Go renews push for OFW department amid COVID-19 crisis

Robie de Guzman   •   May 15, 2020   •   281

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go on Friday reiterated his call for the establishment of the proposed Department of Overseas Filipino Workers (DOFW) amid challenges posed by the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) to migrant workers.

In a statement, Go said that the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected the world economy, resulting in significant losses of jobs for Filipinos abroad.

Go has been pushing for the creation of a department that will manage the welfare and address concerns of OFWs.

“Noon pa lamang ay marami nang mga issues ang kinakaharap ng ating mga kababayang nagtatrabaho abroad. Ang paglipat-lipat ng ahensya ay naging pabigat na proseso sa kanila mula sa pagkuha ng kanilang mga permit, hanggang sa pagbigay ng tulong para maresolba ang mga problemang hinaharap nila sa ibang bansa,” he said.

“Mas lumala pa ngayon dahil sa hirap na dulot ng COVID-19 crisis. Kung mayroon pong DOFWs, mas mapapadali sana ang koordinasyon ng mga ahensya at may iisang departamento na tututok sa mga pangangailangan nila,” he added.

Go filed a bill seeking for the establishment of OFW department in 2019. The House of Representatives has passed its version in March this year while its Senate counterpart remains pending in the committee on labor, employment and human resources development.

His proposed Senate Bill 202 or the Department of Overseas Filipinos Act of 2019 proposes to put government agencies dealing with OFW affairs under one umbrella.

The measure also aims to address perennial issues, such as the need to ease the coordination among offices concerned with OFW affairs; immediate legal assistance to OFWs in distress; lack of full migration cycle approach in promoting migrant’s rights from pre-employment, onsite and reintegration services; and lack of shared database system that contains all information of all OFWs to aid in tracking their status and fast track delivery of assistance to distressed workers.

Currently, services and information about OFWs are scattered throughout several offices.

“Madaming dinadaanan pang iba’t ibang ahensya bago makaresponde ang gobyerno sa mga OFWs na humihingi ng saklolo. Iba-iba ang concern, iba-iba ang kailangang lapitan pa mula DFA, OWWA, MARINA, at iba pa,” Go said.

“Nalilito ang ating mga OFWs sa pangkasalukuyang sitwasyon. Sa oras na kailangan nila ng saklolo, hindi na nila alam sino dapat lapitan kaya sa media o Facebook sila nananawagan,” he added.

If a department for OFWs will be created, Go said this will make government more efficient and responsive to the concerns of Filipinos abroad.

“If mayroon na tayong department for OFWs, iisa na lang ang lalapitan at iisa na lang ang makikipag-coordinate na departamento. Magiging mas maayos ang pagresponde sa mga krisis at mas mabilis nating matutulungan ang ating mga kababayang humihingi ng saklolo,” he stressed.

The lawmaker stressed that the challenges currently faced by OFWs and the difficulties experienced by the government in responding to their needs show the relevance of the proposal to establish a department with a sole mandate to handle the concerns of our “modern day heroes”.

“Nakita po natin ang mga pagsubok na pinagdaraanan ng ating mga OFWs dahil sa COVID-19. Napapanahon na talaga para magtatag tayo ng departamento upang mas maprotektahan ang kanilang kapakanan,” Go said.

OFWs displaced by the public health emergency have been repatriated to the country through flights facilitated by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and the Department of Labor and Employment have extended assistance to qualified OFW beneficiaries under the government’s livelihood and other assistance programs.

The Maritime Industry Authority, for its part, is implementing its Seafarers Uwi Pamilya program where seafarers stranded in Metro Manila are assisted in going home to their families in the provinces, subject to quarantine and other health protocols.

Go pushes gov’t aid for live events workers amid COVID-19 crisis

Robie de Guzman   •   June 17, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go has called on the government to also provide support for displaced workers heavily affected by the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis, especially those in industries that cannot resume operations due to social distancing and community quarantine measures.

In a statement in Tuesday, Go said workers engaged in live events, entertainment industry, as well as those engaged in businesses that cannot operate at this time, must be given utmost attention by the government.

“Dahil sa COVID-19, may mga industriya talagang hindi makapag-operate ngayon. Bawal ang pagtitipon kaya tulad nung mga nasa live events organizing, kailangan maghanap ng ibang pagkakakitaan,” he said.

“Bukod pa diyan, ang mga tao sa entertainment industry ay apektado rin po, lalong lalo na ‘yung ordinaryong manggagawa tulad nung parte ng mga production crew bilang halimbawa. Ito po ‘yung mga kababayan nating bumubuhay sa industriya ng sining na ngayon ay hirap makabalik sa kabuhayan nila,” he added.

The live events industry consists of events, like meetings, conferencing, exhibitions, concerts involving international and local artists, theatrical productions, corporate, social, cultural, fashion, sporting, and club events, weddings and family celebrations, trade fairs and exhibits, and on-ground activation and sampling activities.

“Tulungan nating mapagaan ang pinapasan ng mga nasa ganitong uri ng industriya. Wala pong dapat mapabayaan sa panahon ngayon,” Go added.

The senator also expressed hope that once the health situation improves and the spread of COVID-19 is under control, more provinces and cities under modified general community quarantine can provide guidelines for these industries to resume operations in accordance with health protocols.

Go, former long-time aide of President Rodrigo Duterte, also urged the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the Department of Labor and Employment, and other concerned agencies to look into the situation of and provide assistance programs for the displaced workers.

He also suggested events businesses to avail of emergency loans and financing program for micro, small and medium enterprises.

The DTI is presently implementing COVID-19 Assistance to Restart Enterprises (CARES) program under the Pondo sa Pagbabago at Pag-asenso (P3) program, which aims to help enterprises stabilize or recover from losses due to the health crisis.

The National Live Events Coalition (NLEC) recently appealed for government assistance for their members, highlighting that the live events industry, comprised of businesses and industry professionals, institutions, agencies, technical and staging providers, concert and festival producers, wedding and social events planners, venues, performers and freelance production workforce, have faced lost opportunities and revenues due to COVID-19.

Live events organizing is a multi-billion industry that provides employment to several thousands. The NLEC said the industry is composed of 30,000 MSMEs.

Some MSMEs related to the industry may have to close down or operate only at 10% capacity.

Although the live events industry is not specified in the latest Senate version of the proposed Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, Go is urging the administration’s economic managers to look into the matter and explore more opportunities for the government to extend help to this sector in these trying times.

“May mga provisions sa Senate version ng Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan 2) para sa mga subsidies, loan programs at iba pang social assistance na pwedeng makatulong sa mga empleyado ng ganitong industriya,” Go said.

193 companies declare permanent closure due to COVID-19 crisis – DOLE

Marje Pelayo   •   June 10, 2020

MANILA, Philippines –  Exactly 69,022 employees from more than 2,000 establishments across the country have gone jobless amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis.

This, according to the record of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) as of Tuesday (June 9).

Specifically, 193 of these establishments have declared permanent closure while 1,875 others have reduced their workforce.

DOLE is waiting for the filing of formal notice of closure from the said establishments for the final process.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III noted that it is the obligation of employers to give the separation or retrenchment pay for every affected employee.

Statutory right iyan ng employee kapag tinanggal mo siya. Kung walang legal basis, magsasara ka lang then they have to pay for separation pay [This is a statutory right of the employee when he is dismissed from work. If there is no legal basis for the closure then they have to pay for separation pay],” Bello said.

The Employers’ Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP), however, expressed concern about how these establishments can give their employees’ separation pay when they, too, are severely affected by the implementation of community quarantine measures amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“Noong araw mahirap magsara ng kumpanya dahil ang daming babayaran. Pero ngayon ready-made reason sa kanila yung lockdown na nalugi sila. Hindi mo mapipilit na magbayad ng separation pay dahil Walang ibabayad [In the past, it’s not easy to close a company because of a number of obligations to settle. But now, the lockdowns had become a ready-made reason for them because of income loss. You cannot force them to give separation pay because they have nothing to give],” explained ECOP President Sergio Ortiz-Luis Jr.

Meanwhile, DOLE has recorded around 1.9 million workers affected by the temporary closure of companies, while more than 960,000 are back in their jobs under flexible work arrangements.

The Labor Department is now planning to subsidize 25% to 50% of the payroll cost of employers with the condition that they would not resort to retrenchment. –MNP (with reports from Rey Pelayo)

Hontiveros seeks audit on government’s use of funds, special powers under ‘Bayanihan’ Law

Robie de Guzman   •   June 4, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Risa Hontiveros has called for an audit on how the executive branch used the funds and the special powers granted by Congress to boost the government’s response to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis.

In a privilege speech on Wednesday, Hontiveros stressed the need for audit as Congress “surrendered” its power of the purse to the president under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.

“Dahil sa Bayanihan Act ay isinuko na ng Kongreso ang kaniyang ‘power of the purse.’ Kaya kailangang bantayang maigi kung saan napupunta ang pera,” she said, adding that the audit should be conducted before passing the Bayanihan to Recover as One Bill.

Hontiveros said that despite the passage of the Republic Act No. 11469 or the Bayanihan Law granting emergency powers to the President, the government has failed to meet its health and economic relief targets, as evidenced by massive backlogs, slow contact tracing efforts, and delays in the release of test results to persons under quarantine or monitoring.

“We should have established sufficient infrastructure and mustered enough human resources to adequately respond to this health crisis. However, this is clearly not the case,” she said.

“Apat na buwan na ang nakakaraan. Bilyon-bilyon ang pondo na nasa kamay ng pamahalaan at malawak ang kapangyarihan na ibinigay natin sa Pangulo. Pero hanggang ngayon, wala pa rin tayong pinangako nilang 30,000 tests per day. Hindi rin malinaw kung na-flatten na ba ang curve ng pandemiya,” she added.

Hontiveros also called out the Department of Health’s “failure” to present to public comprehensive, reliable and accurate data on the pandemic.

“Naguguluhan na ang publiko at mismong policy makers sa ibinibigay na datos. Biglang may “fresh cases,” at may new cases pero old na raw. For government to produce the right policies, we have to have the right data in our hands,” she said.

She also criticized DOH for purchasing allegedly overpriced personal protective equipment and testing kits as revealed.

“Paano natin mapagkakatiwalaan ang gobyerno na gamitin sa maayos ang pera ng bayan kung may mga taong walang konsensiyang pinagkakakitaan ang pandemyang ito?” she said.

The lawmaker also questioned the government’s move to ease quarantine restrictions and allow select employees to go back to work when it is still unclear if the epidemic curve has been flattened.

“Now that we have shifted to GCQ (general community quarantine) and asked them to go back to work without mass testing and mandatory and demandable safety at work protocols, we are putting their lives at risk,” she said.

Hontiveros said the government should address these “major flaws” in the system as the country transitions to a new normal.

“Health and economic safeguards must be put in place before we send them out to what is now called the new normal. Let our rallying cry be: Save lives, save jobs,” she said.

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