Political Arbitrariness and Sally Bulatao

Mr. Sta. Ana coordinates Action for Economic Reforms.  This article was published in the Opinion Section, Yellow Pad Column of BusinessWorld, May 22, 2006 edition, page S1/5.

The general public has come to know Sally Bulatao because of a news item in the widely circulated Philippine Daily Inquirer that reported her removal as head of the National Dairy Authority (NDA).  The news put her in a bad light; the allegation was that she violated the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (Republic Act No. 3019).

But thanks to the columns of Ceres Doyo and Winnie Monsod, the real story behind Sally’s removal was unraveled.  Doyo’s column in the Inquirer (11 May 2006) accurately summarizes the issue, which we need not explain here.  In gist, the accusation against Sally was baseless.

Doyo asked the rhetorical question: “Was this a mistake, or was there malice involved?”  Monsod’s column in the Inquirer (20 May 1996), not a reply to Doyo, provided the answer.

Wrote Monsod:  “What was Sally’s fault?  Not the trumped-up charges about contracts inimical to the government. (Good grief, how can a pro-bono project undertaken by McKann Erickson be inimical?)  Her fault is that she is married to Gerry Bulatao, who is virulently anti-Gloria.”

Why do women like Sally have to suffer because of the action of their husbands?  It is a pity that Sally, who has a strong personality, lives in her husband’s shadow. Not a few people who know Sally would describe or introduce her as the wife of Gerry.

Sally is a low-profile, quiet, and unassuming person.  A first impression of her is that she’s simple and plain, in the positive sense.  Those who have worked with Sally have a lot of good things to say about her leadership.

That the hardworking Sally does not attract news—which only came when she was unjustly dismissed from NDA—is because she delivers without fanfare.  She is a leader alright, but she prefers the role of team person.

Sally is an efficient manager and organizer. As an accountant and financial analyst, she is very strict in the allocation and disbursement of funds.  She hates waste, and she cuts costs but not at the expense of sacrificing quality.

As an organization person, she commands the respect and loyalty of her staff though she would insist that such loyalty should be addressed to the institution, not to the person. As recounted by the bright, talented and dedicated researchers of Ibon Foundation in the 1980s, Sally’s popularity among her staff had less to do with her pakikisama but more to do with her leadership by example. In fact she was stern and could be brutally frank with her criticisms.  Sally was instrumental in building Ibon Foundation.  If not for the pioneering efforts and close collaboration of Sally and Sister Sol Perpiñan, Ibon would not have been transformed into a durable organization.  Ibon is now a well-established, oft-cited research institution, notwithstanding its radical, ideological bias.

Highly educated and highly skilled, Sally has an analytical and meticulous mind, a thorough method, and an unflinching commitment to lead an organization with a mission.  She was one of Ibon’s guiding lights, making Ibon the alternative think tank during the Marcos dictatorship.  And now, she has made NDA a more responsive and productive institution, notwithstanding the handicapped and uncompetitive state of the Philippine dairy industry.

That said, the simplest but the best way to describe Sally is that she’s a good and honest person.

It is a cliché to say that Sally’s dismissal is a great loss to the public sector.  Highly skilled and highly educated people refrain from joining government because of the low pay.  In Sally’s case, she joined the public sector because of a noble purpose. She gives flesh to the Left’s motto of living simply and serving the people.

Sally’s dismissal thus sends a signal that skilled, honest and committed people have restricted space in government, at least under Mrs. Gloria Arroyo’s administration.  The primary criterion for reward is blind loyalty to the leader.  For Sally, the situation she faced was worse. She performed well as NDA head, and never publicly expressed her political views. She was sacked for being the wife of someone who is “virulently anti-Gloria.”

That government cannot get the best and the brightest and the honest and incorruptible leads to adverse selection.  Not being able to provide good income for the highly skilled and educated, government agencies have to settle for the mediocre ones.  The government’s incentive structure likewise attracts the poor performers, who are nevertheless assured of steady salaries, with tenure to boot. The low pay, too, tempts government employees to accept corruption as a way of life.  Worse, because it has been consistently shown that government is an instrument to amass private wealth, predators, big-time or small-time, are eager to be placed in the state apparatus to use the skills they have sharpened to serve vested interests or loot the Treasury.

This is not to generalize that the whole bureaucracy is corrupt, inefficient and mediocre. We have worked with senior and middle-level career officials as well as the rank and file in various agencies who complain about the low salaries and the politicization of the bureaucracy.  Yet, they continue to work hard and perform well, motivated by a sense of civic duty.

Sally’s arbitrary, unjust dismissal, in conjunction with the removal of other highly qualified people like former Education Undersecretary Miguel Luz, will further demoralize the already thinning ranks of the competent, non-partisan and upright bureaucrats.

A main challenge then in crafting the post-Arroyo program is, in Weber’s terms, “bringing political arbitrariness to heel.”

No comments yet.