Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Chaotic Decision-Making

At Large : Ad hoc holidays

Rina Jimenez-David
Inquirer News Service

IF SOME of us need any more proof of what an ad hoc republic we have become, then they need look no further than events over the weekend. Friday evening, amid speculations about Monday (Aug. 29) being declared a non-working holiday, Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye stated quite clearly that this would not be so. The observance of National Heroes Day had precisely been meant to fall on the last Sunday of August (Aug. 28 this year), he said. And that, I thought, was that.

Imagine the country's surprise then when Sunday's papers announced that MalacaƱang had changed its mind and had declared Monday a non-working holiday. Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had called him up at 6 p.m. of Saturday to announce her change of heart.

While students might have rejoiced at the prospect of an extended weekend, others, particularly businesspeople, were not so sanguine. A human resource consultant, who was part of a team-building exercise I had joined that weekend, lamented out loud the government's penchant for springing surprise holidays. "Don't they realize the impact on businesses and on our daily wage earners?" he ranted.

Over lunch at the Discovery Country Suites, after my family fetched me from Tagaytay City Sunday morning, I realized with some chagrin that it was too late to book us for an overnight stay. If the objective is to promote domestic tourism, after all, government should announce a holiday early enough so families can make plans for a three-day weekend. But the two members of the family who follow daily schedules -- my daughter the college student and my husband -- were happy enough doing as they pleased the next day.

* * *

BUT the hubby's plans for an extra day's rest were soon thwarted by the clarification announced by, of all people, a deejay from a pop music station, who said the holiday pronouncement was only for students and public sector workers. We tried to confirm the news on public affairs radio, but their Sunday afternoon shows consisted mainly of lifestyle advice and showbiz news. Only by waking up very early yesterday morning and tuning in to early-morning TV and radio news did my husband finally confirm that indeed he had to report for work that day.

Never mind the thwarted plans for an extended weekend, or the inconvenience of, say, canceling Monday appointments then reconfirming them yet again. But the sheer incompetence of officials, notwithstanding their apology for the confusion they caused, is simply breathtaking.

Bunye and Ermita admitted that the President gave neither reason nor explanation for the sudden change, even if it only involved the observance of a national holiday. I can only hope her motivation was serious and significant enough to warrant the wholesale inconvenience.

* * *

THERE are speculations that the last-minute holiday was declared to fend off a vote in the House of Representatives regarding the impeachment of the President. Would one day make a difference in the fate of the impeachment complaint, which observers acknowledge seems headed to an early demise anyway? Perhaps MalacaƱang felt it needed more time to nail the commitment of legislators in the "undecided" camp, what with young lawmakers from pro-administration parties having crossed partisan lines to sign on to the impeachment bandwagon.

But if this is so, then I think it's one more reason to call for the President's resignation. The "Hyatt 10" had said they left the Arroyo Cabinet and called for the President's resignation because they sensed that she would devote the remaining years of her term to appeasing her enemies and compromising with powerful interests just so she could remain in power.

The resignation of former Ayala Land head Francisco Licuanan III as chair of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority has already been attributed to the President's decision to override him on certain appointments just to accommodate her political allies, who are proving helpful in thwarting the progress of the impeachment. It doesn't seem all that farfetched that she would think nothing of throwing the entire country into an uproar by declaring an unscheduled holiday halfway through the weekend for political expedience. In that sense are we, the entire Filipino nation, as much hostages to Ms Arroyo's political troubles as she is.

* * *

WHATEVER the motivation for declaring an unexpected holiday, there are still ways by which the President or her officials could minimize the inconvenience and losses arising from the work stoppages.

For starters, government could stop tinkering with the calendar. One would hope that with the opening of each new year, our planners in government would already know exactly how many non-working holidays there will be.

Private firms already factor these in when making their calculations on productivity, so why can't government? Release an official list of "working" and "non-working" holidays in a year and stick to it! That's not too hard now, is it?

Second, if we're going to have a "non-working" holiday, then make it non-working for everybody -- workers in the private sector as well as in government; students in college and in private institutions as well as in other levels and in public schools. It's wasteful and stressful for citizens to have to interpret public announcements about holidays -- or emergencies, as in typhoons and other disasters -- as if they were quatrains by Nostradamus.

Finally, we have an entire network of government communication facilities, and yet official pronouncements contain either vague or incomplete information. Executive Secretary Ermita reportedly announced the late holiday simply by text-messaging the news to newsrooms and reporters. Ay-yay-yay, only in the Philippines!

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