The Long View
Republic of confusion
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:16:00 07/09/2009
The Iglesia ni Cristo marks its 95th anniversary on July 27. The anniversary was heralded by news that the date- also the constitutionally-appointed one for the President’s State of the Nation Address – would be a holiday. However, some newspapers, including this one, reported that the date would be a working holiday, while INQUIRER.net reported that it would be a non-working holiday.
Apparently what came out in the media depended on the press release reporters got hold of. One Palace statement announced that the 27th would be a non-working holiday, while another said that it would be a working holiday.
This is important because if the holiday were a special non-working one, private sector employees don’t have to go to work, and if they do, they will be entitled to additional compensation. If it’s a special working holiday, no one’s compensation gets affected either way since everyone has to work and at most, workers will be requested to pause in silent reflection on the significance of the special day.
There was also a certain amount of imprecision in either the announcement of Iglesia ni Cristo Day or the reporting of the announcement. Republic Act 9645, enacted on June 12 of this year, declared July 27 a special working holiday – a special day – in perpetuity.
What President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo apparently did was to announce that the law is now in operation, so that people would be aware of the designation of the 27th as a special day. Naturally she also took the opportunity to be the first to send felicitations to the INC. Next year is an election year, after all.
But the public, for some reason, and probably mainly because the holiday was announced by the Palace, got the impression the special day was an outright non-working holiday and declared so on the President’s initiative. And since the chief executive has a holiday economics policy in place, that people could look forward to a long weekend.
The President, in the past, had used her power to proclaim non-working holidays tactically, to defuse political tensions by sending the public off to enjoy itself when political tempers were particularly high. Businessmen objected to this because impromptu holidays threw a monkey-wrench into their efforts to rationally plan the working year. Eventually, the government formalized both its holiday economics policy by legislating the moving of national holidays to dates that permit three-day weekends, while pledging to control itself when it came to proclaiming spur-of-the-moment days off.
So when conflicting news came out concerning the 27th, human resources offices started calling to get clarification on what exactly the day would be, according to law. They searched the Internet, but the best that could be found there, aside from conflicting news reports, was a Senate bill (S. No. 3281), and not the law itself. One HR person I know called the Office of the Press Secretary and asked for a copy of the law (RA 9645) but was told they didn’t have any. They were helpful enough, however, to clarify that the day would indeed be a working holiday.
I suppose other HR departments called other government departments, whether the Department of Labor and Employment, the Malacanang Records Office, or the Presidential Management Staff. But it strikes me as particularly relevant that the Office of the Press Secretary didn’t have a copy of the law on which the President’s announcement – transmitted, in turn, by the executive secretary and the press secretary – was based.
The press secretary is the official in charge of the National Printing Office (formerly the Bureau of Printing) which in turn is in charge of the preparation and publication of the Official Gazette. This is supposed to be the journal of record for the government.
Prior to martial law, the Official Gazette was marvelously complete, from executive issuances, congressional resolutions and laws, to court decisions, and even had sections on appointments and designations, the chief executive’s official week, and even selected documents deemed of historical value. During martial law, however, coverage became spotty as the government became more secretive. After the Edsa I uprising, in a bid to make public information more accessible, an executive order (No. 200, June 18, 1987) mandated that publication in two newspapers of general circulation sufficed, as far as the need to inform the public of a law’s existence, for it to go into effect. This was supposed to be superior to simply publishing laws and presidential issuances in the Official Gazette, which the public didn’t really have access to anyway.
An unintended consequence of all this, however, was to keep the Official Gazette’s coverage of all things official haphazard and disorganized. Newspapers benefited from the fees they charged the government, but I wonder if the public has benefited from it, particularly since newspaper publication is good for informing people today, but unless you maintain a collection of clippings it’s not particularly useful in terms of keeping a durable record of official directives.
Sweden, which has the oldest Official Gazette in the world, switched publication purely to the Internet in 2007. Our Official Gazette continues to be far from comprehensive and has no online presence. The Office of the President of the Philippines website has begun publishing executive issuances and laws, but the contents only pertain to the present administration. Private groups have taken to publishing laws and such online, too, but again these efforts aren’t complete and not as timely as government could achieve.
The lesson is a simple one. A lot of confusion, for officials and the public alike, could be avoided by embarking on an effort to bring the Official Gazette up to date, to put it online, and to encourage HR departments to subscribe to it – provided the information contained is of the same comprehensiveness and quality as the pre-1972 Official Gazette.