ALTHOUGH we have, along with the rest of our friends in the local media, dutifully reported the news that the government has declared a holiday period next month (November 17 to November 20) for the meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in Manila, we have the impression that the public is for the most part neither aware of nor interested in the international trade and policy conference.
It should be. For most of this year, the Philippines has played host to a series of APEC meetings in different places, mainly Cebu and Iloilo, and to be selected as the venue for the APEC is not only a compliment to our country, but an indicator that we are considered to have some degree of global relevance.
On a more practical level, however, the public should be aware of the upcoming APEC meeting because of the considerable interruption it will bring in our day-to-day affairs, thanks to President BS Aquino 3rd’s exercising the one bit of authority he seems to be really good at, declaring official holidays with no regard to their consequences.
In the month of November, there are ordinarily just two public holidays: All Saints’ Day (November 1) and Bonifacio Day (November 30). There are 20 business days during the month this year. By declaring a holiday for the APEC meeting, however, even in just Metro Manila, Aquino has cut the number of working days to 14 – effectively shutting down the country for more than week total; the week of November 16 will have only one working day, that Monday.
What will happen as a result worries Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) President Hans Sicat so much that he has asked the Palace to relent and permit trading and more importantly, bank financial clearing activities, on at least two of those days. The costs of a four-day holiday will be astronomical; while the retail sector might expect a bit of a boost in revenues due to customers having a lot of free time on their hands, any business who must keep people on the job during that period will be paying more to do so – in most cases, their payroll costs will double. That, however, is probably a minor expense compared to the losses that will be incurred by having the local markets and banking system shut down for a continuous four-day stretch. For the bank clearing system, the costs will extend a few days after the holiday, into the following week, due to the extra effort that will be needed to handle the backlog of transactions.
The irony is, all this will be occurring during what is primarily an economic summit: The Philippines will be putting its worthiness to be an important part of the web of regional commerce on display by…not doing any actual work. It is funny and we should all be laughing as if we were watching a TV sitcom–if it didn’t have real-world negative consequences.
Although we realize that President Aquino, not having much in the way of business experience of his own to guide him, may have trouble wrapping his head around the logic, we urge him to heed the advice of PSE President Sicat and other knowledgeable business leaders, and modify the upcoming holiday to reduce it by a couple of days.
What we really think he should do is rescind his well-meaning but extremely unhelpful proclamation altogether.