FOR A change let’s not talk about futuristic and otherworldly ideas for this week’s space. Let me say something on what most people perhaps have been waiting for these days, the 13th month pay.

President Ferdinand E. Marcos signed PD 851 in 1975 asking all employers to pay all their employees receiving a basic salary of not more than P1,000 a month, regardless of the nature of their employment, a 13th-month pay not later than December 24 of every year.

In 1986, former president Cory Aquino issued Memorandum Order 28 revising Marcos' presidential decree. The difference? Marcos' PD excluded from the 13th month those whose salaries were more than P1,000. Aquino's MO 28 removed the exclusionary qualification and thereby included all rank-and-file employees to benefit the 13th month.

At the height of the election fever, pro-Marcos and anti-Marcos camps argued rather vigorously on the issue of the 13th month as the late strongman’s achievement. I would take the stand that both Marcos and Cory should be credited for the current practice enjoyed by workers. Cory could have removed it for partisan reasons but packaged it with a sense favorable to the business sector.

Originally, the 13th month pay was intended for rank-and-file employees. Who are they? All those who are not vested with managerial powers or prerogatives by the company. Section 3 of the Revised Guidelines of PD 851 clearly puts it:

‘The Labor Code distinguishes a rank-and-file employee from a managerial employee. It provides that a managerial employee is one who is vested with powers of prerogatives to lay down and execute management policies and/or to hire, transfer, suspend, lay-off, recall discharge, assign or discipline employees, or to effectively recommend such managerial actions. All employees not falling within this definition are considered rank-and-file employees.”

I said “originally” because actually there are some companies that are now giving 13th month pay to their managerial employees. In such a case, it is either because of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) or because it is a “practice that has ripened into a benefit”, or simply because of management prerogative.

The Philippines is not the only country that gives 13th month pay. Argentina, Brazil, Germany and a few other countries also practice the so-called "13th salary." Why is a 13th month pay important? Other than the fact that it is a statutory mandate, we need to see the much deeper reason behind this practice that seeks to give dignity to human labor. Pope John Paul II in Laborem Exercens tells us the reason more profoundly:

"It should also be noted that the justice of a socioeconomic system and, in each case, its just functioning, deserve in the final analysis to be evaluated by the way in which man's work is properly remunerated in the system. Here we return once more to the first principle of the whole ethical and social order, namely, the principle of the common use of goods."

Finally, companies are required to release the 13th month pay not later than December 24 of each year. There are still workers who mistake the 13th month for a bonus or Christmas gift. Employees should be aware that the former is not a gift but a legal requirement. Strictly speaking therefore, employers “should” give the 13th month pay. Companies should not feel proud that they have released the 13th month pay because they are expected to do so by law.