Saturday, September 25, 2004

The insatiable hundred leeches

The insatiable hundred leeches

Updated 10:16pm (Mla time) Sept 24, 2004
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A14 of the September 25, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

I AM one of the many outraged people who almost retched at the shameful list published by the Inquirer the other Thursday of the 100 individuals who, in 2001 and 2002, received annual salaries and other perquisites of from P1 million to as much as P9 million of public funds as executives of government corporations.

I could hardly believe the cupidity of these people who could collect such unconscionable benefits without even a little decent hesitation, much less guilt, despite the serious financial difficulties of our government and the people's day-to-day cost-of-living problems that are threatening the very survival of our nation. Their callous disregard of the general suffering of their unfortunate countrymen reminds me of the insensitiveness of the French nobility who flippantly said, as they gloated over their doomed birthright, "After us, the deluge!"

Who are these privileged scroungers that they should be allowed to suck the very lifeblood of our country dry like insatiable Draculas? Are they of such incredible intelligence or insurmountable abilities that they stand head and shoulders above the rest of us citizens who must make do with whatever little we earn because we do not share their supposedly Olympian qualities? Do they work to the bone 48 hours a day in their small and uncomfortable cubicles, dedicated solely to the work they are sworn to perform on behalf of the sovereign people who are paying their fabulous remunerations? In their obsession to serve their masters, do they purposely forsake their golf tourneys, or their games at the casinos, or, in the case of the boss ladies, their appointments with their manicurists and hairdressers?

I happen to know some of the chosen people on the list and am not impressed at all by their qualifications. They are by and large ordinary persons who have been made extraordinary only by the income they are receiving like manna from an over-indulgent heaven. This is not mere sour grapes. The Mischosen One Hundred are where they are now because they have the right ties with the Appointing Power whom they have pleased not with their virtues but with their vices of political support, financial contributions, or marital relationship by consanguinity or even remote affinity. In our deranged society, what matters most for financial success in the public service is not competence and integrity but, simply, Connections.

Thus, as noted in the Inquirer editorial on the same subject, one of the highest paid among the misbegotten hundred can hardly speak acceptable English; it is certainly not an indispensable qualification that one should be able to speak with a false Harvard accent, but one receiving a salary in the millions of pesos should, I think, at least be able to speak the language fluently. This is not snobbishness but simple respectability for what is appropriate in certain situations. It is like Bayani Fernando's rule against men appearing topless in the streets of Metro Manila in utter disregard of decency and common courtesy.

I am reminded of that time my wife and I were having lunch at the Max's Restaurant in the Magallanes subdivision in Makati City when a man in a “sando” [undershirt] entered and was allowed to sit down and eat with the other people who were all properly dressed. When I talked to the manager the next time I was there, I complained about the intruder who had not paid proper respect for the other customers. The manager said, "You know, sir, the customer is always right," and I replied, "I am also a customer, and I felt offended by the man's discourtesy." I have not gone back to that restaurant because it does not enforce a dress code for its customers in the interest of propriety and politeness.

A similar code should be enforced in the hiring and paying of the executives in government offices where the salary standardization law is not applied. The fact that the sky's the limit in fixing the perquisites of their top managers does not mean that they can go whole hog and misappropriate the people's money as far as their lenient charters allow them to gratify their private caprices. Even at home, we should be properly dressed at meals, and more so should we be polite when eating outside in the company of other people. By the same token, the lack of reasonable restrictions in fixing the compensation of certain privileged officials does not justify their receiving such compensation without limit or shame.

Congress should make a careful re-study of the liberal charters of these government-owned or -controlled corporations and other government agencies whose officials revel in the unbelievable extravagance of millions of public funds unjustly paid to them by themselves. The President, for her part, should exercise more control over such corporations, beginning with the more careful appointment of their extraordinarily privileged executives who are enjoying regal treatment in this allegedly democratic land.


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