Duterte administration fails to protect the Filipino workers amid the Covid-19 pandemic
On the occasion of the 5th SONA of President Rodrigo Duterte, the Church People-Workers Solidarity is in unity with different sectors in denouncing the current administration’s failure to address the miserable condition of the Filipino people amid the COVID-19 pandemic. With actions that are oppressive, irresponsible, and irrelevant to the country’s most pressing needs, it has, instead, worsened an already dire crisis.
Today we call attention to how the administration, in particular, failed to protect the Filipino workers amid the coronavirus crisis.
First, the administration implemented community quarantines of varying stringency nationally without proper implementation guidelines and adaptation frameworks. The suspension of mass transportation, in particular, was and still is a heavy burden especially for essential service and healthcare workers whose continued reporting to work is necessitated by the pandemic. Many of our frontliners were made to walk to or from the hospitals and establishments they work in for hours, even as they are already overworked and severely exposed to the disease due to the lack of manpower and provision of protective equipment.
Second, the administration still has no concrete and effective plan for mass testing, contact tracing, isolation and treatment of COVID-19 infected persons half a year into this global health emergency. As a result, thousands of people including workers were infected and more are at risk of contracting the disease.
Third, the government’s COVID-19 cash aid program for workers only reached 1,059,387 workers as of May 2020 according to the Department of Labor and Employment. This means that majority of the Filipino workforce did not receive any financial aid from the government amid the Enhanced Community Quarantine where work was totally suspended. In effect, millions of workers and their families experience hunger and poverty.
Fourth, almost 2 million workers lost their jobs due to temporary closures of establishments affected by the Enhanced Community Quarantine. Meanwhile, at least 193 establishments as of June 9, 2020 have declared permanent closure and 1,875 establishment have reduced their workforce. Workers who are displaced have no assurance that they would be able to receive separation pays from their employers and cash aid from the government. By pushing for the rejection of the franchise renewal of media company ABS-CBN, the government has also effectively threatened or taken away the means of living of over 11,000 workers from the network and the smaller establishments that rely on its operations. Today, the Ibon Foundation reports that there are 20.4 million real unemployed and underemployed Filipinos — the worst crisis of mass unemployment in the country’s history.
While the government fails to protect the workers, it never fails to protect the interest of big corporations. Amid this crisis, the Department of Finance proposed the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises Act (CREATE) which will give P667 billion worth of corporate tax breaks to businesses affected by the pandemic. On the other hand, Congress has passed the Accelerated Recovery and Investment Stimulus for the Economy of the Philippines with P1.3 trillion package that will mainly fund infrastructure projects and financial assistance to corporations.
Moreover, the administration actively paves the way to suppress the rights of workers to organize, unionize, and express legitimate dissent. Along with the difficulties brought by the prevailing system of contractualization, the government has also recently passed the Anti-Terrorism Law which contains provisions that can and are likely to be used to attack constitutional rights to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly, including the right to strike and protest.
Therefore, we from Church People-Workers Solidarity stress our call to the Duterte administration to PROTECT THE PEOPLE FIRST BEFORE THE INTEREST OF PROFIT. Provide universal healthcare to all including free Covid 19 testing and treatment. Provide immediate relief for workers affected by the pandemic, including unemployment pay and other financial assistance programs. Invest in industries that will generate sustainable long-term means of living for displaced workers. Abolish the Anti-Terrorism Law. These are our demands for the upcoming SONA, and we shall continue to call on the administration for the realization of this even beyond Monday.
We, too, call to our fellow brothers and sisters in the community to collectively pray and act for the health and safety and for the protection of human rights of our Filipino workers. Strengthening our solidarity is the most powerful response we can and must do in this time of crisis.
Most Rev. Gerardo A. Alminaza, D.D.
Bishop, Diocese of San Carlos
Church People-Workers Solidarity Co-Chairperson