“Unlike Robin Hood who stole from rich people to give to the poor, the Aquino administration is stealing from the poor for the rich and corrupt government officials.” – Ferdinand Gaite, Courage.
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — Government employees marched to Mendiola to call on President Aquino to stop the order for them to refund several benefits they received.
“Unlike Robin Hood who stole from rich people to give to the poor, the Aquino administration is stealing from the poor for the rich and corrupt government officials,” Ferdinand Gaite, president of Courage, said.
The Commission on Audit has recently ordered 31 government-owned and -controlled corporations to refund bonuses it gave to its officials and employees, amounting to P2.313 billion ($51.66 million), citing that these bonuses are without legal basis and its release deemed unauthorized.
Government employees, under the Solidarity of Public Employees Against Refund (Spear) said, in a statement, that the benefits they received were a product of their struggle for a decent salary.
Rosalinda Nartates, spokesperson of Spear, said these benefits, such as their rice subsidy, food allowance, transportation allowance, medical assistance, among others, were beneficial to lowly workers in augmenting their “starvation pay.”
“The Aquino government is taking everything from us,” she said.
Nartates added that the savings of government agencies were supposed to be used to fund the benefits of its workers. But the fund was used by the Aquino administration, she said, to fund the reported patronage politics in the government.
“The government is not only callous, it is a tragedy to government employees,” Nartates said.
Yolanda-affected employees not spared
Government employees who were recently affected by Typhoon Yolanda, one of the strongest typhoons ever recorded, were not spared from the order to return their benefits.
“We are the ones who work and sweat it out but we receive meager compensation,” Arman Baiño, resident of Tacloban City and a worker of the Leyte Water District, told Bulatlat.com.
Baiño’s home was heavily damaged by Typhoon Yolanda. Though his salary as a supervisor should be pegged at P36,000 ($804), he said he would only receive around P2,000 ($45) due to the loans he incurred in sending his four children to school.
The benefits he used to receive, he added, were a big help in augmenting his salary. When he learned that they need to refund these benefits, he said he was very disappointed.
“We have been receiving those benefits for a long time already. Why are they going to take it away? What is their basis? Is this part of the government’s plan to limit its expenditure? Is it for public private partnership projects?” Baiño said.
For the case of workers of water districts, Baiño said, the benefits that they are receiving such as their amelioration pay ($67 per year), rice allowance ($33 per month), grocery allowance ($179 per year), medical allowance ($67 per year), among others, were already given to them when the water districts were still privately-owned. The Supreme Court decision back in 1992, when it ruled that water districts should be government-owned and -controlled, declared that the benefits workers have been receiving would remain “status quo.”
Baiño said workers of the Leyte Water District included in the Collective Negotiation Agreement the benefits that water district workers should receive to further strengthen their claims over the incentives, but the management has yet to implement it.
“We were told that there would be financial assistance to the victims of Yolanda. But where is it?” he said.
The Presidential Management Staff, in a memorandum to the heads of national government agencies, said that there is a proposal to provide financial assistance to government employees affected by the 7.2-magnitude earthquake that hit Regions VI and VII and Typhoon Yolanda in Regions IV-A, IV-B, V, VI, VII, VIII, X and XI.
“Those whose houses were washed out/totally or heavily damaged and needing major repairs to be habitable again are to be provided P100,000 ($2,233) each,” the memorandum stipulated, “Those whose homes were partially damaged and needing repairs are to be provided P30,000 ($670) each.”
Heads of government agencies were supposed to submit the list of their employees affected by the disasters by January 22, 2014. The list would be validated by the Office of Civil Defense.
But until now, members of Courage said, the financial assistance remains a mere proposal. Instead of being given financial assistance, Baiño said, he would need to cough up an estimated P200,000 ($4,467) for the refund, .
Other workers who are receiving lower pay than him, he added, might need to refund as much as P70,000 ($1,564).
“Where are we going to get that amount? I heard even the retirees were told to refund what they have received,” Baiño said.
”Employees in the water districts — well drillers, plumbers, meter readers, pipe maintenance personnel, are one of the lowest paid in government. We badly need these benefits to survive. The issue here is survival not even to afford a decent living,” Rudy Aranjuez, national president of Water System Employees Response, said.
“We were victimized by Yolanda and the government’s inaction on our demands is further victimizing us,” he said.
He added that the only “help” government employees who survived the typhoon got is the Government Service Insurance System’s Home Emergency Loan Program (Help). The said program allows government employees who have served for 10 years to loan up to P200,000 ($4,467), payable in 10 years and with 6 percent per annum interest.
“That is our money and they are loaning it to us with interest,” Baiño said.
Edelmero Reyes, 47, who came all the way from Cotabato to join the protest action, said Aquino’s “tuwid na daan” (straight path) has not served government employees.