Why I quit gov't and asked my boss to resign as well
Most of you have journeyed with me in the struggle to keep DSWD as I found it – insulated from politics. I admit to some actions that were politically motivated. I asked my colleagues in DSWD to implement projects for political accommodation. I now apologize for those instructions.
It was always a struggle between good and evil: old habits of traditional politics versus alternative new politics, with communities asserting their power. The first three years proved that the reforms far outweighed the political accommodation – especially when we were able to launch KALAHI-CIDSS; deliver on commitments on the Early Childhood Development program; install performance management systems; set-up the standards for DSWD institutions like Golden Acres as centers of excellence; start the Bright Child campaign for early childhood education, and many more enhancements of our on-going social welfare programs.
These outweighed my discomfort with the Balikatan exercise (I do not believe in foreign troops in our country) and other activities that I felt compromised my principles. I was conscious that compromises allowed me to protect the gains of the reform we were undertaking.
The period after the 2004 elections became very challenging. Thinking that the President had a clear mandate, I anticipated less political accommodation and that we could zoom ahead on reforms.
Most of you were witness to the series of accommodations that included the DSWD. Appointments of Cabinet members and heads of revenue-generating agencies were influenced by the factor of "those who helped in the campaign." The last three months were particularly difficult in emerging scandal. Most disturbing was a "jueteng" scandal involving the highest levels of government (that's the perception) after we threw out former President Joseph Estrada on the same issue. While we do not prejudge the outcome of the investigation, the tapes definitely cast doubt on the President's integrity and electoral mandate.
I have discussed these issues with her many times – alone, with the whole Cabinet, with the lady Cabinet members, especially in the last three months. We discussed ideas on how to win back credibility from a high distrustful people. There were two schools of thought: 1} political survival at all costs 2} swift and credible action of reforms to survive politically and govern effectively and efficiently.
Last June 27, the President broke her silence on the tape. I felt hope and was very encouraged because that was the signal to begin the swift and credible actions of reform. Yes, I did sing and meant every word I sang. Then the same pattern of non-action or slow action set in, especially when it would affect people to whom she owes debts of gratitude. The July 5, 2005 Cabinet meeting was a tipping point, where it became clear that the frame of action is really survival at all costs.
On a personal note, the questions of my children regarding what is right and what is wrong, what is true and what is false in all this made me realize that the only thing of real value I can leave them is a sense of right and wrong. I made up my mind that I needed to resign; I also asked her to resign for the sake of the country and our future.
Credibility and leadership The reforms necessary to reduce and eventually eradicate poverty require sacrifice from all sectors. There are those who need to give up a significant amount of power and prestige; there are those who will have to tighten their belts. To raise revenues for poverty reduction programs of government, we need to discipline ourselves and raise tax collection. This has impact on the working class who must also sacrifice over and above their current difficult struggle.
To move the country forward, we need a leader who can unite the country and undertake these difficult reforms. Unfortunately the President herself is the cause of division. While we are still struggling to ferret out the truth from all the scandals, she introduces another issue causing more division -- Charter change. And yet she also agreed to have a Truth Commission, which she will organize to investigate her actions. Over the past four weeks, however, we have seen the resources of government brought to bear on a media blitz to recover her image. The time and energy of Cabinet members have been used to defend the President and do things other than their work in their own departments. This is a President fighting for survival.
Mea culpa One question that has been often asked of me is, since I stayed four years and a half, was I not part of the mistake? I was. I believe that Arroyo is a product of her own personal history. She was exposed to and has accepted the practices of traditional politics like paybacks, pay-ups and dirty tricks, at the same time also believing in instituting reforms in the economic, social and governance spheres using principles of transparency, accountability, and service to the people. She believed both worlds could exist in one person, that the dissonance and disconnect would not clash in her and her actions.
On hindsight, the same thing happened to me. I was able to develop a team in DSWD that crafted and implemented a community-driven development program funded by the government through a 100-million-dollar loan from the World Bank. It brought the most marginalized communities the opportunity to use their power to analyze the situation and develop solutions implemented by them, for which resources would be made available to them. It was an empowerment program on a scale matched by resources. It was consistent with my vision of power to the people and it covered 5,000 barangay.
To get support for this program, I had to work with the rest of the Cabinet and Arroyo. I had to be and was a team player. So on the many times that protesters and critics of the administration were mobilized, I was to be part of the team, if not leading the effort, of what I now call "domesticating tactics."
I had directed my colleagues in DSWD to prepare packages of goodies for the urban poor communities either as part of raffle draws, food for work and family day activities to keep them from joining the rallies. We even had medical civic action with circumcision as part of the package. I admit I was one of those who crafted that strategy; I thought that rather than getting the urban poor out in the rally with the potential of getting pounced upon or even violently dispersed, it was better for them to stay in the community.
In the meantime, most of those who wanted numbers on the street began giving cash incentives for the people to stand an hour or two for their rally. The sacred right to stand up for your voice and be heard in the street, the right many of my friends had died for was now a commercial transaction. Truly, this has led to the commoditization of rights. This to me is the height of insult to the poor --we know they need the money so we bought their time. But it was not only their time we bought, we bought their soul, too, and in the process destroyed our own. Sadly, this was being done by both the opposition and government.
So as I was undertaking the empowerment processes in the KALAHI-CIDSS area, I was part of the domesticating process of the urban poor communities. The urban poor organizations I was relating with began to see me as their patron handing out favors or first information on benefits from government.
I was living two sets of values now. I was like Arroyo -- contradicting myself and counteracting my programs the way Arroyo proclaims transparency and accountability but with several parallel operations on an issue.
We were buying the people's loyalty. Instead of serving them as part of government's responsibility, instead of recognizing that the services we were providing were the rights of the citizenry. We invoked the utang-na-loob syndrome, exacting loyalty instead of recognizing that it is the right of the citizen and taxpayer to exact such services and programs from government. We used our power and resources to domesticate the urban poor. I violated a basic principle that I had fought for, for so long – people empowerment. I had become a party to their disempowerment.
On loyalty One of the strongest criticisms hurled against me was my disloyalty. How could a Cabinet member, a perceived close friend of the President, have the gumption to ask her boss to resign? Even some of my friends silently believe I could have made a mistake on this one. I have been reflecting on this point. It was not an easy decision, as I have narrated. It was a long and agonizing process. It was to wake up everyday and ask whether I was still consistent with my principles and the people I vowed to serve.
Arroyo, then VP, knew about Dinky only in October 2000. Contrary to popular belief, I am neither a classmate nor a long-time associate. We had a common vision for good governance born in the struggle against the Estrada government. Over the four years and six months we worked together, we developed a bond of mutual respect and got pleasantly surprised that we had some shared values, even common personal likes and dislikes of certain people. I treasure the relationship and would have wished I did not have to do what I did. I know it hurt her; it pains me that I had to do what I had to do.
It was clear to me that I was in government because of the principles and vision I believed we shared. The source of her authority emanates from the people by virtue of the mandate they gave her, both in EDSA II and the 2004 election. While it's true that Arroyo appointed me to my post, my loyalty to the people is higher than my loyalty to her because we are all ultimately accountable to the people. I believed that the reforms and the truth were compromised because she has lost credibility and leadership.
It would have been easier had I just resigned and carried on with my life in development work. But then I would not have only been party to disempowering the poor, I, too, would have been disempowered. Some of you might say, "Hello, wake up. Government is all about compromise." I say the people deserve more. If we want our democracy to work for all, especially the disempowered and oppressed, we all have to lay our stake and get involved in making it work as active citizens of this democracy. We have to speak up and act now.
Today's Gospel spoke of the time when Jesus walked on water towards the apostles in a boat. Most of them were frightened and thought Jesus was a ghost. But Peter was inspired. He jumped the boat and walked in the water, too. Pummeled by the waves and the lightning, he wavered, but ultimately kept the faith and did not sink.
We too have taken our "walk in the water." We too have been at the eye of a storm; we have been called traitors and have suffered much humiliation. But we believe our children deserve a truthful society and leadership with integrity. I have not taken an easy path, but we hope to keep the faith and our heads above the waters of despair and indifference.