Giving up and then changing her mind

published May 11, 2013, MST page A5

This is the first of a two-part series on the Governance Commission for GOCCs, which was established in October 2011 through Republic Act 10149, the GOCC Governance Act.
Forty-year-old Maria Angela Ignacio used to make a living as a financial analyst, telling clients which stocks to buy, sell or hold.
Her double degree in applied economics and in commerce, major in Management of Financial Institutions, from De La Salle University gave her ample ammunition. She was a licensed stock broker, had stints in banks and brokerage houses. She was also president of a company providing technical analysis of the market.
She was advancing fast in her career and was making a lot of money. She was starting a family. Life was supposed to be good.
But something was amiss.
Ignacio felt that the Philippines was not progressing as it should and its leaders were more concerned about their own interests than the welfare of the people they were supposed to serve. She was also worried about the opportunities that might, or might not, be available to her young son.
And so she gave up on our country.  In 2006, she and her husband decided to try what life was like in Australia. For the next few years, it appeared as though they had made the right decision. They obtained permanent residence found stable jobs and had another child.
A single call changed all this.
The reluctant balikbayan
Sometime in 2010, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima called to ask Ignacio whether she would consider working for the government. She had previously worked as a consultant for one of Purisima’s projects.
“I was shocked—why me?—and asked for some time to think it over.”
She had no prior experience in government. In fact, between her husband and herself, it was the former who had some form of public service experience, being a member of the provincial board of Oriental Mindoro.
They decided to return, eventually.
“At that time, we had a new President and his reform agenda resonated with us,” Ignacio said. “I was also struck by a video I had seen online.  I was reminded that I did not have a right to complain about what is wrong in our country when I personally have not done anything to try to improve the situation.”
Now Ignacio enjoys the rank of undersecretary as commissioner at the five-member Governance Commission for GOCCS (government- owned and -controlled corporations). The other two appointive members are Chairman Cesar Villanueva and Commissioner Rainer Butalid; Purisima and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad are ex-officio members.
“Awesome” powers
“We really started from scratch,” says Ignacio.  “In the beginning, the Office of the Executive Secretary lent us a few of their people.  Now we are still building our plantilla—these organizational concerns come on top of the mandate of our commission.”
Among the GCG’s tasks are the identification of which GOCCS—there were 157 in all when they started—should be privatized, abolished or maintained. Here is where Ignacio’s financial expertise comes in.  “I used to recommend to investors what to do with certain stocks, based purely on the numbers. What I do now is not much different.”
She says they have trimmed the number to 130; the goal is to bring it down to 100. Some of the GOCCS are subsidiaries of existing ones, created primarily to avoid the reach of the Salary Standardization Law.  The cold number-crunching has had its effects—“some unions are not very happy.”
The GCG also regularly reviews the performance of appointive directors, limiting their tenure to one year and making their re-appointment a function of the evaluation results.  This is the most political aspect of the job because, as Ignacio says, “some people have their backers.”
“We are fortunate that we enjoy the support of the President and that he is very objective,” she says.  The ultimate goal is to lessen the dependence of GOCCs on government subsidy, which is the pervading culture, and have them deliver a return on equity to their shareholders— the Filipino people.
In the span of a year and a half, the GCG has also taken steps to correct excessive compensation of the board members and employees of some GOCCs. Small wonder that its constitutionality is facing a challenge before the Supreme Court —the commission enjoys “awesome powers,” its critics say.
“We’ve done quite a lot, despite our start-up challenges,” Ignacio concedes.
Work-life balance
Despite the “awesome” challenges in the commission, Ignacio makes it a point to maintain a work-life balance.  She is up early to have breakfast with her family, especially her son, nine-year-old Javi, before he goes to school.  She then goes to the gym, goes back home, gets ready for work and spends a full day in the office.
She likes to think she gets along with her fellow commissioners despite her being the only woman, the only non-lawyer, and the youngest in the group.  “Chairman Villanueva is open to new ideas, if you argue your point well, then he will agree with you.”
She also makes it a point to be present in her son’s school activities—“these are non-negotiable for me”—and reserves weekends, especially long weekends, on vacation with her young family.   The Ignacios also have a three-year-old daughter, Kimi.
Three years after she made that drastic decision to return to the Philippines, Ignacio says she has no regrets.  The pay is smaller, the work is more demanding and more stressful, but in the end it is good to know that one is able to chip in, however slightly, to the building of a nation.
It’s a priceless gift to pass on to one’s children.