“All of us, rank and file employees of the bureaucracy are victims of an apparent policy of pressing down wage levels.” – COURAGE
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — President Aquino will get red and black – not yellow – ribbons from cash-strapped government employees protesting the newest tax, this time to be collected from their already meager benefits.
In a statement, Courage said government employees would tie red and black ribbons in their respective offices and other public places to show their protest against the Bureau of Internal Revenue’s Memorandum Order No. 23-2014, which seeks to impose 30 to 32 percent tax on all benefits received by government employees.
“We have long demanded for a wage increase but we were told that the government has no funds for it. Now, they impose tax even on our benefits,” Amiel de Vera, president of the Association of Court of Appeals Employees, said in a press conference on July 19.
“The Aquino government is trampling on the rights and welfare of government employees when it promised to uplift the conditions of the people in his ‘straight path,’” Estrella Rafael of the Metropolitan Trial Court Employees Association told Bulatlat.com, “Is this the straight path he was talking about?”
Government employees are set to file a temporary restraining order before the Supreme Court against BIR’s Memorandum Order No. 23-2014 this week.
Dax Millemena of Sandigan ng Empleyadong Nagkakaisa sa Adhikain ng Demokratikong Organisasyon (Senado) said majority of employees working at the Senate office hardly receive salaries within the living wage.
“In our case, we have yet to receive the benefits they are planning to tax,” said Mario Rivera, vice president of Kapisanan para sa Kagalingan ng mga Kawani ng Metro Manila Development Authority. He added that they have yet to receive their Collective Negotiation Agreement bonus and that they have also been deprived of their hazard pay.
Ferdinand Gaite, president of Courage, said government employees “are standing on a common ground.”
“The civil service sector shares with our fellows from the judiciary the beat and the brunt of the Aquino administration. All of us, rank and file employees of the bureaucracy are victims of an apparent policy of pressing down wage levels,” Gaite said.
During the press conference, Gaite said the Aquino administration is doing an anti-Robin Hood. “(Aquino) stole from the poor, and will tax our benefits to hand over to the rich,” he added.
Judicial Development Fund
Rafael, an employee of the Metropolitan Trial Court in Manila for 29 years, said that among the benefits that would be affected by the BIR’s memorandum is the Judicial Development Fund (JDF).
“Majority of our employees are receiving only P8,000 ($184) a month. If they deduct all premiums and their loans, they sometimes end up taking home only P3,000 ($69) a month,” she said, “Where would that take them?”
Rafael stressed that the benefits they are receiving are a big help to them. Under the JDF, for one, employees receive no less than P1,500 ($35) a month.
“Even before they get the money, employees are already using it to buy from the cooperative. By the time they get it, they would only receive more or less P600 ($14),” she said.
Rafael said that apart from getting their benefits taxed, court employees may lose their benefits under the JDF, with House Bill 4738, which aims to abolish the so-called pork barrel of the justices. The bill was authored by Iloilo Rep. Neil Tupas.
But Mar Aguilar, vice president of Judiciary Employees Association, belied claims that the JDF is the pork barrel of the justices. Citing Presidential Decree 1949, he added that the said funds have been used to provide benefits for all its employees.
PD 1949 guarantees that “economic conditions of the members and personnel of the Judiciary must be periodically reviewed and upgraded in order to preserve and enhance the independence of the Judiciary at all times and safeguard the integrity of its members.”
It also stipulated that at least 80 percent of the fund shall be used for the cost of living allowances of its employees and the remaining 20 percent for office equipment and facilities.
Aguilar said rank and file employees, in fact, receive a relatively bigger amount than those who hold higher position. He said that rank and file employees get P1,700 ($39) while justices and those in managerial positions get P1,500 ($35) and P1,600 ($37), respectively.
“Is that what they call pork barrel? What remains of it after our loan from the cooperative is deducted is hardly enough to buy a half cavan of rice,” Rafael said.
Erwin Ocson, vice president of the Supreme Court Employees Association, told Bulatlat.com that the JDF, for one, was used to procure equipment and repair trial courts in areas affected by Typhoon Yolanda.
Ocson said that instead of depriving employees of their JDF, the government should just pass the proposed law that seeks to increase the salary of government employees.
Join Sona protest
“We are appalled by President Aquino’s bullying of the Supreme Court. We are disgusted by his arrogant posturing that he is above the law and in his claim that his DAP is serving the public interest,” Gaite said.
During the press conference, Gaite stressed that there have been contradicting reports on how much public funds really went to DAP.
“If they cannot be held to account how much it is, how much more if we ask where it went?” Gaite said.
Courage urged fellow government employees to join the protest action in time for Aquino’s State of the Nation Address on June 28.