Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Moveable holidays

This is my column today at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today.

AS of this writing, the annual celebration of Labor Day will still be on May 1, which falls on a Tuesday this year. This can change anytime before May 1, of course. This year’s Labor Day celebration can still be switched to April 30 or May 4, depending on the mood of the President or the people around her. To non-Filipinos, having moveable holidays do not make sense. Labor Day is celebrated all over the world on May 1. How can it be celebrated on another day?

But alas, we live in a country where history and meaning take a backseat to convenience and pragmatism. When the celebration of a national holiday falls in the middle of the week, we have gotten into this habit of moving it to a Friday or a Monday to allow employees a longer weekend.

By doing so, we diminish the significance of the occasions, weaken the collective soul of our nation and dilute further whatever remains of the social glue that binds our culture together. Lest we forget, national holidays are designed to be non-working days to allow citizens to commemorate historical or special occasions. They are supposed to give way to important rituals that strengthen a country’s culture.

But who cares, right? Not our short-sighted leaders who have no scruples of buying off the goodwill of citizens by giving them more vacation time; and certainly not citizens who are just too happy to have one more extra day to laze around in bed or spend at the mall.

Along the way, we have even invented or adapted concepts to justify this madcap practice.

There’s holiday economics. This is the myth that longer weekends encourage people to travel to some tourist destinations and therefore spur business activity in these destinations. Okay, maybe some people do. But last I looked, the rich people in this country already own vacation houses in Calatagan, Tagaytay, etc., and don’t necessarily go off to some developing tourist destination to spread their money around.

And, if memory serves me right, the annual migration of Filipinos to hometowns, beaches and mountain resorts has been pretty much set like clockwork: Around All Saints Day, Christmas and New Year, and Holy Week. Okay, like I said, some probably do have the means and the energy to pack up and leave for Bohol or Pagudpud at a moment’s notice when these long weekends are announced, but I am afraid the numbers can’t be enough to create any significant surges in the local economy of these so-called tourist destinations.

A foreigner friend of mine laughed so hard when he learned about the other definition of “sandwich” in this country. It’s something that school kids and harassed employees pray for—that certain days sandwiched between a Sunday and a holiday will be declared as a non-working or non-school day as well. “Sandwich holidays” are testaments to how our leaders promote indolence and a culture of entitlement among our people, particularly the younger generation.

May 1 will most likely remain untouched this year, largely because it is elections time and Malacañan Palace probably does not want to invite more criticism from the labor sector. So Labor Day will not be sacrificed at the altar of convenience this time around.

Ironically, Independence Day seems less important, and therefore not as significant, as Labor Day. If you haven’t heard yet, Malacañan Palace has already declared last Jan. 10, through Proclamation 1211, that this year’s celebration of independence will be marked on June 11, a Monday, instead of the usual June 12. The reason is obvious —to give people the benefit of a three-day weekend.

The proclamation that was issued at the start of the year programmed eight long weekends this year.

So in addition to the Independence Day long weekend, there are at least three more four-day weekends forthcoming. Nov. 2 (a Friday) has already been declared a holiday, so since Nov. 1 (Thursday) is already a regular holiday, people are already assured of a four-day weekend. The same thing has been done to Dec. 24 (a Monday); thus we will have a four-day Christmas celebration (Dec. 22-25). Dec. 31 is also a holiday so that’s another four-day weekend to cap the year.

If people want more four-day vacations, they can just file leaves on Aug. 20 (a Monday) since Aug. 21 (a Tuesday, Ninoy Aquino Day) is a special holiday. People can also file a leave on May 15 (a Tuesday), since May 14 is the mid-term elections and this is traditionally, and supposedly, a holiday.

Take note that I did not categorically say that May 14 is a holiday. I think people at Malacañan Palace must be really busy with the campaign that they have forgotten to issue a proclamation declaring May 14 as a holiday. The mid-term election was not also listed as one of the holidays under Proclamation 1211 issued last January. Perhaps because at that time Malacañan Palace was convinced there would be no elections this year?

Article 94 of the Labor Code provided that “the day designated by law for general election” shall be a regular holiday. This provision, however, has been amended by Executive Order 203 dated June 30, 1987. The EO issued by then President Corazon Aquino specified the list of “Regular Holidays” and “Nationwide Special Days.”

The EO reads: “Henceforth, the terms ‘legal or regular holiday’ and ‘special holiday,’ as used in laws, orders, rules and regulations, or other issuance shall now be referred to as ‘regular holiday’ and ‘special day,’ respectively.”

As an interesting aside, the changes in terminologies which has become a continuing source of confusion among human resource practitioners in this country (those of us who are tasked with ensuring that employees are paid holiday premium correctly)—from legal holiday to regular holiday—was allegedly because Congress was not in session at that time yet.

So Malacañan Palace is mistaken when it issues proclamations declaring certain days as “special holidays” simply because no such things exist according to law.

But to go back to the issue of May 14 being a holiday, we now know that this is not automatic precisely because the provision in the labor code that assigns the day of national elections as a holiday has been superseded or amended by EO 203. Thus, for the 2004 elections, Malacañang actually issued Proclamation 628 declaring May 10, 2004 as a nationwide special public holiday.

Malacañang has not issued a similar proclamation this year. And without it, there is no basis for employers in this country to pay overtime premium to employees. So right now, May 14, election day, is not yet a holiday. Go figure.

3 comments:

deuts said...

I have a better idea. Check it out in my blog.

vic said...

That's confusing indeed. Special, Legal and declared and which is really which?

Why can't just make it as simple as we do in our Calendar. Every year, we have the same 9 days of Statutory Holidays and there is no confussion as to the paid holidays and to the non-paid. Some unionized labor may have some extra paid holidays other than the statutory, depending on the collective agreement.

And they are not moveable, but four of them are on the Mondays, either the first or second of the Month, to enable a long weekend.

Election is never a holiday and is always on a Monday and if Monday happens to be a Holiday, then Tuesday. The reason that if it is holiday, most voters would be out of town, or in cottages or fishing rather than vote.

But employers are required to give a 3 hours window, after the polls open and before closing time to all employees for suffecient time to cast the votes.

Remembrance Day, is one Holiday that the Veterans themselves, don't want to be a day off. They wants the Kids to be in School to Celebrate the Significance of the Day. And all they ask (the Veterans) is a moment of Silence in the llth hour of the llth day of the llth month...

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