Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Volume 2, Number 38               October 27 - November 2,  2002            Quezon City, Philippines

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Massive Government Job Cuts Seen Early Next Year

Unless President Arroyo completely backtracks from her earlier announced proposal to abolish some 14 government offices, more than 10,000 government employees will find themselves out of work early next year.

IBON Features/Reposted by Bulatlat.com

Unless President Arroyo completely backtracks from her earlier announced proposal to abolish some 14 government offices, more than 10,000 government employees will find themselves out of work early next year.

Courage, the mother organization of employees unions in different government offices nationwide, however, fears there could be more as a result of government's relentless drive to privatize most of the 1.5-million strong civilian bureaucracy doing vital social services to the country's 80 million population.

Meantime, in the wake of the government breaching its targeted P130 billion budget deficit earlier on in July, Arroyo mandated all government agencies to do their own privatization to aid in plugging a widening budgetary shortfall, further fueling speculations that massive job cuts are in the offing for millions of workers in the public sector.

From Abolition to Deactivation

President Arroyo, saying the government stands to save about P1.6 billion next year from her proposal, justified the abolition of the 14 government office that include the National Printing Office (NPO).

Apparently realizing its error in calling for the abolition of these offices, some of which were created by law, Malacaņang changed tactic. From abolition, it now calls for their deactivation, while claiming that the president has the power to order a streamlining of a bloated government bureaucracy.

But employees to be affected by the government's streamlining efforts see their fate not changing with the government's change of plan or justification for its plan.

According to Mario Adarlo, president of the NPO Workers Association (NPOWA), it was the same tactic that saw the abolition of the Department of Finance's Economic Intelligence Information Bureau (EIIB) in 2000.

Some 1,250 EIIB employees were put out of work in what started as a deactivation of the anti-smuggling government unit after it earned the ire of then President Estrada whose operatives allegedly intercepted smuggled logs belonging to someone close to the now jailed president.  

Up to December

Beleaguered government employees only see themselves having to work until December this year.

According to Adarlo, Congressman Rolando Andaya, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, told him and NPOWA's 615 members that Malacaņang specifically instructed him to withhold appropriations for the NPO and the 13 other government offices up for deactivation, including the Telecommunications Office, which employs 5,400 personnel.    

Threatened, Adarlo says NPO's employees have been holding daily mass actions in front of the NPO's plant since they were informed of government's plan last August 20. They have likewise sought the audience of Senate and House leaders where they have been attending sessions deliberating their plight and that of other government employees. 

Cause for Agitation

There is a cause for agitation for Courage's more than 300,000 members. According to Courage President Ferdinand Gaite, government employees source of living is now under attack from the government itself.

If there is a massacre of jobs in the private sector because of globalization, we in the public sector are being systematically robbed of our right to security of tenure because of the government's complicity with international capital interests represented by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, Gaite says, adding, This, in furtherance of its strategic objective to privatize the entire public service that, incidentally, the government has even now minimally provided.

Aside from the Arroyo government's intention to force the early retirement of at least 10,000 public servants, Gaite sees parallel moves throughout the bureaucracy pointing towards massive job cuts that could affect tens to hundreds of thousands government employees.

Gaite cites employees of various shelter agencies, including the National Housing Authority (NHA), who may soon lose their jobs as a result of the creation of a Department of Housing and Urban Development (DHUD).

The latter is premised on a law that has already passed by the House of Representatives and is currently being deliberated in a joint House and Senate bicameral conference committee. The law is seen to have far-reaching consequences that primarily relegates to the private sector the provision of governments basic housing services to the country's urban population.

Collectively, 7,000 employees from seven shelter agencies are opposing DHUD, which is calculated not only to displace most of them but also to result in the transfer of public housing projects to the profit-seeking interest of private real estate business.

Gaite says the same thing might also soon happen to employees of the National Food Authority (NFA). Most of NFA's 5,500 employees could be rendered redundant, he says, with the government's planned rice import liberalization program in compliance with an Asian Development Bank's $175 million Grains Sector Development Loan.

Gaite enumerates other government agencies lined up for reorganization such as the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), Bureau of Customs (BOC) and attached agencies of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE). 

Personnel of local government units, he adds, are now feeling the heat of massive reorganization moves in the bureaucracy, while casual employees who for years have been serving government are being eased out as well.

All these under a schematic implementation of government's privatization, liberalization and deregulation policies. At the enticement of superprofits, public service is being offered to the hands of local and foreign big capital. President Arroyo would rather offer the future of hundreds of thousands of public servants just to ensure that she will retain her post beyond 2004, Gaite says. 

Budget Deficit

The Arroyo government, according to Gaite, is accusing Courage of exaggerating government proposals to put order in the bureaucracy.

Gaite, however, points out that it was Malacaņang that started it all when President Arroyo arbitrarily announced the abolition of 14 government offices.

If it hadn t been for newspaper reports, Gaite further recalls, they wouldn t even have known that the 14 named government offices were planned for dissolution upon the recommendation of a recently formed Presidential Commission on Effective Governance (PCEG).

The PCEG is reportedly composed of the secretaries of the Department of Budget and Management, Civil Service Commission, Department of Finance, and other government institutions. 

According to Andaya, Gaite says, the PCEG came up with a list of the 14 offices shortly after the president asked it to conduct a study on how to bring down the budget deficit.

Explains Gaite, The government is trying to make it appear that it is the bureaucracy that is the cause of the government's yawning budget deficit. What the PCEG fails to consider, however, is that it is the government's highly paid bureaucrats who further add to the government's budget deficit woes.

More importantly, it is not government's allocations for its civilian offices which are even earning revenues for the government - that eat up its budget but the gargantuan allocations being put to unproductive sectors like the military and foreign debt servicing, he adds. 

Arroyo's Strategic Objective

President Arroyo, in defending her decision to have the NPO abolished, pointed to a World Bank fund for a generous early retirement for NPO workers.

The strategic thing there is that the World Bank has funding for a generous early retirement, which will not be charged to the budget deficit, Arroyo was quoted as saying in a major newspaper last August.

The same newspaper also mentions Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye, under whose office the NPO is attached, appealing the planned abolition of NPO, which was created by Philippine Commission Act 296 of 1901, and later through Executive Order 295 under the so-called Freedom Constitution of former President Aquino.

Gaite, on the other hand, scoffs at what Arroyo calls strategic.

When you say strategic, that means long term. But I don't see anything strategic (with NPO abolition). Unless if it really has something to do with 2004, he says.

The president has been severely criticized for trying to abolish the NPO a revenue-generating government unit that its union officers claim has consistently saved an average of P100 million annually for the treasury in order to prepare her electoral victory for the 2004 polls through massive cheating.

Senator Tessie Aquino-Oreta an opposition senator has commented that the administration may have deliberately floated the idea of abolishing 14 government offices as a smokescreen for the NPO abolition.

The NPO prints election paraphernalia like ballots and election returns. Its abolition, critics point out, will pave the way for the printing of such materials by a semi-private firm controlled by the president's close allies.

A stone's throw from the NPO plant in EDSA is the Asian Productivity Organization (APO) Production Unit, which NPOWA's Adarlo is accusing of encroaching upon NPO's exclusive functions and clientele. Over the past two years, he says, APO has been aggressively taking over government printing jobs previously handled by the NPO.

According to documents furnished by Adarlo to IBON Features, APO is a government-owned corporation created through a Memorandum of Agreement between the government and APO during the Marcos regime. While those sitting in APO's governing board are government appointees, its personnel are not government employees as they are governed not by the Civil Service Law but by the Labor Code.

Saddled by a P700 million and P15 million loans to the Philippine National Bank and Land Bank of the Philippines, respectively, the APO has been put under the Asset Privatization Trust in 1989. In December 2000, then President Estrada transferred it to the Office of the Press Secretary, pending its final disposition.

APO last remitted to the national treasury an aggregate amount of P271,389.71 in 1989.

Sitting in the board of APO is known Arroyo media publicist, Manila Times publisher Dante Ang, while its chairman of the board, Renato Velasco, is also the director general of the Philippine Information Agency, also under the office of the Press Secretary.

Gaite likewise sees a sinister motive behind the proposed abolition of the DOTC's Telecommunications Office and the DFA's Commission on Filipino Overseas. The former, he notes, performs a crucial role in transmitting election returns, while the latter directly oversees migrant Filipino workers, amid on-going congressional moves to pass an absentee voting bill for Filipino contract workers abroad. 

W orld Bank

While doubting whether there is really a World Bank fund for the early retirement of government employees to be laid off, Gaite is enraged that the government is ready to sacrifice its employees for its own self-interest.

The truth is out. The government is again going to use public servants to pay off its debts, he says.

Gaite says members of Courage have always known that behind such plans of reorganizing and streamlining the bureaucracy are foreign financial institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Gaite says a 1998 World Bank Memorandum on Economic and Financial Policies listed as number one among key reform areas it required of the then Estrada administration is advancing the reengineering of the core government bureaucracy.

He adds that the World Bank memorandum is part of a $1.4 billion Public Sector Reform Loan and that the Arroyo government's moves are obviously calculated to bring about the release of the next tranche of the said loan.

Asked how Courage sees the World Bank's role in the administration's moves affecting government employees security of tenure, Gaite says that like the rest of the Filipino people, Courage is involved in a militant protest movement exposing and opposing the World Bank, the IMF and the World Trade Organization as instruments conniving with the powers-that-be that have traditionally been anti-worker and anti-Filipino .

He says that as part of Courage's organizing thrust among government employees, they are engaged in a vigorous education movement explaining the role of those foreigninstitutions in perpetuating unjust conditions in Philippine society.

Gaite also points out that as part of Courage's organizing moves in response to renewed threats on government's employees job security, a new alliance called Tanggol Trabaho (Defend Jobs) has been launched by Courage among its members, as well as among other workers in the public sector. IBON Features/Bulatlat.com

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