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Arroyo needs to enlist the bureaucrat to the cause

(Article published in TODAY, Business Section)  

Together with the rest of the country still recovering from the trauma of the last electoral exercise, I wish President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo success in her 10-point agenda for the next six years.  The agenda, however, cannot be hers alone; it must be claimed and interiorized by the bureaucracy as its, too. An American president who undoubtedly was then the most powerful man in the world, observed: “I sit here at the Oval Office, pick up the phone,  and order, ‘Do this; do that.’  And nothing happens.”  Nothing, until some bureaucrat in his own good time takes what is generically known in the ubiquitous government interoffice memo as “the appropriate action.”

        The Chief Executive, in the U.S. as well as here, is dependent on the huge army of civil servants, pejoratively referred to as the bureaucracy, to bring to reality the promises of the Inaugural. Unfortunately, the bureaucrat is a most maligned person.  Hardly anybody identifies with the bureaucrat’s plight, hemmed in as he is by red tape. As a consequence, the bureaucrat,  all too often finds himself all alone when sued by the disgruntled on the wrong side of policy or process.  He thus, in self-preservation, proceeds with extreme caution, for while doing something wrong is often penalized by law, not doing anything is hardly a crime

Fortunately for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the work environment of the civil servant has been changing a bit lately.  It has become more conducive to patriotic action. And change has come from an unlikely source, the courts of law. In three cases decided recently, the judiciary opted to throw its mantle of protection around the bureaucrat, shielding him against frivolous suits and harassment cases, thereby giving him opportunity, if he so wishes, to selflessly rise to the demands of his job.

Early this year, in Reyes, et al. vs Rural Bank of San Miguel, G.R. No. 154499, promulgated 27 February 2004, the Supreme Court came to the rescue of Alberto V. Reyes whom the court itself found, a year earlier, to be liable for violation of standards of professionalism prescribed by R.A. No. 6713.  After revisiting the facts and the law, the Supreme Court corrected itself and conceded, among other things, that merely introducing to the owners of a failed bank people who interested in saving the bank, without having any pecuniary interest at all in the result of the ensuing talks, was not a breach of his professional responsibility.  The Supreme Court invoked the big picture and, recognizing that the Bangko Sentral is an independent body with fiscal and administrative autonomy, Supreme Court Associate Justice Dante O. Tinga ruled that “its officials should be granted a certain degree of flexibility in the performance of their duties and provided insulation from interference and vexatious suits, especially when moves of the kind are resorted to as counterfoil to the exercise of their regulatory mandate.”

        Following the lead of the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, in Borlongan v. Buenaventura, CA-G.R. SP No. 72270, promulgated 04 June 2004, also correcting its earlier position, fended off an administrative complaint filed against Alberto V. Reyes, and his colleagues in the Bangko Sentral, that was filed by Teodoro C. Borlongan, former president and chief executive officer of Urban Bank, Inc., another failed bank.  Confronted by an affidavit written by the bank’s own Chairman, Arsenio M. Bartolome III, himself, which in no uncertain terms expressly declared that “the majority shareholders…agreed not to question the MB [Monetary Board] Resolution and the appointment of the PDIC as receiver…”, the Court of Appeals, through ponente Justice Lucas P. Bersamin, recognized that Bartolome’s administrative complaint is a circumvention of the law giving the right to question the Monetary Board’s actuations to the majority of the bank’s shareholders and not to any Tom, Dick, and Harry.

Borlongan, who was not the majority stockholder of the bank, therefore had “no direct personal interest to be affected by the determination of the issue, his present appeal and, for that matter, the administrative investigation a quo will not resolve any real and actual controversy for him and” Alberto V. Reyes and the other respondents.  In short, “the essentiality of the petitioner to be first a party in interest…is…decisive of whether the charge should prosper or not.”  This principle effectively protects the civil servant from vexatious suits from vindictive wrongdoers masquerading as selfless messiahs.

Actually, the trend had began even prior to the above rulings of the higher courts.  At the judicial trenches, in the level where law is daily at eyeball to eyeball with the citizen, Judge Elvira D.C. Panganiban of Branch 58 of the Metropolitan Trial Court in San Juan, Metro Manila, struck down an attempt to embarrass, if not harass, Alberto V. Reyes, in the guise of exercising the accused right to secure the attendance of witnesses in his behalf.  Senior officials of another failed bank, Prime Savings Bank, Inc., were facing before her court charges of submitting to the Bangko Sentral false, misleading, and unfounded figures in their consolidated statements of condition.  Alberto V. Reyes was no more than the recipient of a report of the bank examiner who conducted the investigation on the consolidated reports.  For that alone, the accused sought to put him on the witness stand.

Judge Panganiban, a worthy aluma of her worthy law school, in People v. Antonio et al, Criminal Cases Nos. 76194-95, 76489-90, ruled that the testimony to be elicited from Reyes would have “no relevance or materiality …to the issue” in the case.  She observed, “Deputy Governor Reyes is a high ranking official of the BSP charged with the monetary and financial viability and stability of the country.  He must be loaded with a lot of work.  While it is the constitutional right of the accused to secure the attendance of witnesses for his defense, he or they cannot just ask, much less use, the Court to force people, especially high ranking government officials, to appear and testify when there is no…concrete materiality or relevance to what they are going to state…The Court should not allow itself to be a party to wasting the time of government officials charged with great responsibility by forcing their appearance through the issuance of a subpoena.”

Denying the accuseds’ motion for reconsideration, the good judge firmly held her ground and said, “The Court cannot and will not allow itself to be an instrument in wasting the time of government officials in coming to court to testify unless it is clearly shown that the testimony to be elicited from him/her is material and relevant.”

All the three cases involve Alberto V. Reyes, a real person, of flesh and blood, sweating it out at the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.  But “Alberto V. Reyes”, for purposes of this piece, could for all intents and purposes be an adjective, pointing to the heretofore hapless government bureaucrat who daily goes about doing his job as best he could with nary a word of thanks from the citizenry he serves. 

         It is him whom the President needs to recruit and to her rally under her vision for the next six years.  The judiciary has paved the way by removing the chilling prospect of harassment cases.  It is now up to the President to seek out the Alberto V. Reyeses of this world, high in morale as well as in morals, and ignite their passion.  Otherwise, she would end up being like that man at the Oval Office.