Senate rules panel OKs hearings on bills seeking creation of new gov’t departments

Robie de Guzman   •   February 2, 2021   •   280

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate Committee on Rules has given its go-signal to the chamber’s committees to proceed with deliberations on bills proposing the creation of new government departments.

In a statement issued on Monday, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, who chairs the Committee on Rules, said the bills can be simultaneously taken up by respective panels.

Once committee reports have been submitted, an all-member caucus will then be called to discuss the prioritization of bills for plenary deliberations, he added.

These bills include the creation of the Department of Overseas Filipinos, the Department of Disaster Resilience and Management, the Department of Culture, and the Department of Water Management.

“The Senate works through a committee system…by practice and tradition, we have long given committees their sole prerogative and discretions regarding matters referred to them. Each committee has its sovereign right to bring out its committee report on a particular measure,” Zubiri said.

“The Senate is a collegial body with a collective decision. On the priorities of the Senate, we will take this up with an all-member caucus to discuss priorities that will be taken up on the floor,” he added.

In a separate statement, Senator Joel Villanueva welcomed the decision of the rules committee to allow several standing panels to proceed with hearing bills on establishing new government departments alongside the proposed rightsizing measure, which seeks to trim the “excess fat” in the bureaucracy.

Villanueva chairs the Senate labor committee where bills pushing for the creation of an overseas Filipino department are pending.

“This is a welcome development. We will resume the committee hearings into the overseas Filipino department bills,” he said.

The challenge ahead is to ensure that the proposed Department of Filipinos Overseas would mean better lives for OFWs and their families and decent job opportunities, here or overseas, the senator said.

“The pandemic has exposed the weakness of our policies on [overseas Filipino workers], particularly our reintegration program to help them transition back to the local labor force,” he said.

“We support the principles of rightsizing, especially because we have been raising the issue of unfilled positions and contractuals in government for the longest time. We will do our best to tackle all issues and hear all sides being raised in this particular measure in the Committee on Labor,” he added. “Who knows that this could be a model for rightsizing done right.”

Villanueva hails ratification of Labor Education Bill as ‘golden opportunity’ for harmony in the workplace

Aileen Cerrudo   •   March 16, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — Senator Joel Villanueva has hailed the Senate ratification of the Labor Education Bill, saying it is a “golden opportunity” for harmony in the workplace.

Under the said bill, labor education will be included in the curriculum of colleges, universities, and in technical and vocational schools.

The Senate on Monday (March 15) ratified the bicameral conference committee report on the bill.

In a statement, Villanueva, chairman of the Senate labor committee and head of the Senate contingent in the bicameral panel, said education is a good setting to instigate change in the workplace.

“We give our nation a golden opportunity: to attain a situation where labor rights are highly respected, where workplace harmony is the rule and not the exemption, and where our workers can lead a fulfilled life. We made the right decision of where this change must begin – in our schools, right inside our classrooms,” he said.

He also added that the bicameral conference committee adopted the Senate version which also empowers the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) to develop the program.

“We are one step closer to an empowered workforce, one where both employer and employee are informed of their respective rights and obligations under the law,” Villanueva said. AAC

Villanueva calls for review of deployment protocols to curb OFW abuses

Aileen Cerrudo   •   March 9, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — In order to curb cases of abused Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), Senator Joel Villanueva has proposed the review of protocols on the deployment of workers.

Villanueva, chair of the Senate labor committee, urged the government to continue to engage host countries through bilateral agreements to ensure accountability on the welfare of OFWs. This is for host countries to be accountable for the welfare of OFWs.

“Our Minority Leader made a very clear point: ‘A source of law is culture and no form of bilateral agreement and Philippine domestic law can address that culture, like the Kafala,'” he said on Monday (March 8).

Under the kafala system, a practice observed in Gulf states, the immigration status of migrant workers is legally bound to an employer who acts as the sponsor. This requires workers to obtain consent from employers to enter and exit the country, and even transferring jobs.

The International Labor Organization described the system as the state’s “delegation of responsibility … to the private employer to oversee both a migrant worker’s immigration and employment status.”

Based on the data of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office, it showed that 4,302 cases of maltreatment and mistreatment were recorded in the Middle East in 2020, while contract violations surged to 21,127 cases in the same region.

The Senator also emphasized the need to protect women, especially when most countries they are being deployed to are “patriarchal in nature”. Villanueva cited government data that showed at least 56 percent, or 1.2 million, of Filipinos eking out a living in foreign countries are women.

“It is important that though OFW issues should be genderless, a large part of the bill must place protections for our OFWs particularly our women because most countries they are deployed to are patriarchal by nature, and by culture,” he said. -AAC

DOLE urged to issue clear rules upholding workers’ rights vs ‘no vaccine, no work’ policy

Robie de Guzman   •   March 4, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Joel Villanueva on Thursday called on the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to issue clear guidelines as he warned against discriminating workers who opt out of vaccination programs implemented by their employers.

In a statement, Villanueva said DOLE should issue rules on the matter to ensure that both workers and employers stand on a level playing field.

Instead of forcing workers to be inoculated and threatening them with termination from employment, the senator stressed that companies should make efforts to build confidence in taking COVID-19 vaccines.

Villanueva issued the remark in response to reports that some employers are implementing a “no vaccine, no work” policy.

“A worker who is not yet immune from virus shouldn’t lose his immunity from being fired arbitrarily,” he said.

“The biggest challenge at the moment for the labor-employer-government tripartite is not just to give more workers better vaccines but also to increase vaccine confidence,” he added.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III earlier said that implementing a “no vaccine, no work” policy is illegal and could be considered as a discrimination.

Bello also pointed out that at present, the country does not have enough supply of COVID-19 vaccines to inoculate workers.

The policy came to light after some workers in the agriculture, manufacturing, and services sectors allegedly complained about it.

According to Villanueva, employees should not be faulted for refusing to be inoculated if they have concerns over the vaccines that would be used on them.

“Sa pagbabakuna, the best pa rin po ang ‘Sana All.’ We cannot have a workforce divided between the ‘Jabbed’ and the ‘Jabbed Nots,’” he said.

He also urged the government to ramp up its campaign against public vaccine hesitancy in order to attain its goal of reviving the economy battered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The challenge for our government right now is to increase the level of confidence of our people on the vaccines,” Villanueva said.

“There has to be a concerted effort to bring up the degree of trust on vaccines because the restoration of jobs lost in the pandemic, and to a larger extent, our economic recovery, depend on the success of the vaccination program,” he added.

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