Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Irrational and absurd

This is my column today.

Last week, the President signed into law Republic Act 9492, otherwise known as “An Act Rationalizing the Celebration of Holidays in the Philippines.”

The new law makes legal and official the observance of movable holidays and holiday economics in the country. With the passage of the law, majority of the holidays are now automatically movable to Mondays.

The law specifies Wednesday as the cut-off day to decide whether a holiday should be observed the Monday before or the Monday after the original date of the holiday. I know. The previous sentence sounds a bit complicated. And that’s exactly my point: For a law that was supposedly designed to simplify things, it only opened up a number of complications. Let’s get into these complications in a while.

But first, I really wonder why our leaders picked Mondays as the appropriate day in the week to celebrate holidays. No one has come forward to explain the logic behind this choice. Moving holidays to Fridays would have served the same purpose, which is to allow Filipinos a three-day weekend, supposedly so they can go to a beach or some other local tourist destination and spread money around. (We all know this is a myth, of course, because the annual migration to provinces and vacation places are already pretty much set like clockwork—around the Holy Week, Christmas and All Saints’ Day.)

Perhaps, as one blogger so cheekily put it, our leaders are simply fans of the Carpenters and were inspired by the song “Rainy Days and Mondays?”

I already registered my protest over this penchant for moving holidays for the sake of convenience in a column I wrote for this paper last April 25. Malacañang, at that time, had just released Proclamation 1211, which specified the schedule of holidays for the rest of 2007.
The schedule, as prescribed in that proclamation, has been superseded by the new law. Those who already made plans using for the holidays set by that proclamation would now have to make new arrangements.

In that column, I ranted about how history and meaning have taken a backseat to convenience and pragmatism.

I will continue to insist that moving holidays is a bad, bad, bad idea. Observing national holidays is not just about giving people time to rest. It cannot be sacrificed for the sake of economics. There are more important social and cultural reasons behind the observance of national holidays, perhaps even more important than ensuring that production schedules of certain industries are uninterrupted.

National holidays celebrate milestones in our history as a people and as a nation. They give us a sense of identity, without which we are doomed. National holidays strengthen the collective soul of our nation and bind our culture together. They enrich our history.
Like I said before, this harebrained scheme of moving holidays diminish the significance of the historical occasions that are supposed to be commemorated on these dates. And yet we wonder why our children do not appreciate our history or have less sense of pride being a Filipino.

As a member of the business community, I also find it annoying that we are being used as the justification for this latest wrinkle.

It is true that the new law provides a more reliable calendar system that business and industry can use as framework for scheduling production cycles and other business activities. However, the new law increases the actual number of non-working days in a year. Let us remember that in the past, a holiday that falls on a Sunday is celebrated on that day itself and not moved to another day. With the new law, all holidays that fall on a Sunday have to be celebrated on the

Monday preceding them. That means less working days—and less production—in a year.
There are other complications. The divisor for computing number of working days in a year to determine daily rates of monthly-paid earners would have to be changed now because the number of working days has changed. What happens on Dec. 30 (a Sunday), Rizal Day? The following Monday is also a holiday (end of the year). The following day is still a holiday (New Year’s Day). Does this mean that the next Monday is another holiday? There are more complications— I will not go into all of these in this column.

If the objective was to ensure that the business sector does not experience “unscheduled” disruption in their production cycles, coming up with a schedule of holidays for the whole year right at the very start of each year would have met the same purpose.
The new law does make a distinction between what holidays are movable and which ones are not. That’s another complication. The law specifies that “religious holidays” will continue to be observed on their actual dates.

I personally find the idea of moving Christmas, Holy Thursday, Holy Friday and All Saints’ Day to other dates sacrilegious. But on point of principle, are we saying that as a matter of national policy, historical events are less important than religious events?

The end of Ramadan is a religious occasion. The holiday is called Eid’l Fitr. Under the new law, the holiday will be celebrated right on the day when the moon is first sighted at the end of Ramadan (the exact date varies each year, but it can already be determined using scientific calculations)—but only in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Elsewhere in the Philippines, the holiday will be moved to a Monday. Isn’t this religious discrimination?

In one television show I caught over the weekend, a government official said that we cannot change the dates when religious holidays are celebrated because —I am not making this up, I swear—we are the only predominantly Catholic and religious country in Asia. I almost gagged when I heard this justification. Aside from the fact that the logic does not add up, the insinuation (although I am sure unintended) directed at our neighboring countries is terribly unfair. The implication is that our neighboring countries can be expected to do just that because they are not Catholics or because they are less religious.

(Incidentally, I am sick and tired of this illogical line of reasoning often used by politicians. On another television show I caught Monday night, a congressman and a senatorial candidate who did not win in the last elections also used the same argument in lambasting graft and corruption in the country. They said that graft and corruption in the Philippines does not make sense because we are after all the only predominantly Catholic country in the Far East, blah, blah, blah. It was like saying that our neighboring countries—for example, the Thais who are Buddhists or the Indonesians who are Muslims—can be justified for having high levels of graft and corruption because they are not Catholics anyway. Duh!)

The title of this new law is indicative of the quality of thinking that went into it. It is supposed to be “An Act Rationalizing the Celebration of Holidays in the Philippines.”
Rationalize the celebration of holidays? What an absurd idea.

7 comments:

Joshua said...

Hello Bong!

The practice of moving holidays that end up on a weekend or a weekday is common practice here in Canada. If a holiday is on a weekend (Saturday or Sunday) then the Monday preceding will be a day off. Holidays are often planned or moved to create long weekends. Although I have to admit that we definitely have fewer holidays here than the Philippines has. I'm not sure exactly how the new law in set up, but my it works fairly well here.

Dave said...

For your info... it's Monday because many people works Saturday half day or even whole day. Do you know, my friends are so thankful that from now on they know they'll always get a lot of two days off each year. Do you know the word family time? It is people like you, who resist to change, that will hold back Philippine progress. I can tell, you are not that smart as you think.

Dave said...

I hope you'll publish my comment.

Bong C. Austero said...

dave,

read the heading of this blog. i never made claims about being correct all the time, nor have i ever made claims of being smart or smarter than anyone. it is people like you who leave comments with a decidedly personal attack that actually claims to be smarter.

i just write an opinion column - and well, i guess you know what opinions are because you seem to have strong ones yourself.

by all means disagree. it's a free country. but this is where i draw the line - i don't think that it needs to be a pissing contest.

i assure you i know about family time, which is why i also advocate work-life balance. as a human resource management practitioner, i also advocate four-day workweeks, telecommuting, and other forms of work schedules that allow for more effective work-life balance for companies that can schedule them. i have spoken about these in various fora. in fact this was one of the studies i made last year.

my beef has to do with sacrificing national holidays, not just about rest days.

so you see i am not against change - i am not even against your desire to have more days off. that can be done without sacrificing the whole point of having national holidays.

in fact, i went as far as advocating in an official position submitted to malacanang that if the government is serious about work-life balance, if this is the whole point of the holiday swap - which by the way is not, then it can institute a scheme where employees can choose when to avail of days off created by holidays - whether they want to avail of the days off in one sweep (11 days in a year) or even other schemes.

so i am not in the way of your desire to have more family time.

bong

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