Government employees, unite!

Analysis and Positions on the Estrada administration, approved by the COURAGE National Council, 7 July 1998

CONTINUE the STRUGGLE for Higher Salary, Job Security and Union Rights!

OPPOSE the Policies of Privatization and Re-engineering the Bureaucracy!

After more than a decade since the resurgence of public sector unionism, every government employee has learned and appreciated that collective strength and action are proven weapons to protect our interests as public sector workers and advance our cause as public servants.

As a matter of fact, our unions and we have survived and persevered towards growth during the administration of Aquino and matured with the exit of President Ramos. As we enter the auspices of the new Estrada administration, we are sure to move forward, better equipped to face the challenge of real difficulties ahead.

The Ramos' formula of‘Philippines 2000’ went to naught:

The sudden devaluation of the Philippine Peso in July 1997 bared obvious the irreversible process of economic crisis in the country. The fundamentally weak economy was exacerbated by the total adherence by the Ramos Administration to the policy-dictates of liberalization, deregulation, and privatization of the foreign monopoly capital.

The Philippines is still being hit by the financial crisis that is still getting worse especially in the emergent markets in Asia like Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, etc. The downfall of these emergent markets which were created by the monopoly capital to ease their crisis of over production has rendered the Ramos formula of Philippines 2000 a naught.

The Ramos government exited without a single economic indicator to boast of. The Gross National Product (GNP) is down to 2.5% from previous year’s 5.4%. Likewise, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is a low 1.7% also a far cry from former 5.5%.

For the first year in four years (since 1993), deficit in the Balance of Payment (BOP) US$ 3.3 B is uphill compared to US$166 M in 1993. Even the basic economic indicator of Government International Reserve (GIR) dipped by 25% from a high US$ 11.7 B.

The much sought after foreign investment was a bubble that burst because indeed it was a mere hype of economic activities. On the other hand, inflation increased beyond propaganda repair, breaching the single digit level to 10.3, while the purchasing power of the Philippine Peso decreased by 46% such that, the P1.00 in 1988 is only P0.35 in Metro Manila and P0.40 in areas outside Metro Manila.

Moreover, President Ramos left the national coffers in bad shape. Estrada’s own finance manager predicts a PhP70 B budget deficit by the end of 1998 which will force further cuts in the already lopsided appropriations for social services in favor of debt servicing, pork barrel, and military budget. The deficit may have been aggravated by extravagant centennial celebration that costed over P2.4 B combined with a shortfall in revenues.

The previous year's budget surplus was sourced out of loan and proceeds from the sale of public assets. The Ramos administration was also characterized by a tradition of scams in government deals where the record of legislators was second only to the Office of the President, as well as a militarized bureaucracy that conforms to the unquestioned commands of the Chief Executive.

Meanwhile, the people are experiencing far worse suffering. The massive land grabbing by foreign corporations and local landlords disguised in the government scheme of land conversion continue to dislocate millions of families in the countryside.

After 25 years of implementing the agrarian reform program of government, twelve years after Marcos rule, land distribution was reported at 57.4% mainly covering government land. This does not include revoked Certificate of Land Ownership (CLOA) while 59,071.03 hectares were subject of land conversion.

Deceptive as it is, government data on unemployment rose to 13.3% from 10.4%, although other source estimates unemployment and underemployment at 30%. This means that 4.9 Millions of the labor force is out of job. The policy on cheap labor is no longer contained in low wages but the casualization and contractualization of workers, depriving them of the barest guarantee of secured job.

This situation is worsened by the deregulation of the oil industry that further spawned rise in prices of basic commodities. Over and above, is the additional burden of scarce and higher cost of social and public services due to privatization.

In the end, the Ramos government had to acknowledge publicly the widened gap between the rich and the poor. It was a single statement that summarised the failure of his administration.

Erap Para sa Mahihirap: Will it Deliver?

President Estrada catapulted to power precisely by capturing the protest of the people against further economic and social suffering and bureaucratic corruption in his populist slogan of ‘Erap para sa Mahihirap’ (Erap for the Poor), together with his movie star popularity. However, despite serious campaign bickerings that included exchanges of bitter mudslingings, Erap and Ramos united to form a ‘government of national unity’ right after the elections.

Enough proof to validate that there is no essential difference between the just ended Ramos administration and the new Estrada government. Besides, Ramos had to befriend Erap, aside from being both descendants of the martial rule, various contracts worth billions of Pesos entered by Ramos are due for implementation under the auspices of President Estrada.

In exchange for a smooth transition, General Gregorio Vigilar in the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) was retained and General Alexander Aguirre was appointed as presidential adviser on national security.

The campaign battle cry of ‘Erap para sa Mahirap’ is thus an empty promise already exposed even before President Estrada started wasting public funds by having an elaborate and expensive oath taking ceremonies. His inaugural speech was once more mere rhetoric to satisfy the audience and keep his popularity ratings.

Days before the May elections, Estrada cleverly worked for the green signal of Uncle Sam for his presidency. Upon the return of his emissaries from the US, Erap’s camp announced to honor the package of policy-dictates by IMF-World Bank for a US $1.2 B loan entered by then President Ramos.

As soon as he was sure of bagging the presidency, Erap lost no time in giving his assurances to the big business sector. Even before taking his oath, President Estrada was quick with pronouncements to repay the favors of the likes of Marcoses, Lucio Tan, and Danding Cojuangco as his benefactors.

The Erap technocrats may be uttering different words in its publicised ten-point action program and change the Ramos‘ battle cry of ‘Philippines 2000’. However, the elaboration of the Estrada administration more exactly detailed its true character of servitude to foreign monopoly capital, local big business, and landlords.

It is not essentially new but an adherence to the old and rehashed concepts of ‘free market’ and ‘civil society' also known as globalization. A set of policies contrary to economic sovereignty, national industrialization, and genuine land reform.

Estrada’s action plan is more daring than that of Ramos’. True to his reel role in the movies, Erap will outdo Ramos as the champion of foreign capital. He will not only further liberalize, deregulate and privatize, Erap will complete the task of Charter Change (cha-cha) to allow foreigners land ownership, 100% capitalization in banking and finance, and open other areas in investments like media and retail trade to foreign monopolies. Erap is bravado, fearless as he ventures into the sale of our patrimony.

This administration's tendency on fascism is not a wild idea. Aside from retaining some Ramos' appointees like General Vigilar and Aguirre more of their kind a joining the bureaucracy. Not being a military general, Erap is concentrating all military and police powers in himself.

Erap is now the Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), directly supervising the Philippine National Police (PNP) as the concurrent Secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), and created an anti-crime super task force of police and military to report directly to him.

Personally chosen by Erap to head the task force is General Panfilo Lacson who is under investigation for the Kuratong Baleleng rob-out allegedly committed under Estrada during his stint as chief of the now defunct Presidential Anti-Crime Commission (PACC).

Partaking lunch with picketing farmers cannot allay or diminish the dangers that the people will anticipate under the Estrada administration. His one-liners on the abolition of the pork barrel is of no consolation as its direction is a mere transfer of the graft-ridden scheme to the executive branch, meaning into Erap’s own hands.

Erap in the face of people’s outrage backtracked in his decision to bury the much-hated former dictator Marcos at the ‘Libingan ng mga Bayani’ (Heroes' Cemetery). However, this is neither the end nor the essence of his loyalty to the Marcoses.

The depth of his being a Marcos loyalist is carved in his action plan to abolish the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) at this point when the ill-gotten wealth of the deposed dictator and his cronies remain unrecovered.

Indeed, Erap is a loyal follower that he has to ensure their favors in the action plan of his government. He wants immediate action on the nature of the coconut levy in which Danding Cojuangco has a claim.

Likewise, a tax amnesty program and complete privatization of government investments in the Philippine Airlines (PAL), Philippine National Bank (PNB), Petron, etc. are needed by Lucio Tan and others as partners of foreign investors. Surely, soon the President will face the likes of Atong Ang and other chinoy businessmen as they start collecting the return of their favors.

Indeed Erap's inaugural speech was well applauded for promising that‘the day of the masses has come’ by solving poverty, graft and corruption, and criminality. The question is: Can Erap deliver the masses from exploitation and oppression through his ten-point program?

A strategy that prescribe continued servitude to foreign interests and favoring local big business; a program that does not resolve the basic issue of genuine land reform, and allowing the resurgence of the remaining claws of the hated Marcos dictatorship?

Government Employees' Issues under the Estrada Government:

As the Ramos government exited, over 330,000 government employees were laid-off; majority are still receiving an income below poverty threshold; job security is violated; and union rights trampled upon. The basic sectoral concerns of better pay, security of tenure, and union rights remain as contentious issues of government employees with the entrance of the Estrada administration.

The struggle for a living wage is as basic as the demand for job security. These are twin concerns of all Filipino workers including the government employees. Thus, it must be clear from the start that the government to justify the implementation of its policy on mass lay-off should not use the demand for salary increase.

Through the militant struggle of public sector workers, the Salary Standardisation Law (SSL I) was passed in 1989. The law afforded government employees a monthly base pay of PhP2,200 from various amounts of as low as PhP600. In 1993, militant actions for salary increase resulted to SSL II which raised the monthly base pay to PhP4,400.

Though the last instalment of SSL II was paid in 1997, about 35% of 1.2-M government employees already received their last increase in 1996. A monthly base pay of PhP4, 400 translated at the current purchasing power of Philippine Peso is equivalent to PhP1, 540. A monthly real wage of PhP1, 540 or even a gross base pay of PhP4, 400 is definitely way below the monthly cost of living of PhP12, 936.90 or PhP431.23 per day.

The inadequacy of the current salary rates to meet the minimum daily needs require no further elaboration as the crunch of the crisis is endured by everyone. Even the legislators and the top executives are anxious to implement their pay hike which will double the current amount. What guts indeed for these politicians and high bureaucrats to cry demand for higher pay while maintaining a cheap labor policy!

The government’s cheap labor policy which is meant to attract foreign investors and as part of austerity measures dictated upon by the IMF-World Bank to ensure automatic allocations for our staggering foreign debt of US$ 45.433 B is the real culprit.

While keeping the salaries of government employees below poverty threshold, the government is deficit spending to keep the pockets of the top echelons full from pork barrel and their takes from government deals. A lopsided national budget that continues to cut amounts for social services and subsidy for public service.

In the same frame, the Estrada administration has repeatedly announced the need to downsize the bureaucracy via mass lay-off. In his ten-point program, he intends to regain the power of the President to reorganise the bureaucracy and will create a Presidential Commission on Government Reorganization to oversee the process.

Re-engineering or reorganisation of the bureaucracy has always been a means of the administration to consolidate its power. Estrada is using an abused argument that the objective of its reorganisation is a ‘lean and mean’ bureaucracy. On the contrary, as in the past, it is expected to result to the positioning of mix interest groups in his government.

Public institutions are abolished and created depending on the agenda of the powers that be and never to improve the delivery of services. It is a repeated process, never ending as a matter of fact, that victimises only the rank-and-file employees and independent-minded middle managers. It continues to violate the security of tenure of public sector workers as well as the merit and promotion system for career officials.

One of government's key policy of privatization has resulted to mass lay-off, a recent case was the sale of the Metropolitan Waterworks & Sewerage System (MWSS) that turned its remaining 5,600 employees as contractual after 2,000 of them were retired earlier.

Now comes the priority to sell institutions dealing with basic services such as; National Power Corporation (NAPOCOR), National Food Authority (NFA), Philippine Postal Corporation (PPC), and others. However, beyond mass lay-off of affected employees, privatization is a policy that only burdened the people while satisfying the greed for super profits by foreign monopoly capital and their local counterparts.

This is one area where the Estrada administration has shown an early sign of double talk. The President, in a radio interview, announced that he will not allow the privatization of government hospitals and bragged about using the pork barrel for tuition fee subsidies during his inaugural speech. Yet his program speak of selling all public institutions especially those in basic and social services, strategic utilities and industries, and the patrimony.

Public Sector Workers' Response:

The masses cannot expect any relief but further suffering from the policy orientation of the Estrada government that is the same as Ramos strategy that resulted to economic crisis and government bankruptcy.

Unlike Ramos term, which started in a better world financial condition, Estrada is faced with worsening global economic crisis and tight fiscal shape. His direction to depend even more on foreign intervention is bound to subject every Filipino to greater difficulties to the extent that the majority of them will not be willing to endure.

It is therefore expected that the very ‘masa’ (masses) that voted for Estrada as President will heighten their protests to seek immediate relief and even long term alternatives. The people will primarily depend on their long experience in the mass movement.

In the same breath, we, the government employees shall strengthen our ranks and fight for our demands. It is important though for the public sector workers to recognise that their sectional concerns are intertwined with the national concerns. Therefore, we must act in unity with the other sectors and the Filipino masses as we address our immediate problems.

Thus, we, government employees will:

I. Fight for Salary Increase, Job Security, and Full Union Rights.

  1. An additional monthly base pay of PhP 2,500. This is an amount within the frame of general salary increase in order to cope with the decrease in the real wage due to the lowering of the purchasing power of the Philippine Peso.

    Against the IMF-World Bank dictated policy on mass lay-off and the protection of the basic right on job security.

  2. Regularization of all benefits including the amelioration pay, hazard pay, productivity incentive bonus (PIB), anniversary bonus, and other palpable gains won by public sector workers through collective negotiation agreements (CNA).
  3. Review, amend or repeal of the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) Act of 1997 regarding higher mandatory contributions by employees, improvement in benefits, and proper accounting of the GSIS funds.
  4. Repeal of the Civil Service Commission (CSC) Memorandum Circular (MC) No. 06, Series of 1987 and other similar issuances violating the right of government employees on full union rights including the right to strike.

II. Oppose and expose the policy of privatization.

  1. Oppose the sale and commercialization of public institutions & assets specially those that provides the basic and social services such as hospitals and health services, agricultural services, universities and colleges, power, water, postal, roads, ports, transportation, communication, housing, and staple food.
  2. Oppose the sale and completion of the privatization of public assets of earning government-owned and controlled corporations (GOCCs) and government financial institutions (GFIs) like the PNB, PAL, Petron, Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), coconut levy fund, and others as source of revenue to support the budget deficits of the government.
  3. Oppose the privatisation of GSIS, Social Security System (SSS) and the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PHIC) which are trust funds accumulated from mandatory deductions from private and public sector workers and therefore owned by them.
  4. Oppose and Expose the immediate and long term effects of privatization of public institutions such as mass lay-off of concerned employees and the profit orientation in the delivery of basic and social services resulting to scarcity and unaffordability.
  5. Expose the ulterior motives of privatization as satisfying the greed of foreign monopoly capital and local big business for super profit and the collusion of politicians and high bureaucrats for kickbacks.

III. Oppose and Expose the Re-engineering of the bureaucracy.

  1. Oppose all schemes of mass lay-off such as the mandatory 5% reduction of personnel every six months, abolition and mergers of agencies, internal restructuring, regularization of GOCCs, and the like.
  2. Oppose the plan of President Estrada to attain blanket authority and sole prerogative to reorganise the bureaucracy and the creation of the Presidential Commission on Government Reorganization and other agencies aimed at serving the personal interests of the Estrada government and its benefactors.
  3. Oppose all attempts of the Estrada administration to violate the merit and promotion system of the civil service, which will victimize the ranks of middle managers, especially the progressives and independent-minded in order to consolidate its hold on the bureaucracy by appointing their proteges to important positions.
  4. Oppose all attempts of the Estrada administration to use the process of reorganization to harass and decimate the strength of the organised section of the government employees.

Likewise, we shall actively involve in campaigns on national concerns with the following as the most critical and urgent:

Oppose and Expose the plan for Charter Change (cha-cha) that is geared towards the furtherance of the neo-liberal policies of liberalization, deregulation and privatization; specifically, allowing land ownership to foreigners, 100% foreign capitalization in investments; and the entry of Transnational Corporations (TNCs) in other investment areas such retail trade and media.

Oppose the commitment of President Estrada to work for the ratification of the Visiting Forces' Agreement (VFA) which will turn the entire country as military bases of the US by allowing the use of all ports, joint military exercises, and granting of special privileges. The VFA which was signed by former President Ramos is set for ratification by the SENATE in October, 1998;

Oppose the series of oil price hike and the rising prices of basic commodities and services; and

Oppose the reconcentration of land into the hands of foreign corporations and local landlords through massive landgrabbing and land conversion, which are being perpetrated by the government.