Tuesday, December 8, 2015

House absenteeism | Inquirer Opinion

"x x x.

December 8th, 2015 12:18 AM

Chronic absenteeism is a valid ground for dismissal from work, according to the Philippine Labor Code. The Supreme Court has upheld this law by stating that habitual neglect of duties, which includes frequent absences without duly approved leaves, is a just cause for terminating employment. “[H]abitual neglect implies repeated failure to perform one’s duties for a period of time… and repeated acts of absences without leave… reflect [petitioner’s] indifferent attitude to and lack of motivation in his work,” says the Court. Hence, “habitual absenteeism without leave constitutes gross negligence and is sufficient to justify termination of an employee.”

Loud and clear. By that standard, Manny Pacquiao should have been dismissed by now from his supposed work as the elected representative of Sarangani province to Congress. According to the official records posted on the House of Representatives’ website in January this year, Pacquiao showed up at the sessions last year for a grand total of four days. The records actually reflect seven days, but in three of those he was physically absent though deemed excused from showing up for work.

Another habitual absentee was Negros Occidental Rep. Julio Ledesma IV, with a record of having showed up at the House only seven times. His is actually a grosser record, since, already on his third term, Ledesma has apparently not reformed from the delinquency that had marked his previous stints in Congress. House attendance records in August 2010 showed he only reported for work once in the 15th Congress. Last year, he improved a bit, if barely; on top of having been physically present in the House for seven days, he was said to have done constituency work for 14 days—but was listed as absent without leave for 13 other days, an equation that pretty much cancels each other out.

How many times are our legislators expected to show up for work in Congress? In 2014, there were 70 session days, but the roll was called—meaning, the attendance was checked—in only half of that time to supposedly waive the need for a quorum. This is done on presumably less important days when the legislators’ presence could be dispensed with. So, from Jan. 20 to Dec. 17, 2014, there were, in effect, only 34 session days.

Thirty-four. To an ordinary employee or worker the number would amount to about a month or so of official working days.

Legislators like to say that much of the rest of their time is used for “constituency work”—tending to their bailiwicks, in short, to ensure that their presence and at least a semblance of the basic services they had promised to deliver are felt by the people somehow. But congressmen are not elected to be social workers; they are required to be lawmakers, first and foremost. Which means they have to spend physical time debating, crafting and refining laws on the floor of Congress.

You’d think any conscientious, self-respecting salaryman receiving pay—taxpayer money at that—would be conscious about diligently showing up for work and doing even just the bare minimum of his job requirements. But, last year, out of 290 lawmakers who were required to attend a measly 34 session days, only 65 managed to achieve perfect attendance. At the very least, the chronic absence of the majority of the legislators threw a monkey wrench at the speedy enactment of priority measures such as the national budget for 2015.

This is an outrageous, unacceptable state of affairs. The current petition by some 27 civil society groups for the Office of the Ombudsman to look into the habitual absenteeism of House members deserves public support, because this gross and blatant neglect of duty appears to be something the House leadership itself is unable to correct. Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. himself was present in all 34 session days last year, but his leadership apparently does not extend to forcing his fellow legislators to attend the required sessions, if only to justify their generous emoluments as the so-called representatives of the people.

If Belmonte can’t do it, perhaps Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales can. The no-nonsense Morales has dismissed a slew of government officials in the last few months for offenses ranging from corruption and abuse of power to gross neglect of duty. Surely, the spectacle of elected public officials barely showing up for work while still receiving their salaries constitutes a violation of the legal standard for fair and acceptable work behavior. Rank-and-file employees have been given the boot for similar offenses. Lazy congressmen deserve no less.

x x x."