WHEN IT was my first time to be elected as the number two (2) city councilor of Angeles City, I witnessed the government employees of the city expressing their demands to better benefits granted to them. Most of the city employees wore black t- shirts with different protest statements and placed placard inside and outside the city hall. As a neophyte’s reaction , I immediately informed then Mayor Carmelo “ Tarzan” Lazatin of the action taken by the members of the Association of Government Employees for New Dynamic Angeles City (AGENDA), the recognized union of the Angeles City government employees.
I suggested to then Mayor Lazatin that I would instruct the Civilian Security Unit (CSU) to remove the placards placed by the displeased employees. I can still remember Mayor Lazatin’s reaction then – “No. Let the employees express their grievances.” Then he smiled.
I then realized what a gentle giant the old man was. Indeed, then Mayor Lazatin had a soft spot for the city employees and their welfare, a trait truly admirable of him. Mayor Lazatin knew that the acts of the government employees hardly qualify as a prohibited concerted mass action, under the civil service rules.
As defined in Section 5 of Civil Service Commission Resolution No. 02-01316 entitled “Omnibus Rules on Prohibited Concerted Mass Actions in the Public Sector, “(A) prohibited concerted activity must be one undertaken by government employees, by themselves or through their association, with the intent of effecting work stoppage or service disruption, in order to realize their demands or force concessions.”
The good Mayor Lazatin knew for a fact, that the acts of the employees of wearing black shirts and the placing of the placards inside the City Hall compound, do not indicate any intention on their part to effect a work stoppage or disturbance. It was merely to air their grievances, with the obvious intent of a positive feedback from the administration.
I can only agree with then Mayor Lazatin. Without the intent at work stoppage or service disruption, the concerted activity is not prohibited. Whether done within government hours, a concerted activity is allowed if it is without any intent at work stoppage.Their wearing black shirts is a mere exercise of their constitutional right to freedom of expression.
Clear, therefore, that the intent to disturb work must be present in order to make the concerted activity fall among the prohibited acts provided under the civil service rules. Absent such intent, there is no violation of the rules.
Mayor Lazatin not only recognizes the rights of the government employees, but respects these rights. It wasn’t surprising then that Mayor Lazatin was a well-loved Mayor, if not the most loved. Now that his son, Mayor Carmelo “Pogi” Lazatin Jr. is at the helm, government employees are hopeful that better benefits await them.
Both then Mayor Tarzan and Mayor Pogi shares the ruling of the Honorable Supreme Court in the case of Davao City Water District vs. Rodrigo Aranjuez, that, “Government workers, whatever their ranks, have as much right as any person in the land to voice out their protests against what they believe to be a violation of their rights and interests. Civil Service does not deprive them of their freedom of expression. It would be unfair to hold that by joining the government service, the members thereof have renounced or waived this basic liberty. This freedom can be reasonably regulated only but can never be taken away.” (G.R. No. 194192, June 16, 2015)
However, government should not only focus on the welfare of the government employees. Even employees from the private sector are clamoring for additional benefits. Recently, an employee approached me and asked what benefits are available for employees in the private sector who are found to be Covid positive. Unfortunately, only hospitalization benefits are available – Philhealth, Employees Compensation Commission and Social Security System benefits. For employees who were temporary laid-off or were displaced by companies which were compelled to cease operations, mandatory benefits of separation pay and 13th month pay await them.
More than these benefits, employees fear the lack of employment opportunities that await them. Sadly, their future looks bleak as companies continue to close, and the economy takes a downward plunge. The government has yet to find measures to provide additional benefits for Covid-affected employees, not only for government employees, but to the private sectors as well.
As we face the challenges brought by Covid-19, I urge the government to take a stronger stand, not only to mitigate its spread, but to alleviate the plight of displaced employees. We must be reminded that “without labor, there is no prosper.” There is hope yet.