When the president vetoes a proposed law

BIZLINKS - Rey Gamboa (The Philippine Star) - August 6, 2019 - 12:00am

It takes an immensely popular president to veto in toto a proposed law that favors – or would seem to – the interest of the masses, and still not get clobbered by flak. This year, Duterte managed to do just that, and on three occasions.

The first two vetoes had to do with the coco levy, a controversial issue among coconut farmers dating back to the Marcos years. When Duterte was campaigning for the presidential seat, he had promised to give the collected taxes back to the coconut farmers in his first 100 days of office.

The third and most recent veto is about the promise to end “endo” or “end of contract,” a practice that many companies resort to in skirting labor laws and avoiding giving permanent employment status to hired work by ending their contracts before the mandated probationary six-month period.

Ending “endo” was a campaign promise implementable “the moment I assume office.” Duterte promised to order the halting of contractualization, and this he did by first threatening companies guilty of the practice, then issuing an executive order, and finally certifying as urgent changes in the existing labor law.

Muddled communication lines

Somewhere along the way, the communication lines between the legislative and executive branches of government got muddled up, leading to the vetoes. There’s a lot of finger-pointing on how and why things turned awry, but that’s water under the bridge now.

The respective champions in Congress have refiled the necessary bills to crank up once again the legislative process, with the pipelines between the two supposedly independent branches of government being recalibrated to ensure that a second veto does not happen again.

Even with certified priority bills by the President, the responsibility of lawmakers from both houses is to ensure that the endorsed bills for approval of the President is in the best interest of the nation, and within the bounds of existing laws.

More than anyone else, lawmakers should be fully aware of what the Constitution enshrines, and yet, in the case of the enshrined coco levy bills, both were vetoed by the President as being unconstitutional.

Some lawmakers may be more concerned about the number of bills that they author or sponsor, some even beneficial to the public. Some bills are also rushed to satisfy commitments to vested interest groups.

Worse, some bills are crafted on the basis of a presidential announcement or promise, passed by both Houses to show support for what the President favors, and eventually vetoed when the President gets better advice on the impact of the bill, just as what happened in the proposed Security of Tenure law.

The quality of staff providing advice to lawmakers needs to be raised, and while it is difficult to do away with “trusted” appointees who will serve as support to each lawmaker, other measures can be adopted to ensure that competence is given paramount importance.

Lastly and most importantly, lawmakers should ensure that endorsed bills should embody the spirit of a true democracy to benefit the people: Filipinos, present and future. It is not what the President wants, or thinks, or has promised. Finally, the President has to be convinced of what the proposed law enjoins to be able to sign it into law.

Looking forward

Let us all take a step back now to try to understand the issues, and what should underline the upcoming deliberations of both the Legislative and Executive.

The forced tax collections from coconut farmers for a decade starting in the 70s has now ballooned to more than P100 billion, but is still not being used for the benefit for the coconut industry as per the original intent of the levies.

While it is now possible to use the taxes and recovered assets as per a Supreme Court ruling, how it will be disbursed continues to be the center of debate. Definitely, as the President noted in his veto of the bill in reconstituting the PCA, past mistakes and weaknesses have to be shunted for good.

On the other hand, allocating P5 billion a year under the vetoed Coconut Farmers and Industry Development bill sounds questionable, and may need to be substantiated by concrete plans, with clear targets and measurable results – again, to avoid repeating past mistakes.

Clearly, the coconut industry needs a more vibrant plan that could consider decoupling agriculture and manufacturing so that the taxes collected decades ago will truly benefit small coconut farmers.

Overzealous provisions

The enrolled Security of Tenure bill had been overzealous in calling for the complete ban on temporary employment contracts, a practice that holds benefits not just for employers, but also for workers, especially those who are just starting out.

This is exactly what the President’s note on the vetoed bill states and which clearly shows the hand of the appropriate agencies under the Executive who have interceded on behalf of businesses. Did our Congressmen not hear this argument and blindly put it aside?

Enforcement of regulations and laws always need vigilance on the part of government. During the second year of Duterte’s term, the Department of Labor and Employment decisively ran after offenders who deliberately circumvented labor laws that prohibited “endo” practices.

As a result, thousands of workers formerly trapped in the “endo” web were able to assume permanent positions, therefore rightly sharing with the profits that the companies they worked for.

Temporary employment contracts per se are not evil, especially if the workers concerned receive their just pay. This means that newbies may have to contend with lower remuneration, while more skilled or professional contract workers may demand much higher fees.

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Should you wish to share any insights, write me at Link Edge, 25th Floor, 139 Corporate Center, Valero Street, Salcedo Village, 1227 Makati City. Or e-mail me at reydgamboa@yahoo.com. For a compilation of previous articles, visit www.BizlinksPhilippines.net.

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