforms in the bureaucracy, real transparency and accountability among them. What needs to be recognized is the urgency. And fixing the broken system should concern us all. Government is ever present in our lives. It regulates conduct and behavior, provides vital public services, imposes order through a system of laws, and administers justice to the downtrodden. When the system fails, it harms not only individuals, but the fabric of society as well.

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