MAP Insights

Is Philippine civil service up to the demands of inclusive development? Are our rural development agencies, specifically, the Department of Agriculture (DA), up to speed?

Why the DA? Because the high rural poverty of 30% is an agriculture phenomenon. The poverty incidence is more than 2.5-times the ASEAN average.

The World Bank (WB) rated countries based on government effectiveness using a percentile rank, which “indicates the country’s rank among all countries covered by the aggregate indicator, with zero corresponding to lowest rank, and 100 to highest rank.” Percentile ranks have been adjusted to correct for changes over time in the composition of the countries covered by the World Governance Index.

Government effectiveness “captures perceptions of the quality of public services, the quality of the civil service and the degree of its independence from political pressures, the quality of policy formulation and implementation, and the credibility of the government’s commitment to such policies,” according to the WB.

Over the last 15 years, the Philippines hardly posted improvements in government effectiveness. It is second to the last after fast-rising Vietnam.

By contrast, Indonesia and Vietnam made tremendous gains with 20 and 14 percentage-points improvements.

Meanwhile, Malaysia, already a strong performer, slipped slightly. Thailand, in the middle rank, hardly moved.

It appears that the long-term performance of agriculture mirrors that of government effectiveness. Indonesia and Vietnam led while Thailand, the Philippines, and Malaysia lagged. Is it a coincidence?

It is cold comfort that Thailand and Malaysia are behind as these countries have reached high levels in poverty reduction and agriculture exports.

There is urgency for reform in the bureaucracy. It was merit-based in the past. In 1986, as confirmed by reliable sources, the Office of the President centralized all appointments from Department Secretary to Assistant Director (Director 3 today), or some eight ranks deep.

The stratagem was to remove the top to middle management professionals and replace them with new people. The rationale was to root out remnants of the past regime and/or reward supporters. This occurred despite opposition from the Civil Service Commission. The bureaucracy was demoralized, and it suffered from inertia. It continues up to this day. As new administrations come and go, the bureaucracy is rattled by new appointments in contrast to ASEAN neighbors where there is generally respect for meritocracy.

In the early 1980s, I was a project economist in the Malaysian agriculture sector. I observed the great respect for the civil service institution and meritocracy. To be appointed to a technical post, one must have an equivalent technical background. For example, the director of crop protection had a master’s degree in entomology. There was also step-ladder promotion internally from lowest level to secretary-general, the highest rank in the bureaucracy.

“Civil service reform is a deliberate action to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, professionalism of a civil service, to promote better delivery of public goods and services, with increased accountability. Such actions can include organizational restructuring, improving human resource management, and strengthening measures for performance management, public participation, transparency, and combating corruption,” as cited by Rao, 2013 in his article on Civil service reform, “Topic guide.”

Unless reforms are put in place, the poverty reduction agenda of President Duterte will hit roadblocks. His administration will fail to reach its target of 20% rural poverty incidence by 2022 from 30% today.

This article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines or the MAP.


Rolando T. Dy is the Co-Vice Chair of the Management Association of the Philippines’ AgriBusiness Committee, and the Executive Director of the Center for Food and AgriBusiness of the University of Asia & the Pacific.