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‘Overworked and underpaid’

If President Duterte can have his way, he should be paid P1.5 million a month for the work he’s been doing. Of course, everyone can gripe about being overworked and underpaid, but hearing it from the President himself highlights the discontent in most of us.

The Constitution prescribes a monthly salary for the president as the country’s highest-ranking official, but that provision is contemporaneous with the times and milieu in which the Charter was written. Common sense dictates that the figure should not remain stationary in the face of the ever-changing realities of inflation and devaluation of the national currency. Otherwise, no person in his or her right mind would attempt to become president, right? An executive order signed by then President Benigno Aquino III in 2016 pegs Mr. Duterte’s monthly pay at P298,083.

The truth is no one has the sole right to gripe, especially nowadays. The times are not exactly the best for both capital and labor. Capitalists invest so much in business and the foreign exchange rate goes berserk in a heartbeat and oil prices soar, bringing along the costs of production and raw materials. The sense of economic stability so crucial to the financial environment routinely takes a blow from the threat of military conflict, nationwide transport strikes, impeachment dramas, or plain politics attempting to bend the rules of banking and finance.

If capitalists have earned the right to complain, more so the poor wage-earner. The problem is that one is forced to exert so much more effort than necessary to do one’s job; extraneous circumstances have made monumental tasks out of normal activities and tend to deplete one’s energy long before one can actually get down to work. For example, for commuters forced to disembark from a stalled MRT coach or those constantly trapped in ground-level traffic, the daily grind to and from workplaces has become more exhausting than the work itself.

As the men and women in the street are compelled to complain about pay out of desperation, most people in the government’s highest levels must realize that they least deserve to complain, out of delicadeza. Let’s not debate if taxpayers are paying them right. Rather, let’s not overlook the fact that it is taxpayers who ultimately pay the price for every miscalculation, missed opportunity, or undelivered election promise. It is taxpayers who ultimately bear the consequences of every tax adjustment and each political accommodation that results in a Mocha Uson, a Robin Padilla, or a sweet-talking image consultant getting hired for high-paying government positions.

This country is spending so much more than what goes into the salary of the President, which he deems a pittance given his declared “two wives.” Maybe he’s right, but the expenses—and excesses—of this government, beginning with the high maintenance cost of bureaucratic fat, to be paid by taxpayers, should also be considered.

The truth is, we should brace for more suffering in the long run, long after the administration has changed hands. The class suit that would arise from the extrajudicial killings, as well as the cost of recovering Philippine territory from China and paying off our debts to Beijing should bleed the future economy.

At the end of the day, the President’s gripe over his pay exacerbates the general sense of discontent and rubs the average working stiff the wrong way, as it illustrates the difference between him and ordinary mortals like us. If an average employee with not much of a performance record to speak of gripes about being overworked and underpaid, that’s not the right way to get a raise, but a sure way to get fired.

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Adel Abillar is a private law practitioner with a small office in Quezon City where, he says, “I alternate between being boss and messenger.”

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