Pagasa workers to get benefits next week—DOST chiefBy Dona Z. Pazzibugan, Ronnel W. Domingo, TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Striking employees of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) will get next week the benefits that were withheld from them, Science Secretary Mario Montejo said.
Montejo said the positive outcome from the Pagasa employees’ protest action was that their Magna Carta benefits were acknowledged and given budgetary support and that these would be given to all 18 agencies of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).
“These are changes for the better,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon.
Montejo said he had a “fruitful discussion” with Pagasa employees, assuring them that by next week they would get three months’ worth of the hazard and longevity pay and subsistence and laundry allowances that were stopped last March due to new budgetary rules.
The benefits are mandated under Republic Act No. 8439, the Magna Carta for Scientists, Engineers, Researchers and other Science and Technology Personnel in Government.
“They will be released next week depending on who applied,” Montejo said.
He said the long-term solution to the problem was to include the Magna Carta benefits in the national budget since all DOST personnel in its 18 attached agencies were entitled to them.
The fiscal situation in the DOST’s 18 attached agencies (including Pagasa) vary, with some agencies able to give the benefits to their personnel out of their own savings.
“In some agencies it’s not as worse as Pagasa. In some agencies, it’s much worse. They have different situations,” Montejo said.
“We want to rationalize it in all (DOST) agencies,” he added.
Budget Secretary Florencio B. Abad on Wednesday also assured Pagasa employees that the allowances due them for the first semester would be given.
Abad, however, said the Department of Budget and Management would strictly enforce the rules on Magna Carta perks in the second half of the year, particularly those on the release of hazard and longevity pay.
Only those at risk
Only weathermen exposed to risk would enjoy hazard pay during the second half of the year, he stressed.
The budget chief noted that the rules on the provision of Magna Carta perks were being violated frequently, particularly regarding the release of hazard pay to employees of Pagasa.
“For example, Pagasa currently provides hazard allowances for its employees across the board—whether or not they are exposed to risks in the course of their duties—in clear violation of the law and their own guidelines,” he said.
“We need to confirm which employees, by the nature of their work, are entitled to hazard pay, as well as when they’re supposed to receive this,” he added.
On Tuesday, weather forecasters and other Pagasa employees staged a protest and called on the government to resume the payment of their allowances, which had been suspended since March.
In a surprise appearance, President Benigno Aquino assured them that their benefits would be released but reminded the employees of their duty to the public.
“As instructed by the President, the DBM will provide the necessary budget support to cover all allowances for Pagasa employees in the first half of 2012,” Abad said.
Under the Magna Carta, Pagasa employees are entitled to a daily subsistence allowance of P150, and P500 for their monthly laundry expense. Longevity pay is calculated as 5 percent of an employee’s monthly basic pay for every five years of service. Hazard pay is pegged at 15 percent of basic monthly pay.
Also on Wednesday, Abad said that beginning next year, the administration will recognize all Magna Carta benefits for Pagasa employees in the General Appropriations Act (GAA) “to provide assured funding sources” for the perks.
Meanwhile, Presidential spokesperson Secretary Edwin Lacierda explained that Mr. Aquino’s surprise visit to Pagasa on Tuesday afternoon was not a case of overreaction.
“The President was concerned because we were in the midst of a storm. There was a press briefing, and he just wanted to assure them their needs would be attended to,” he said.
Striking Pagasa employees admitted they were upset after finding themselves on the receiving end of a “sermon” from President Aquino.
“That was our initial reaction,” said Vivien Esquivel, vice president of the Philippine Weathermen Employees Association (PWEA), the labor union of Pagasa.
“We did not expect that President Aquino himself would be delivering a sermon to us when we were the ones protesting. We were mortified,” said Esquivel, a weather specialist at Pagasa’s climate data section. With reports from DJ Yap and Tina G. Santos