Monday, November 02, 2009

Yet another holiday snafu

This is my column today.

Just because some people have had ample experience in administering something does not mean they get better at it; or that they actually learn while doing it. Put another way, some people not only do not learn, they actually get worse each time.

In case you haven’t heard, or are still in denial because you have already made plans for Nov. 27 to 30 (such as booking non-refundable hotel and travel arrangements), here’s some news for you: Nov. 27 and 28 are no longer holidays.

Yes, you read right. Six months after the fact was announced, Malacañang did a quick turnaround and took it back Friday last week. Nov. 30, Andres Bonifacio Day, is still a holiday, though; and if it wasn’t for the fact that Nov. 30 falls on a Monday, I am sure they would have loved to mess with it, too—moved it to another day or did something totally incomprehensible.

Some people in power tried to make light of this recent snafu by saying that the Palace simply shortened the erstwhile four-day long weekend by one day, making it appear that we are such self-centered whining losers bemoaning a day off. What they are conveniently forgetting, once again, is that many people in this country do have work on Saturdays. It is the same kind of shortsightedness or perhaps early senility that got them falsely gloating about how Oct. 31 to Nov. 2 was supposedly a three-day weekend.

Reality check for the people who prepare those holiday proclamations for the President’s signature: Every single time you declare holidays that fall on a Friday or a Monday, please do remember that not everyone works in government or in industries that observe five-day workweeks. Most people in this country have to work on Saturdays.

Malacañang issued Proclamation 1808-A on Nov. 26, limiting the observance of Muslim religious feast Eid’l Adha to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. The announcement was made Friday, when most people in Metro Manila had their minds preoccupied with preparations for typhoon Santi and for All Saints’ Day. The new proclamation amended Proclamation 1808 (they simply added a hyphen and the letter A, which says a lot about the kind of thinking that operates in the Palace) issued on April 12, Easter Sunday.

The original proclamation issued on April 12 cited the need to imbue Muslim religious feasts with the same level of importance the country gives to Christian holidays such as Christmas, Easter, and All Saints Day. “Whereas,” the Proclamation intoned with undisguised pompousness, “to guide our search for peace, one principle is that our society is a multi-ethnic one which should be founded on social justice for all and the institutionalized accommodation of ethnic traditions. Christian and Muslim are but a few of names to which the Filipino responds, in a wondrous testimony to our rich and varied heritage as a nation. “I am not really sure what lofty aspirations the author of that proclamation aimed for (or what drug he or she was high on, for that matter) but it stands to reason that we ask now: Does the recall of that proclamation mean that the offered justification already lost its relevance and significance? More pointedly, what has changed between April and now?

When we come to think about it, limiting the celebration of the feast of Eid’l Adha to the ARMM is ironic because it precisely reinforces the notion that Filipino-Muslims are isolated in only one region in this country. Oh please, Muslims are now everywhere in this country. The amendment unmasked the hypocrisy of this administration and revealed that all that talk about building a multi-ethnic society that respects and celebrates diversity is just that—empty talk devoid of sincerity.

Don’t get me wrong. Being a senior executive of one of the biggest banks in the country and being an active member of the premier association of human resource management professionals in this country, I am also against this penchant for declaring too many holidays in this country. It is counterproductive. It also penalizes millions of daily-paid workers who are deprived wages every time the government declares a holiday. As someone who continues to be active in academe, I am also against declaring more holidays at this time because as it is the academic calendar is already impossibly compressed and teachers and students are already having a difficult time trying to make up for lost school days due to the A(H1N1) pandemic, the twin calamities that hit us recently, and the other unscheduled holidays. Let’s not forget that each city and municipality also declares one day each year as a holiday in observance of its founding or charter day.

We are being made to believe now that the snafu was a case of a simple oversight on account of Republic Act 9492, which mandated the celebration of Eid’l Adha in the ARMM. The thing is, Malacañang had six months to reconsider the old proclamation.

The proclamation declaring Nov. 27 and 28 as national holidays was made last April. Most already made arrangements around that proclamation. It is true that rescinding the two-day holiday benefited those in the call center industry. Unfortunately, it penalized those in the manufacturing sector—a sector that is just as critical as the business process outsourcing industry in this country—as production schedules were already fixed around the old proclamation. This translated into hundreds of millions of pesos in lost revenues as production and delivery schedules cannot just be recalled and rescheduled on a whim.

There are people who are bemoaning the fact that they already bought non-refundable tickets and made non-refundable hotel arrangements for Nov. 27 to 30. In one of the e-mail groups that I subscribe to, there was talk of launching a class suit against those responsible for the snafu. But the consternation that met the flip-flopping around holidays was not really because we have been deprived of a holiday. Oh please, we are not that shallow.

This matter of holidays is serious business for many of us who have to fix production schedules, compute revenues and overhead costs, and schedule employee workdays.

I have written around six or seven pieces in this space about the way this administrations is bungling up holidays. I have already pointed out the many ways in which this administration is seemingly oblivious to the negative repercussions of treating this matter of holidays in a cavalier manner.

To begin with, Proclamation 1808 declaring Nov. 27 to 28 national holidays was already anomalous—it introduced a new concept called “national holidays.” There are currently “legal or regular holidays” and “nationwide special days.” Presidential proclamations in the past used the term “special holidays.” These terms have specific significance particularly in the computation of holiday premiums. Besides, the generally accepted notion is that only Congress can declare national holidays. How Malacañang can’t even be consistent in the use of terminologies is appalling. How it misinterpreted RA 9492 smacks of extreme incompetence.

I’ve said this many times in the past and I am going to say it once again here and now—this time more emphatically. The President and her minions should just take a hands-off policy towards holidays. Leave it to the people who know better.

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