Looking back in May 2016 when a majority of the Filipino people was already expecting former Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte (Rody Duterte) to win in the elections and become the next president of the Republic of the Philippines, I couldn’t even fathom landing a job in government much less be part of the promised change across the country.
Digong did become President and an unexpected but most welcome opportunity fell on my lap.
My friend (and boss) Secretary Jesus Jess Dureza invited me to work with him at the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) through my former work colleague and now supervisor Patmei Bello Ruivivar.
While I needed the work to pay for my bills and sustain my vices (food and travel), I also knew then that being invited to be part of the government agency mandated to oversee, coordinate, and integrate the implementation of the comprehensive peace process was both a great honor and a big responsibility.
And so on 12 July 2016, with faith in my heart and positive thoughts in my mind, I left Davao City – the one and only place I can truly call home – and flew to the urban chaos that is Manila to join the government of President Duterte.
FIRST-TIMER IN GOVERNMENT
Prior to that fateful day when I arrived in Manila to work at the OPAPP, becoming part of the government had never crossed my mind. My one and only exposure to bureaucracy is back when I was still a child and my father worked at the Provincial Capitol of Davao del Norte. Despite that, I still know very little about the public system and how people operate in government.
How do I put into words my initial thoughts and observations? Well, all I can say is that “the struggles are real”!
Dissimilar to my previous work at a non-government organization where there were a grand total of eight staff running a full-scale global campaign, OPAPP has at least 300 employees, not counting those assigned in the field. Needless to say, there is much politics and bureaucracy. I know everybody in government has to deal with those at one time or another but still, I sometimes can’t help but ask if there was something wrong with the system or maybe with me (being a first-timer and all).
I don’t presume to answer that question but what I can say is this: Working in government does not only help in building a nation; it also helps in building one’s character.
ADJUSTING TO IMPERIAL MANILA
Manila is not entirely new to me. I used to frequently fly here for work (meetings, projects, and events among other things). However, this time around is different. This time, I have to adjust everything in my life and learn to also call Manila “home”.
I was literally homeless when I arrived here three months ago. The only people I knew were my priest friends belonging in the Order of Carmelites (O. Carm). And so I mustered the courage to ask them if I could stay for a week or two in their quaint and peaceful convent in New Manila, Quezon City. I was so relived and ecstatic when they welcomed me like a lost lamb in their midst.
(Thanks to Rev. Fr. Toots Buenafe, O. Carm., the Provincial Superior of the Order of Carmelites Philippines, for such kindness and generosity; to Fr. Arnulfo Alindayu, O. Carm for being a brother and constant companion while I was in the convent; and to all Carmelites priests and brothers who welcomed me in their home)
I report to the office at 9 o’clock in the morning and go home before 7 o’clock in the evening from Mondays to Fridays. The distance between the Order of Carmelites convent in New Manila and the OPAPP headquarters in Ortigas is only roughly seven kilometers. But due to the ever-increasing problem of traffic in the Metro, travelling to work became too difficult. It was both time-consuming and expensive, especially for someone like me who came from a “dusty and remote” place like Davao City.
Staying in that convent for weeks has probably earned me favors from the Almighty because I couldn’t help but feel blessed when another opportunity fell on my lap. In one of my work meetings, OPAPP communications consultant Ms. Jayjay Viray heard of my commuting struggles. She then immediately offered a room for me in her nice, beautiful, big penthouse in the heart of Ortigas.
Voila! Problem solved. Now, I just walk ten minutes or less going to the office every day!
Ms. Jayjay’s hospitality did not end there. As someone new to the peace process agency, processing of my hiring papers took time which led to the delay of the release of my monthly salary. Ms. Jayjay was there again to the rescue.
More than the comfortable life she offered me (as I no longer have to brave the traffic and spend money on public transportation), Ms. Jayjay’s arrival in my life also brought me a home and a family away from Davao City.
WHEN ORDINARY DAYS ARE NOT ORDINARY
If you are among those who follow my social media accounts – Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram – you’d think that I am living a good life. By the grace and mercy of God, that wouldn’t be far from the truth.
Unlike in fiction, however, not all days are happy. There are times when I find myself crying in the middle of the night, unable to sleep. I guess this is what they call homesickness, and God, it is terrible. It grabs you out of nowhere, gnaws at you, and sometimes will not let go. There are times when I feel I need to breathe; and this pollution-laden air of Manila definitely does not help.
I am also frustrated at times, and sad, because the awful traffic and the troubles at work remind me that we have a long way to go as a nation; that we can do better as a people.
Yes, I cannot deny that fact that there are conflicts. After all, there are conflicts everywhere. Managing and addressing them every day at work, honestly, is work in itself.
Which brings me to my last musing:
We are at the onset of seeing a better Philippines. We are turning a new page in our country’s history wherein Filipinos can no longer be silenced by fear and deep frustration. I believe this is the first time in decades that we can hear each other, in a collective voice, calling for change.
Anything is possible if we work as one. Together, we can change the Philippines.
The purpose of sharing my story in the last three months under the Duterte administration is to let everyone know that there have been humps and bumps along the way. Again, I’d like to emphasize that struggles, here, are real. Government workers do not merely sit down for entire days doing nothing and still get paid every 15th and 30th.
But there are significant victories along the way.
Personally, working in the government for the first time has changed my entire perspective – a paradigm shift, if you will. I now see how government people do work.
I see how government bureaucracy can become flesh-eating bacteria that slowly kill the creativity of employees especially those belonging to my generation, the millenials. I see good and bad employees every day. This last bit is important to me because I think I can be either; and I’d like to think that I belong to the former.
My life in three months for President Duterte has not been a walk in the park; far from it. What matters most, I believe, is how this new administration is trying to form new leaders and employees in government offices. While it is definitely challenging, I can say that is also both rewarding and empowering to know that, in my own humble and little way, I can be a #PartnerForChange.