THE Palace functionary who, almost three months ago, criticized then Civil Service Commission (CSC) chair Karina Constantino-David for attributing the government’s “bloated bureaucracy” to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s unqualified appointees, has had a change of heart.
Nominated this week as new CSC chairperson, he acknowledges now that the number of ineligible officials in the civil service is “clearly an issue” that needs to be addressed.
Read the PCIJ’s latest report, New CSC Chief Faces Pack of Ineligible Bureaucrats
Ricardo Lirag Saludo, currently the secretary to the Arroyo Cabinet, will soon be taking the position David vacated on February 1 upon completion of her seven-year term in the CSC.
(Commissioner Cesar D. Buenaflor, former CSC regional director in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, and commissioner of the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission, took over the helm in an acting capacity after David’s departure.)
On Monday, April 21, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita announced Saludo’s nomination as CSC chairman.
“It is not an ad interim appointment because Congress is in session. It is a nomination so it has to await the confirmation of the Commission on Appointments,” Saludo, 52, explained. He said he was honored by the nomination.
“I will be building on the governance reforms of the Arroyo administration and the achievements of chair Karina David which were awarded by the World Bank,” Saludo vowed. “I hope to work with the dedicated women and men of the CSC and the entire government sector to further enhance our service to the people, the welfare of our civil servants, and the responsiveness of the government to the needs and wishes of the people.”
Last week, David became the first Filipino to receive the Jit Gill Memorial Award from the World Bank for her efforts in “protecting upright and honest civil servants by broadening the application of merit-based recruitment, performance evaluation, and promotion processes.”
The award, set up in 2004 and named after World Bank staff member Jit Gill who had been described as a dedicated leader in public sector governance and integrity, is given to individuals who have shown their “highest ideals” of public service and translated these ideals into innovative public sector reforms.
A week before bowing out of government service in February, David spoke at a luncheon forum of the Makati Business Club and averred that the Arroyo administration has the biggest number of presidential appointees on record, or “far more” than those named by the previous administrations.
By David’s estimates, 56 percent of career executive appointees do not have civil service eligibility, a situation that has caused demoralization among rank personnel, and led to the politicization of the bureaucracy.
The government, David said, does not lack for eligible people. “There are 4,000 eligible people within the government waiting to be appointed, but who gets the job? So and so’s child, relative or minion,” she said.
Dutifully, Saludo came to the rescue of Arroyo. Defending his boss from David’s scathing remark, Saludo said in January: “Performance, not paper credentials, is the ultimate qualification that matters to our people.”
Saludo said “questions about legal qualifications are best addressed through due process, not through sweeping generalizations in luncheon speeches.” He asserted that the “few” presidential appointees without civil service eligibility who falter are being replaced.
“As for ex-soldiers and police in government, our people elected four of them to the Senate,” he said, referring to Senators Rodolfo Biazon, Panfilo Lacson, Juan Ponce Enrile, and Gregorio Honasan. “Why should generals not serve in the executive branch as well, with their proven discipline and leadership experience?” Saludo had asked.
Three months later this week, Saludo started singing a different tune.
Interviewed shortly after Ermita announced his nomination to the post of CSC chair, Saludo said David had noted a problem for which he has to be apprised.
“That is clearly an issue and I will have to work with both the system of the CSC and the people concerned to try to devise ways to work toward increasing the number of eligibles in the government,” he said.
Better pay, better service
In his new position at the CSC, Saludo said he will deal with two challenges: improving the delivery of public service and raising the salary rates of state employees.
“I hope that we can better serve our public service, especially now that the government has more resources and improve the salaries of our public servants by seeing to it that the three-stage adjustment starting with 10 percent last July will be continued,” he said.
Saludo emphasized the importance of providing adequate salaries to civil servants in recognizing their performance and services to the public.
To further improve civil service, Saludo said he wants to achieve “more interface with the citizenry, the civil society and the private sector so that their needs and views can be better understood and taken into account.”
Civil service eligibility
Having graduated cum laude in college, Saludo could have applied for “Career Service Professional Eligibility” good for second-level positions in the bureaucracy, under a Ferdinand Marcos Presidential Decree No. 907.
The CSC chair occupies a tenured position, hence no eligibility requirement is required. In his seven years’ work with the Arroyo Cabinet, however, Saludo had served without status as a permanent employee because he has not opted to secure eligibility.
Saludo received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Literature from the Ateneo de Manila University. The Asian Institute of Journalism honored him in 2001 as outstanding alumnus. He completed courses for the Master of Public Policy and Management from the University of London.
Before joining the government, Secretary Saludo was the senior business editor for Asiaweek Magazine from 1989 to 1995. He became an Asia affairs commentator in 1995 for CNN and CNBC, working in both networks until 2001. He became the assistant managing editor of Asiaweek from 1996 up to 2001.
He was also editorial consultant for Philippine Business magazine, published by the Makati Business Club, a leading association of top executives in the Philippines.
Saludo is separated from his wife. They have a son and a daughter, both of age.
On March 28, 2001, he joined the government as undersecretary and head of the Policy Group, which provides policy inputs and recommendations to the Office of the President.
In January 2002, he was named to his present position as secretary to the Cabinet, tasked to generate the agenda and provides direct support for Cabinet meetings and other significant occasions presided over by the President.
Saludo concurrently became deputy presidential spokesperson in 2003 but relinquished the position in September the following year to concentrate on his task as head of the Cabinet secretariat.
How Saludo responds to the many challenges at the helm of the CSC bears watching. Indeed, he will have to make good on his words that performance, not paper credentials, is what matters more in public service.