POSTSCRIPT / May 2, 2006 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Palace offers P40-B gift to buy Labor Day peace

HO-HUM: I am not trying to be funny, but I fell asleep yesterday afternoon while monitoring the TV and radio coverage of the Labor Day rallies, the supposed apex of labor’s struggle for better working conditions.

Others who did not have to work like us had the foresight to hie off to some weekend resort to spare themselves the sight of red flags swamping work areas and, yesterday, the streets leading to Malacanang.

That reference to red flags has to be explained. Not a few investors have lamented that doing business in this country is like tiptoeing on eggs. One is constantly fearful that his office or factory might suddenly sprout a picket of red banners.

To many businessmen, the red banners usually mean goodbye to the business and their investment. Of course this statement is not fair to their workers, who are not always unreasonable, but that is the unfortunate perception.

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PEACE OFFERING: Anyway, congratulations are in order all around, especially to the workers who managed their ranks to march within the bounds of the law and to the weary policemen who kept watch with “maximum tolerance” at the back of their minds.

Malacanang must feel relieved having survived with nary a scratch the usually violent May 1 mass action of labor. Let us hope that after yesterday’s tame Labor Day, the administration does not forget its peace offering to labor.

President Gloria Arroyo and her creative Cabinet scraped the bottom of the barrels of various departments to gather non-wage benefits — including easy loans, cheap groceries, office buses, and tax breaks — offered to buy peace on the labor front.

Adding up the non-wage benefits, most of them actually mere promises, the Palace said the package carried a tag price of P40 billion. Wow!

Labor can now tighten its belt some more while waiting for the promised P40 billion to materialize. Hopefully the quality of workers’ lives will improve even just a bit before next year’s new Labor Day promises.

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CALL CENTERS: Showing she is one with the working man, President Gloria Arroyo started the day at 5:30 a.m. breaking bread with officials and employees of the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry, one of the fastest-growing businesses today.

With Labor Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas, the President went to a Starbucks outlet at the Ortigas Center in Pasig, where she had coffee and croissant with personnel of ClientLogic Philippines, one of the country’s top call center firms.

A source who looked like PR man Charlie Agatep said she spent around 45 minutes with them. One concern brought up was the need for safe transportation for those on the graveyard shift, considering that call centers operate round the clock.

Operations were explained by ClientLogic training manager Chie Fillon, coach Melanie Ann Sevilla, technical support representative Opalyn dela Cruz, operations manager Saide Yu, senior operations manager Mitch Galutera, and country manager Dan Reyes.

The President said she had earmarked P500 million — part of the P40-billion Labor Day package — to improve the business climate for call centers and other “night economy” businesses.

Note the figures to appreciate the potentials of BPO: In 2001, when the industry was just beginning, it had less than 2,000 workers. Now, after five years, it boasts of more than 100,000 workers. The projection is 200,000 in 2007, then 400,000 in 2008.

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PS MARTS: If military camps have their PX (post exchange) and commissaries that sell cheap goods, including appliances, to qualified personnel and members, why not replicate the facility in government offices?

As part of non-wage amelioration, President Arroyo is urging government personnel to put up Procurement Service (PS) Marts to sell goods such as office, school and household items about 20 percent cheaper to the members of their cooperatives or unions.

She launched yesterday a model PS Mart of the Department of Budget and Management on Solano St. in San Miguel. As envisioned, such commissaries must not earn more than three percent.

There will be regional depots for more efficient storage and distribution of goods. Bulk purchasing will keep prices down.

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LOREN PROTEST: Suddenly the election protest of former senator Loren Legarda before the Presidential Electoral Tribunal has become a problem to the proponents of People’s Initiative as the best mode for amending or revising the Constitution.

Her protest can prevent the Commission on Elections from using the registry of voters in contested areas to verify the signatures of voters who had signed the supposed initiative. The registries are now with the PET.

In the case of Cebu, for instance, the voters’ lists for the province, along with the ballot boxes and related election documents, are being used by the PET in resolving Legarda’s protest. This prevents their being used to verify the initiative signatures.

Under the Constitution, the initiative must be backed by the signatures of at least 12 percent of all registered voters nationwide — with each congressional district represented by at least 3 percent of its voters.

Even if just one district fails to produce its 3 percent, the process fails.

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TRO VS COMELEC: In Capiz, meanwhile, the Regional Trial Court has issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the Comelec’s verifying the signatures for the initiative. It said the verification would be a futile act since there was no enabling law to enforce it.

The Capizenos Movement Against Arroyo’s Charter Change (C-March) and the Iloilo Movement Against Arroyo’s Charter Change (I-March) have been conducting a political and legal battle against Charter change.

Similar legal actions have been filed in other places by groups and individuals opposed to Cha-cha.

In Quezon City, former Vice President Teofisto Guingona Jr. has filed a petition with the Regional Trial Court seeking to stop the Comelec from verifying signatures for the initiative.

Co-petitioners include the People’s Movement Against Charter Change (People’s March), Counsel for the Defense of Liberties, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) chairperson Carol Araullo, Willy Marbella of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, and Renato Reyes Jr., a registered voter of QC.

The idea is to have at least one district in the country failing to produce verified voters’ signatures constituting at least 3 percent of the registered votes in the district.

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ANOTHER OPTION: Since one of the side issues in the opposition campaign to force the ouster of President Arroyo is the matter of succession, there is a felt need for resolving posthaste the Legarda election protest.

Some quarters who are not impressed with or do not believe in Vice President Noli de Castro’s competence are saying that Ms Arroyo should remain as president if only to prevent the Vice President from replacing her.

To give a clear option to this sector, which surveys have shown to be quite sizeable, it might be best to resolve the Legarda protest without further delay.

Either way the protest goes, whether it was De Castro or Legarda who won the 2004 elections, at least the people are assured that they have a legitimate Vice President waiting in the wings in case Ms Arroyo vacates the presidency.

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TRUSTED SUCCESSOR: Interestingly, a survey conducted by Pulse Asia from Feb. 18 to March 14 showed Legarda, together with Sen. Mar Roxas, at the top of the list of public figures trusted by most Filipinos.

Roxas garnered 64 points to Legarda’s 63, but with the margin of error being plus or minus 3 percent, the two are actually in a dead heat.

Legarda’s camp pointed out that while Roxas is a sitting senator and therefore in the limelight, Legarda has been out of public view and was never included in previous surveys.

It was something, her followers added, that she still managed to tie Roxas for the top slot in the survey.

This survey is remarkable when taken in the context of the crisis of leadership plaguing the Arroyo administration.

If Legarda were the vice president, would the public be just as bothered by the thought that there is no viable or trusted successor in case Ms Arroyo is ousted or resigns?

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 2, 2006)

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