(Feature) Review of Reference Book: 2012 Gov’t Directory visually appealing, but who’s minding the calls?

January 8, 2012 12:31 pm 

By Gloria Jane Baylon

MANILA, Jan. 8 — The 2012 edition of the “Philippine Government Directory of Agencies and Officials” has been mailed to intended recipients both private and public, including diplomats.

And, this time, many recipients treat the reference material with more awe and respect, albeit with frustration over unattended phone calls to some agencies or unsatisfactory responses to queries with agencies listed in the spiral notebook.

The annual publication of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) should ordinarily not create a stir, particularly since it is historically a simplistic and bland directory where names of middle echelon and high-ranking government officials and their respective phones and e-mail addresses are listed.

You would think that it is more efficient and helpful than the government directory published by contractors of the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company. But you’d be crushed to expect so much.

That had been the case in the past decade, at least; the entries not updated with only the hard cover changing its color from year to year. A user would find names of officials who have retired and were replaced, been fired and disgraced, been moved up the ladder or downgraded.

The landline phone numbers were the same year in and year out with no one answering the calls precisely because, as it turned out, some of them have conked out and decommissioned. Or no one's really assigned to handle those calls. Everybody's business becomes nobody's business.

At times, non-organic personnel such as sub-contracted security guards and cleaners pick up the phones. Since they are just as ignorant about a query, making them answer phone calls contribute to the delay of the information dissemination process. A case of the blind leading the blind.

Indeed, could these detriments have just been a question of budget? Or that mobile phones have taken the luster and prestige of a once almighty landline? A directory is expected to promote more efficient responses to people’s questions and predicaments — that is the reference material’s foremost reason for being.

But the touted “special edition” of 2012, celebrating DBM’s 75th year anniversary is an obviously much-improved version of the previous years, if only for the cover design and the layout of the pages and sections.

If you have never been to the DBM in the San Miguel district of the Malacanang Complex, you would never have known that works of great Filipino artists decked its halls, as DBM Secretary Florencio Abad would reveal in his foreword to the edition.

Featured are two works each of great Filipino painters Vicente Manansala, Angelito Antonio and Onib Omedo, three of Norma Belleza and one of Romeo Tabuena. DBM did well in annotating each work. The postcard-size prints are reproduced and seen on either side of the index-flaps separating the entries for the three branches of government, constitutional offices and government-controlled or owned corporations and local government units and diplomatic missions/international organizations.

Abad said “this edition serves not only as a reference of government contact information, but as a documentation of the works of great Filipino artists in our halls — which we also hope to share with our people.”

He describes the Directory as a “convenient bridge between the people and the government.” But the fact is that ordinary people, much less bureaucrats in the lower-middle echelon of government, are not provided such directory. A staffer on the project would not say how many copies were printed and the cost of production.

An outstanding misdemeanor: some journalists saw a copy and scrambled to find that the name of Secretary Ricky Carandang (of the Office of the President) is nowhere in the 185-page directory.

In contrast, the name of his alleged protégée, the now-mellowed Maria Carmen G. Mislang of the “wine-in-Vietname” tweet a year ago, is found (p. 4).

Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, apparently the second highest executive of President Benigno III’s office (below Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa), told Malacanang reporters this was just “a little miss.”

It was tempting for reporters to deduce that Carandang may be out of favor because he was not in the directory. Not so, according to Lacierda.

At least, 10 extra pages are allotted for “other contacts” and there are calendars for 2013 and 2014. If a sticker to denote official holidays like those for calendars given by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to their friends in the Philippines, the Directory would even be user-friendlier.

If the Directory is truly for the people, it would have helped if a thumbnail photo of the officials listed were placed across their names, along with their respective agency’s mission that would guide the people in rating their accomplishments after a prescribed period. Indeed, why not an interactive directory?

DBM simply collates whatever is provided them, the producers said; therefore, they are not responsible for phones that do not work or e-mails completely ignored.

The index flap is helpful and the spiral binding makes the Directory handy and practical.

However, if it was stressed at the outset that stronger commitment and responsibility is expected from agencies, they would be more thorough and accurate — not perfunctory — about their entries.

Some entries confused, such as those of the Department of Foreign Affairs. How can a DFA official be an Assistant Secretary in Manila and be an ambassador at a foreign mission, for example?

Each agency submits its own data to DBM, and are thus responsible for much of the “hits and misses” in the reference material, according to a DBM personnel involved with its production. (PNA)



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