The Philippines may have reached investment-grade status but its corporate watchdog, the Securities and Exchange Commission, is languishing at sub-par payroll levels and now faces an exodus of key officers.
At least three assistant directors, three lawyers from the Office of the General Counsel and three division heads are poised to quit after salary increases were disallowed recently by the Department of Budget and Management. Some with the rank of director are also considering leaving if not for the one-year prohibition against them being employed by any entity that was under their regulation, which means pretty much every corporation in the country.
The irony of this is that under the Securities Regulation Code, the SEC has leeway to compensate its people well as it was exempted from the salary standardization scheme. In fact, the commission has authority to approve a salary scale comparable to that of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.
Insiders recalled that after the SRC was passed in 2000, the SEC drew up a salary scale to better compensate its people—a payroll framework approved by then President Estrada. But after Erap was ousted, the planned salary scale was not executed under the term of President Arroyo, during which the SEC even tolerated salary cuts (which then resulted in an earlier wave of resignations).
As a stop-gap measure during the last decade of unpalatable pay, the SEC granted additional “economic assistance” allowance to its people, which also had to be halted in 2011 due to a capital markets program loan from the Asian Development Bank (wherein the SEC was obliged to restructure its salary scale to incorporate the equivalent of previous allowances).
The adjusted salary scale was reflected in the 2012 budget. The SEC used its retained earnings to implement this but the DBM has thus far declined to reimburse the amount, raising concerns within the organization that disallowed salary increases could eventually be reversed and deducted from future payrolls. And instead of using them for capital spending and boosting infrastructure needed to boost corporate regulatory capability, the SEC’s retained earnings are being depleted for overhead spending.
“Our petition for approval of our salaries is still pending in the office of President Aquino. This is what DBM requires. We are still fervently hoping for a quick resolution of this salary issue as it is indeed demoralizing the whole workforce,” one top SEC official lamented. “How can we hire quality people if we can’t fairly compensate them?”
The implications on the administration’s “Daang Matuwid” battle cry are serious. “If we offer peanuts, we will get crooks,” the official said.—Doris C. Dumlao
‘Ides of April’
Given the vague, blow-hot-blow-cold tone of Malacañang when it comes to backing incumbent Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon, some people are now busy speculating as to who would replace him at one of the most controversial agencies of government.
There are, of course, a plethora of choices available, including at least two “insider” personalities whose names have been floated to President Aquino—and supposedly rejected—before.
However, one potential Biazon replacement caught our attention. You see, this candidate for Customs commissioner is already intimately familiar with the post from his experience some years ago. More importantly, he has the backing of an influential Cabinet secretary who had already supported his appointment in the early years of the Aquino administration after the chances of “first choice” of the job was successfully scuttled by opposing groups.
Word on the street is that Biazon and this influential Cabinet secretary never got along despite assurances to the public that all was well between them. So given the seemingly erratic performance of the Customs bureau in recent months, the influential Cabinet secretary did not even have to take active measures and merely bided his time, waiting for the opportune moment (which has clearly come).
For Biazon, it certainly seems the dreaded ‘Ides of March’ came a few weeks later. Worse, he may have to wait a few more weeks to learn of his fate at the Bureau of Customs.—Daxim L. Lucas
A tale of two beaches
Two of the Philippines’ tourism hotspots, El Nido and Boracay, were recently featured in the Wall Street Journal Magazine. The author, Wells Tower, in the article “Stranger than Paradise” dated March 14, raved about the pristine natural beauty of northernmost Palawan, having personally visited Bacuit Bay, which is hailed as a “last frontier.”
The author said the view would seem to justify the expensive ticket to fly to this “unspoiled national Eden.” Ayala Land’s Lagen Island Resort, where cabanas cost $400 to $650 a night, was favorably reviewed in the article, which described it as a “world of eco-friendly ease.”
Tower wrote: “If, like me, you are not categorically keen on Southeast Asian beach resorts, it is probably because you have been to Thailand’s Phuket or Krabi, where you sat on heel-hammered sands drinking a warm gin and tonic from a literal bucket, wishing you’d discovered the place before the invention of fire-spinning, Katy Perry and laser shows. But the Lagen Island Resort, where I fetch up after a 40-minute boat cruise, is not that sort of place.”
But while Bacuit Bay for Tower felt like the Philippines’ “best-kept secret,” he described Boracay as the country’s “worst-kept secret.” When he first arrived on the island, the author said he had difficulty finding the White Beach—Boracay’s main attraction—noting it was “hiding behind a long bulwark of commercial establishments.” (Obama Grill and its slogan “You want good food? Yes we can!” was specially mentioned.) “Visiting Boracay after Palawan admittedly subjects the place to an unfair comparison,” he said.—Doris C. Dumlao
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