Holidays and National Development by Gerardo P. Sicat
Posted on Jan 28 2011 by admin

A new cycle of holidays will start in this new year, 2011. Our country has more holidays than most countries and some of them happen at the spur of presidential decision.

I had a good education on this issue a few years back, but learned about the problem only indirectly. Early in this decade, I undertook a research problem in the archives of the US Library of Congress. The problem concerned the implementation of the American war damage assistance to the Philippines at the dawn of independence.

During the first year after the birth of our Republic, the US government passed a law to make war damage payments for the destruction caused by war as a consequence of the Second World War. To implement the war damage act, this law created a Joint US-Philippine War Damage Commission.

The implementing administrative body for this law involved two independent governments – the United States and the new Philippine republic. As such, one of their problem was to observe the respective holidays of each government when they opened for business.

The first meeting of the Joint Commission was on the subject of the working days of the new government body. It was a mixed body that had to respect two country’s holiday traditions. In this way, the Joint Commission was able to decide on the working days of this new but temporary body. The national holidays of both countries had to be respected.

It turned out that the national holidays of both the United States and the newly independent Philippine Republic were almost identical in number but they did not coincide in the calendar. So the working days of the Commission stretched to the sum of two holiday systems. The Philippines had a more open-ended system.

In the Philippine case, a special holiday could be declared by the president of the country. There was no specific limitation on the number of such special holidays that he could declare. On the other hand, the holidays enjoyed by the US were determined and fixed by their Congress and could not be altered by the US president. The US had a complete listing of the holidays which were fixed by the US Congress by law.

Unlike many other democracies, the Philippine president had delegated authority to declare holidays as he saw fit. Over the years of independence, this privilege given to the president had been abused. With each passing president there were pressures to declare special holidays of occasions that any pressure group had identified as meritorious and deserving as a national holiday. Thus, presidents who were therefore impressed or convinced of the need yielded to the pressure.

Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as president misdirected the use of holidays through her “holiday economics.” It was as if holidays were used to create a culture of slack, indiscipline, and love of leisure among workers. The justification would have accustomed Filipinos with love of work slack, probably low productivity and in general work indiscipline.

The net effect of “holiday economics” was to create a high labor cost economy. This is yet another cause of high labor costs in the country. Holidays require – by law and regulation – higher pay for work. Yet there are so many people left without jobs who would rather work than play.

Further, when the president declared certain special holidays as “working or non-working,” it was to institute a kind of arbitrary judgment on the planning for production programming of the private sector. The worst part of it was that the special holidays were given as official surprises often, being announced within the week.

In most societies, the holidays are pre-ordained. They create no uncertainty. They are grist for year long planning of production and for human resources planners in the business sector.

It is therefore not surprising that the Philippines would end up having more national holidays than most countries. Although declared holidays are actually calendared and therefore are quite transparent to most, the use of the power of the president to declare special holidays is not.

In part, this was what the presidential proclamation that President Aquino tried to define was meant to correct to outline the specific policy pertaining to holidays. To deal effectively with the problem of excess and unexpected holidays, the presidential discretion to declare holidays needs to be dispensed with. This is as brave a step to take as when he declared that politicians including the president would stop the practice of publishing the names of politicians when signs involving public works projects are made.

To implement this, the president has to ask Congress to provide a strict limitation on the number of special holidays that the president could declare in any given year if not to abolish that privilege entirely. It might be best to leave the matter of choosing holidays to Congress.

Holidays are days of rest and play for a nation. The holiday composition is the result of compromises that happen among patriotic, civic, religious, cultural, and historical sectors of the nation as they choose the appropriate days in which work stoppage is observed. Some countries provide for sufficient mix of long holidays and important civic and politically important national holidays.

In the Philippines for instance, the Christmas season including the New Year marks a long period that already takes into account religious and civic demands. National elections also provide an opportunity to stop ordinary business work. In the US, though Christmas day is a holiday, the key days of the Good Friday week are normal working days. In Japan, there is a long week, called the “spring holiday” when the nation stops cold and almost every one is on a holiday.

In making those decisions on the number of holidays, nations ordinarily take into account only their internal wants. But the countries that are engaged heavily in international commerce choose their days of rest partly in awareness of what other countries – especially their competitors – also do.

Thus, it may be safe to say that the international norm – the average number of official holidays of the most similar nations – would provide a good benchmark for setting the upper limit for the number of national holidays. For their own holidays represent a cost in their operational efficiency as work places.

As a result, probably nations do align the number of their holidays to what other countries also do. For work stoppages imply certain costs in terms of their implications on the cost of labor in relation to the competitive demands of world trade.

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The original article published in the Philippine Star can be found here.

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