MANILA, SEPTEMBER 1, 2008 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - President Arroyo is overworked and underpaid but she’s not complaining.

This was the retort of Palace officials to critics following reports that Mrs. Arroyo’s salary would double if Congress approves the proposed joint Senate and House of Representatives resolution increasing the pay of workers in the public sector.

Press Secretary Jesus Dureza said there should be no issue on the raise that may be received by the President along with her fellow workers in government.

“They’re (critics) too much,” Dureza said. “Whatever the amount, this upgrading is not only for the President, this is for the whole government bureaucracy.”

“How much does the President earn? P50,000? P60,000? Do they (detractors) want to take that away from her when executives of large corporations easily earn more than six times that amount,” he said.

He said, “I’m sure she is giving more than that in her personal capacity to other projects.”

Dureza said he would not comment further on the matter since it might “dignify their (critics’) uncalled for comments.”

According to the proposal submitted by Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. to the House of Representatives last week, the President will get a 100-percent salary increase under a four-year, government-wide pay scale upgrading plan along with other top government officials.

Andaya submitted the proposal along with the proposed P1.415-trillion national budget for 2009.

Deputy presidential spokesman Anthony Golez, who is also a medical doctor, said the heavy workload and stresses of the job are taking a toll on the President’s health.

He said Mrs. Arroyo, who has been hospitalized more than twice since 2006, is trying hard to keep a balance among her numerous responsibilities.

Mrs. Arroyo earlier suffered from a bum stomach that forced her to lighten her schedule.

But Malacañang clarified on Saturday that the proposed increase in the salary of the President was not designed to benefit the incumbent but all future presidents of the country.

The clarification came after some senators expressed opposition to the proposal to raise by 100 percent the salaries of public officials, including the president, vice president, cabinet members, senators and congressmen.

Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr., in an interview over dzRB, said it was only right to bring the salary of the country’s chief executive closer to what her counterparts in the private sector are getting.

Andaya pointed out that the proposed salary upgrade that was submitted to Congress was not limited to the President but to the entire bureaucracy.

He said President Arroyo might not even benefit from the proposed pay hike considering the history of Congress in passing such legislation.

Senators Francis Escudero and Richard Gordon have expressed disagreement with the proposed pay hike, saying frontline government workers like teachers, military and police officers must be prioritized.

But Sen. Joker Arroyo said the salaries of government officials and employees are actually “unrealistic,” and this is the reason why corruption has persisted.

He said those who would speak against the measure would be “hypocrites” since they know that government officials could not live on their current salaries.

Both Escudero and Arroyo, however, clarified that any increase cannot benefit the current officials as stated in the Constitution. - With Marvin Sy, Aurea Calica

Gov’t workers reject draft IRR on tax relief Monday, September 1, 2008

Government workers yesterday rejected the proposed implementing rules and regulations (IRR) for the law exempting minimum wage earners from paying taxes.

The 80,000-strong Public Services Labor Independent Confederation (PSLINK) said the current draft of the IRR is laden with restrictive provisions that effectively prohibit many minimum wage earners from availing themselves of the income tax exemption.

“This creates its own qualifications of who should be covered by the tax exemption package, consequently redefining who a minimum wage earner is,” PSLINk secretary-general Annie Enriquez-Geron said.

Geron said the draft regulation states that workers whose basic pay is equal to the minimum wage but receive additional compensation such as commissions or honoraria, benefits in excess of the statutory tax-exempt amount of P30,000, taxable allowances and other taxable incomes other than the basic pay, holiday pay, overtime pay, hazard pay and night-shift differential pay, and other income not subject to final tax, shall not be considered as minimum wage earners.

Geron said the law clearly defines minimum wage earners as those who are receiving compensation not more than the statutory wage fixed by the Regional Tripartite Wage and Productivity Board.

Last June, President Arroyo signed into law Republic Act 9504, which exempts minimum wage earners in both the private and public sectors from payment of income tax and increases personal and additional exemptions allowable to individuals.

But PSLINK said the IRR of the newly signed law is “flawed and unlawful.”

“The proposed regulations violate a previous Supreme Court decision which ruled that increased tax exemptions should cover compensation income earned for the entire year,” Geron said.

In addition, the group criticized the draft regulations for being unnecessarily stringent with its various administrative requirements and procedures.

“Instead of providing relief, the draft regulations impose undue burden on employees and employers alike. This is particularly true for the public sector which is already reeling from loads of administrative work,” Geron said.

“The tax relief package law is already too little, too late. Workers are already overwhelmed by the high prices of food and fuel. We shouldn’t be made to wait any longer for the proper implementation of the tax exemptions,” she added. – Mayen Jaymalin

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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