A dozen eggs on the face

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    ‘At a time when there are so many problems besetting our learners and teachers — from erroneous information in modules to lack of equipment for distance learning and unreliable internet service — it is unthinkable that the Secretary of Education still had the time to engage obfuscating facts to support the zarzuela to cast the Vice President in a bad light.’

    WHEN I was new to public service, an old hand gave me valuable advice: always cover your back. Puzzled, I asked him to explain further what this advice meant. While he rolled his eyes at me, he took one long drag of his cigarette and proceeded to elaborate. The bureaucracy, he said, is a monolith. Verbal discussions aren’t always remembered clearly, so one must always take care to document discussions and agreements. That meant taking down minutes for meetings, or sending copious memos and letters to folks you work with (especially those in other departments or agencies) to ensure that agreements are clear and faithfully kept — and if the proverbial crap hit the fan, you can establish who said what at a certain point in time.

    As time went, I noticed other bureacrats doing the same: reports were dutifully filed, minutes sent and assented to, agreements confirmed and reconfirmed. In fact, the task of pencil-pushing is such a time-honored practice in government so much so that food expenses in meetings had to be backed up with signed attendance sheets, agenda and photographic proof (for good measure) that the meeting took place. God forbid that you miss anything, otherwise your resident COA auditor will be on hand to tell you off.

    This is primarily why I shake my head when I remember that exchange between Education Secretary Liling Briones and the Office of the Vice President over the latter’s project of putting up learning hubs. Perhaps in a continuing effort to find fault in Vice President Leni Robredo’s performance, some bright person by the Pasig River decided to pooh-pooh the initiative, saying that “face-to-face” classes were not approved by the DepEd. The OVP pointed out plainly that learning hubs were not meant for in-person classes, and were meant to assist students who may be having internet or equipment problems. The DepEd knows nothing about the initiative, it said, as the OVP coordinated directly with local government units to establish the hubs in question.

    The charade did not last long, fortunately; once Robredo’s legal adviser and spokesperson Barry Gutierrez whipped out the memo sent by Briones, the latter ended up with about a dozen eggs on her face. The memo is incontrovertible proof that Briones was indeed notified about the project, and she even called it “a good initiative.” Either Briones had a convenient bout of amnesia, doesn’t read documents she signs, or was just plainly lying through her teeth in order to back up the smear that Malacañang directed towards Robredo.

    The repartee expectedly went downhill from the time the OVP released the memo, and the good Secretary could not even deny that the memo existed, and neither could she offer any logical alternative to her initial denial of knowing about the project. So there the bluster went, much like a deflated balloon left flapping whichever way the breeze took it.

    At a time when there are so many problems besetting our learners and teachers — from erroneous information in modules to lack of equipment for distance learning and unreliable internet service — it is unthinkable that the Secretary of Education still had the time to engage obfuscating facts to support the zarzuela to cast the Vice President in a bad light.

    Leave the circus to the clowns, Madame Secretary — there are far too many problems begging for your attention for you to jump in the ring and toss in a few jagged bottles yourself.

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