Wednesday, December 1, 2010

On its 77th year, DOLE wears reform hat

I can imagine Blas F. Ople, my mentor, smiling a faint smile in his grave.

If he were alive today, he would have been proud to see the Department of Labor and Employment, his longest and most significant love, turn 77 years old.

Yes, the DOLE, the government department, not the pineapple, is already 77 years old this coming December 8. And what an auspicious year to celebrate a DOLE milestone! A woman is at its helm.

Seven is a good number, so deputy executive director John CaƱete of the National Conciliation and Mediation Board, told us at the kick-off rites for the department’s one-month celebration of its birth date yesterday.

John, who co-hosted the program with Liway Ilo of the Human Resource Development Service, noted the biblical significance of number seven, citing the miracle of Jesus when He fed 4,000 people by multiplying seven loaves of bread and small fishes. Known as the “Miracle of Seven Loaves and Fishes”, this miracle is reported in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew. There was another miracle, reported in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, known as the “Miracle of the Five Loaves and Two Fishes” in which Jesus fed a multitude of 5,000 with only five loaves and two fishes.

I didn’t ask John which miracle was he referring to, but whatever, the significance is not lost: seven plus seven in my idiotic arithmetic is seventy-seven. There you are. But I digress.

Anyway, Rosalinda Dimapilis-Baldoz, the Secretary of Labor and Employment, was at the audience during the kick-off rites. She presided over it by turning on the lights of a seven-foot Christmas tree (another number seven!) that heralded Christmas at the DOLE. She used the pulpit of the Secretary by reminding her co-officials and co-public servants of the true meaning of the DOLE and its celebration: very honest, very efficient, and very prompt and courteous public service.

Actually, one adverb would have been enough, but Secretary Linda can get away with her emphatic use of “very”. She is the Secretary. I know of another government official who gets away with using double adverbs in one breath: Mar Roxas, whose propensity to use “very, very” to accompany an adjective in his speeches and other peroration just to emphasize his point delivers the message.

As Secretary Linda did yesterday. Actually, as she does everyday since six months ago.

When she came to be Secretary of Labor and Employment last July, I was about to leave for a regional assignment, but she apparently changed her mind and decided I would be more useful at the sixth floor of the DOLE in Intramuros than in the five-province region of MIMAROPA, in Calapan City particularly, where the DOLE regional office No. 4-B chose to plant its roots.

In retrospect, I think it was a wise decision, and for me, beneficial, because I got to work for and with the DOLE’s keenest mind when it comes to reform.

Six months of pushing, evolving, and shaping up numerous reforms for the DOLE have been Secretary Linda’s singular passion. No, gospel.

Six months of persuading, explaining, cajoling, and nudging officials, employees, and social partners—labor, capital, and other stakeholders—to embrace what she believed are the reforms necessary for the DOLE to move beyond—and get out of—its 19th century orientation and mindset have been her daily fare. To her as Secretary, these reforms are a requisite for survival. Par for the course.

And she worked on these with laser-like focus: not missing a beat, not winking, not losing her grip, and certainly not veering away from a vision as she dealt almost 24/7 with constituencies whose interests, motives, and persuasions are as varied as their number.

“Nicon, we patiently wait till these reforms take root, and then we could move on. We don't have any hidden personal interest here other than doing what we need to do for the people,” she often tells me when at times I seem distraught at seeing that not all the people she engages are moving lockstep with her.

On a grander and broader scale, the reforms of Secretary Baldoz are overarching, just like the 22-point labor and employment agenda of President Aquino, which serve as her guidepost.

But they are specific and fits DOLE as if a tailor had sewn them.

The message house, for example, that outlines the reforms she herself crafted and which remains as our bible in communicating our work to our publics, consists of a little over than 10,000 words. I am not sure if all of the DOLE’s 9,000 employees have read this 25-page document in its entirety, but try it (go to the DOLE website, please!) and you will see the beauty of a dream in full flower.

There is one thing definite about the reforms: They were not fished out of just anywhere like magic. Or out of whim or caprice. They were a product of debates, of consultations, of long hours of engagement and dialogues, of questions and answers, and of sharing of experiences, anecdotes, tales, and antecedent historical narratives.

This is fact, and I can bet my gin money that anyone of the multitude of people that Secretary Baldoz consulted in crafting the reforms will own up a portion of them when they see them. That's public ownership in full, regal display.

Today, as I survey the landscape that Secretary Baldoz’s reforms have sought to transform and re-configure, I see a confident, sure-footed DOLE. I see a DOLE ready to engage workers and employers. Ah, I see a DOLE bristling with energy to get out and be recognized as a friend of labor and management, not a perennial nemesis of one of the two or both.

The world has changed. It is flat, to paraphrase Thomas Friedman, and DOLE’s reforms are flattening the world of labor and employment in a kinder, gentler way, to empower anyone to engage it and benefit from the engagement.

I see a DOLE with its bureaucratic inertia wearing thin, not so much because Baldoz has peeled away layers and layers of atrophied skin, but simply because it has embraced reform as a way forward, not as a mantra; because it wears reform as a hat to shelter it from the searing heat of public demand for “very honest, very efficient, very prompt and courteous public service”.

That’s the hat the DOLE wears now, courtesy of Secretary Linda, as it celebrates 77 years of existence.

Happy birthday, DOLE!