By Robert B. Roque, Jr.
If the President had gathered all his wise advisers and figured out a strategy to pull the country’s economy from the ditch, I would have never guessed them prioritizing the cancellation of holidays this year to spur economic activity.
It has been a week since the presidential proclamation made Nov. 2, All Souls’ Day; Dec. 24, Christmas Eve; and Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve special working days. And I still hear people ranting about it everywhere. If a public satisfaction survey were done today, no president would get extra points for nixing these three time-honored holidays – not even Mr. Duterte.
Many Filipinos buckle down to work the whole year, missing out on important family events, even their own birthdays, just to devote meaningful time with their relatives on Christmas, New Year’s, and All Souls’ Days. Metro Manila employees return to their home provinces in an exodus, spending long hours in cramped buses and riding ferries just to keep these days truly holy.
If the premise is for them to work on these days to help the economy – they would most likely opt for a vacation leave. Consequentially, those who do stay on the job lose their precious “holiday pay” because of the proclamation. This is all too frustrating for the working Juan and Juana.
Vice President Leni Robredo said there are many ways of reopening the economy without nixing these holidays. And she’s right. “First of all, if the vacation is longer, the workers will have the opportunity to go home and spend time with their families – that, I think, could help the economy more,” Robredo said.
The Duterte administration seems to be missing the point of these holidays in relation to economic activity. Filipinos actually spend a lot on these holidays on travel, spending money they saved up when they meet with relatives and friends in the provinces and buying “pasalubong” for when they return to the big city. These are earners who usually scrimp on a day-to-day basis to be big spenders on these holidays. Isn’t this proclamation killing what we know as “holiday economics”?
The first beneficiary sector of these holidays is the tourism industry. I wish the hardworking DOT Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat had given the President an earful about the pre-pandemic’s P2.2-trillion industry and how greatly it would benefit tourism and travel if these holidays gave working Filipinos the opportunity to reunite and relax with their families.
There have been nasty comments and posts aimed against Duterte and his disappearing from public view for days which I need not mention. But these netizens are coming from a well-understandable position of being deprived of their holidays amid a punishing and stressful pandemic. I feel Malacanang should be sensitive to the growing number of people in the workforce who have to contend with mental health issues brought about by the health crisis. And taking away three of their most precious holidays may drive them to a breaking point.
Maybe our President can change his mind on this, like he often does, anyway. At least if he does in this case, no one would fault him for bringing back the holiday cheer on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve or even All Souls’ Day.
* * *