I am a contract-of-service (COS) government employee and I sell adobong mani (fried peanuts) in the office.

I’m sure that many are already familiar with the illustration of a public school teacher—overworked, underpaid, and selling goods like tocino and longganisa in class to make ends meet. When I started working in the government years ago, I was immediately acquainted with my fellow employees who sell snacks and instant coffee on our floor. Buying from them will save you an elevator trip to the basement cafeteria and back, and also help fellow employees to pay their bills.

Now, amid the hiking prices of basic goods and services, I have become an employee-slash-vendor. I started sometime last June. I haul about a hundred 250-gram tubs per week from a friendly vendor in my hometown to Quezon City by early Monday morning. I’m usually sold out by afternoon and I no longer have to worry about storage.

For a hundred tubs, I get about P500 in profit. The net income isn’t really much but I stow everything along with the capital and it helps me a lot in saving money for bigger expenses like insurance dues, tuition (I’m taking a master’s degree in a public university), and emergency expenses.

I earned my second-level eligibility in 2018 and started in the agency later that year. I was initially contracted for a lower position and then got “promoted” to a higher COS position. For a year or two service-contracting periods, my salary remained at the lower position.

It is important to note that in my agency, the COS employees outnumber permanent staff almost 3:1. I am already counting four years in service. There are fellow COS employees, especially utility and clerk aides, who are already counting decades in service. These “non-permanent” personnel are performing essential work in the agency for years—but without the securities and benefits enjoyed by a permanent or “regular” staff. Meaning for years, my co-employees endured having no sick and maternal leaves, allowances, and subsidies for their office-related expenses, and worst, no social security to make retirement a thing to look forward to.

One problem for many of my fellow COS employees, especially for aides who are at most undergraduate college-level if not high school graduates, is that they are not yet eligible for the so-called plantilla position. The problem is organizational and may even be institutional—a question of updating the mandate of the agency so it can accommodate the tenure of its own workforce, and cater services efficiently to the broadening public. And such problems may not be limited to our agency.

Organizational problems on operational efficiency and rightfully providing for government human resources perpetually haunt administrations. They always arrive at solutions that may be rather costly, especially for the workforce. Those solutions are massive structural adjustment programs in the name of rationalization and rightsizing.

But at the root lies political patronage—trusted “friends,” “padrinos,” “operators,” and “sponsors” of the principal bureaucrat getting appointed without their credentials and competence being checked. The result is a bloated bureaucracy.

By 2023, the Commission on Audit–Department of Budget and Management Joint Circular 2 series of 2020 (JC2) will be fully implemented. JC2 prohibits further hiring and renewal of employees performing regular functions in COS and job order status unless done through separate service contracting entities. The same circular urges consideration of creating new permanent positions and regularizing current COS and JO employees. On the other hand, one of the Marcos Jr. administration’s priorities is a rightsizing program that will prevent the creation of more regular positions. The devolution implemented by virtue of Executive Order No. 138 series of 2021 will also lead to the abolition of existing permanent positions in national government agencies.

So yes, 2023 may not be the best year to look forward to for us government employees. I hope my peanut distribution business thrives in no time so I do not have to worry much on my own while I look out for gigs. Or, with fingers tightly crossed, the Marcos Jr. administration reconsiders its rightsizing plans. Suntok sa buwan man, I sincerely hope that this administration will instead prioritize the forging of a policy that will ensure security of tenure, especially for government employees who have been performing essential services for the longest time. They deserve it the most.

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