A Statement to the Public
Juan Miguel Luz
Department of Education
The appeal I filed before the Civil Service Commission was intended to challenge two phrases the Office of the President has used recklessly in my case and those of other career executive service officers: “you serve at the pleasure of the President” and “in the exigency of the service.”
The facts of the case are simple:
• The Office of the President (OP) asked the Department of Education (DepED) to move a President Social Fund (PSF) grant through the department in a questionable transaction to a congressman. I initially objected but eventually complied subject to certain conditions the grantee (the congressman) had to abide by. (He never did.)
• The OP then asked DepED to move more PSF funds to the same congressman in what was a prohibited (and therefore illegal) transaction (i.e. the use of post-dated cheques). In this instance, I refused and returned the cheques to Malacanang on September 9, 2005 (a Friday).
• On first working day after, the OP tried to terminate me as undersecretary since “I serve at the pleasure of the president”. The CSC Chair informed Malacanang that I was a career executive service officer (CESO) and could not be terminated without cause as per the law.
• Not able to terminate me, the OP then informed me of my transfer from DepED (which has a shortage of undersecretaries) to a department (DOLE) which had no opening for undersecretary “in the exigency of the service”.
• I filed my appeal before the CSC to contest the transfer and went on official leave from the DepED (as per CSC rules).
The argument of the appeal was straightforward: For refusing to undertake a prohibited (and therefore illegal) transaction, I was being punished by the Office of the President for insubordination. The transfer was tantamount to “constructive dismissal”; a move intended to force a resignation by placing myself in a no-win or untenable situation.
I would ask the two CSC commissioners who decided that my case had no merit and who ruled in favor of Malacanang this question: If a superior asked you to perform an illegal act at the risk of losing your job for insubordination, what would you choose to do?
I suspect the CSC majority decision reflects what the two commissioners would have decided to do if they were in my situation: Do the illegal act to keep your job and be quiet about it. (Note: Only CSC Chairperson Karina Constantino David stood by the principles of professionalism and ethics in dissenting from the majority decision to dismiss the case in favor of the Office of the President.)
What the Civil Service Commission ruling on my case now tells every civil servant is that:
1. The President has complete jurisdiction and authority over every career executive service officer (CESO) throughout the bureaucracy (and there are over 7000 government managers who are CESOs);
2. That the principle of neutrality of the civil service irrespective of the political leadership is a myth; and,
3. Because of the above, every civil servant now better not displease the political leadership because the latter has carte blanche over the former.
From here on, every presidential appointee below that of a cabinet secretary now “serves at the president’s pleasure”. In past, this phrase was properly restricted only to cabinet secretaries who rightly do not enjoy any security of tenure since they are the “alter egos” of the president in the assigned sectors (i.e. departments). Cabinet secretaries are “political appointees”. To make every presidential appointee now a “political appointee” as well – and every CESO is a presidential appointee by qualification – is to extend politics down throughout the bureaucracy and subject to whatever the president’s thinking might be.
For the Department of Education, this has major implications. Every schools division and assistant division superintendent (numbering over five hundred) are presidential appointees and as such, must qualify for and attain CESO rank. But during elections, every superintendent is also the chief electoral officer in their respective city or province deputized by COMELEC. If “instructions” from the top are not followed, what then?
This appeal before the CSC was not about my own personal situation. I have worked in the private sector and had a very comfortable existence there prior to being invited to serve as undersecretary in the Department of Education (and having been found qualified by the president’s own search committee despite the later finding that I was “unqualified” after I refused to carry out the prohibited act.) I can and will eventually go back to the private sector and take up any of the many offers made, so this is not an issue about holding on to a position in the Department of Education.
Rather, the appeal was made on the basis of principle which I expected to be upheld by the CSC: That doing the right thing, whether in government or the private sector, is not the basis for termination nor constructive dismissal.
I am therefore disappointed by the CSC ruling for two reasons.
First, the Commission abdicated its jurisdiction over civil service cases to a political authority and hence, undermined its standing as an institution. Where now is its moral authority to act on civil service cases when it recognizes that CESOs serve only “at the pleasure of the president”?
Second, instead of building a professional culture within the bureaucracy, this decision has only served to weaken the civil service and laid it at the foot of traditional politics.
In effect, the bureaucracy, which is the basis for good governance in all of the best-performing countries worldwide (but sadly not ours), has been undermined by a short-sighted CSC ruling (e.g. the dismissal of the case for “lack of jurisdiction”). Ironically, this CSC ruling now serves to weaken the civil service, the institution it was constitutionally mandated to protect and promote.