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Elpidio Quirino’s Minimum Wage Law

Yesterday was Labor Day. I doubt that many Filipinos remember that the first Minimum Wage Law in the Philippines (Republic Act No. 602) was enacted 64 years ago (April 6, 1951), during the administration of President Elpidio Quirino.

The latter was the first Ilocano president of the Philippines, who served from April 1948 to 1953. And if the Philippine Statistical Authority data on GDP from 1946 to 2014 are accurate, he is the president with the second best economic performance in terms of average annual real GDP growth rates, measured at constant 2000 prices. During his watch, the country grew by an average of 9 percent, beating Ramon Magsaysay (7 percent), Carlos P. Garcia (4.5 percent), Diosdado Macapagal (4.0 percent), Ferdinand Marcos (3.8 percent), Corazon Aquino (3.6 percent), Fidel V. Ramos (3.7 percent), Joseph Estrada (2.9 percent), Gloria Arroyo (4.8 percent) and Benigno Aquino III (5.9 percent up to 2014). His predecessor, Manuel Roxas, who served for 23 months (Marcos served for 20 years), presided over a growth rate (immediate postwar) of 34 percent.

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What I thought striking about RA 602, which was repealed by Presidential Decree No. 442 during martial law, was that the Secretary of Labor had the duty, “upon petition of six or more employees in any industry, to cause an investigation to be made of the wages being paid to the employees in such industry and their living conditions, to ascertain if any substantial number of such employees are receiving wages which are less than sufficient to maintain them in health, efficiency and general well-being. If, after such investigation, the Secretary of Labor is of the opinion that any substantial number of such employees are receiving such wages, he shall appoint the Wage Board to fix a minimum wage for such industry.”

In other words, wage boards were not regional (geographic) as they are now, but were based on industry, defined in the law as “a trade, business, industry or branch thereof, or group of industries, in which individuals are gainfully employed.” Which means that wages more closely approximated market conditions, and in any case could not be less than the minimum wage as defined by law. The wage boards, additionally, were headed by any member of the public (not necessarily a government official), and were composed of two representatives of the employees in the industry and two employers plus the chair, and the Secretary of Labor furnished them with as much data as could be found relevant to their case.

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That means the data provided would be industry-specific, and not for the region as a whole. And the wage boards, in their decisions, which had to be submitted within 30 days after they convened, could recommend minimum wages that were location-specific.

These provisions in RA 602 are much more labor-friendly and more economically sound than the ones in the succeeding minimum wage laws. Pity it was repealed—by another Ilocano president, 20 or so years later. Labor should be clamoring for its return.

Another striking aspect of Quirino’s Minimum Wage Law is that it covered government employees. Today, our government agencies are exempt from the law.

Quirino had other contributions: The social security system started under him, along with the home financing system (to help Filipinos buy their own homes) and the land settlement and development corporation (to help small farmers and tenants acquire their own land). And his actions as chief executive, not just the legislation that his administration produced, are just as worthy of mention. I will concentrate on actions which ensured that he would lose his reelection bid in 1953 because it put the

United States squarely against him:

As vice president, he refused to give in to what the United States wanted with respect to the number of bases (it wanted 70 and got 16, plus seven more in case of war) and their location. Discussions on the Mutual Defense Treaty and the Bell Trade Act would be coming up in 1954 and in succeeding years, and the United States did not want to deal with him.

When US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles arrived in early 1951 to discuss the draft peace treaty with Japan, which did not include any provision for reparations, Quirino balked. He argued that rehabilitation had progressed much more rapidly in Japan than in the Philippines (true, and he had the data to prove it), and that Japan should therefore contribute to the rebuilding of the Philippine economy. This was another act of lese majeste that the US government would not forget.

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And, of course, one cannot write about Qurino without touching on the issue of corruption; the charges—like the “golden orinola” and the “P5,000 bed” (about P55,000 in today’s prices) in Malacañang—have stuck to him, to the disregard of everything else he had done. There was corruption under Quirino (due to import controls, exchange controls, price controls, immigration controls), which I will discuss at some other times. But the question is: Did he make money?

Well, my gut-based answer is No. My father would never have worked for him if he were corrupt.

But I have an evidence-based answer: Would a corrupt Quirino have allowed his discretionary funds to be audited? I think he is the only president that asked for this audit. And secondly, when he died, the only inheritance he left to his children was a house and lot in Novaliches (which land he bought in 1941), not some palatial mansion closer to Manila. So where’s the unexplained wealth? More like explained poverty.

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TAGS: corruption, Elpidio Quirino, Labor Day, laws, Minimum Wage
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