IN his second State of the Nation Address (SONA), one of the priority measures which President Rodrigo Duterte urged the Congress to pass was the proposed Rightsizing the National Government Act, which would grant the President the power to eliminate redundant, duplicate and overlapping functions in all offices under the executive branch to “improve public service delivery.”
On July 26, just a day after the SONA, the House of Representatives approved on third and final reading House Bill 5707, or Rightsizing the National Government Act.
The bill has enormous significance because, if fully enacted into law, it will effect a major reform of the entire dimension and structure of government.
The speed with which the House approved the measure does not mean that the issue is a slam-dunk for the administration.
There are legitimate questions that need to be raised and answered. And the administration should convincingly answer them.
The measure should be fully debated in both Houses of Congress; and we in the media and the public should provide our own perspective on the legislation.
Perhaps the most incisive criticism of 5707 is the view advanced by the opposition in the Senate, that the measure should be more truthfully presented as a “downsizing” of the national government, not as its “rightsizing”.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon contends that the administration’s proposal is a “retrenchment” measure. He says the government called it rightsizing “so it would sound good.” But in reality, he explained, it means the retrenchment of government employees.
The proposed measure will give retirement benefits and separation incentives to the affected employees.
“Are there really too many people in government, that there is a need to reduce the number of employees?” Drilon asks.
He then reminded one and all that only Congress can reorganize the government, including the merging or abolition of agencies and offices. Congress can delegate this to the executive branch through reorganization acts.
In answer, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has denied Drilon’s claim and clarified the department’s intentions in pushing for the legislation. In a statement last Saturday, the DBM said the proposed rightsizing program “is not about outright downsizing” and would only cover the executive branch.
“Rather, the measure is designed to arrive at the appropriate structure and size of government agencies that will be responsive in the delivery of public goods and services in an effective and efficient manner, at the right time, and at the right cost,” it explained.
There would be around 1.25 million personnel exempted from the program – including teachers and soldiers – while 90,840 positions under the Constitutional Fiscal Autonomy Group are optionally covered.
“As a result, only 255,295 positions may be the subject of the rightsizing program,” said the DBM.
We think that precisely because of these different perspectives, there should be thorough debate and deliberation on House Bill 5707 and its Senate counterpart.
The nation should not embark on this track blindly. But neither should it miss the opportunity to effect meaningful reform that will facilitate better governance.