The absentee President
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - May 3, 2019 - 12:00am

For the third year in office of President Rodrigo Duterte, several organized workers’ groups were disappointed, to say the least, that the Chief Executive has again snubbed the traditional Labor Day breakfast dialogue meeting with them at Malacañang. It was, however, too much – even unfair – for them to expect President Duterte to continue observing this tradition which his predecessors at the Palace did in the past.

Without having to wait for Labor Day, there were occasions in the past that the former Davao City Mayor met with leaders of various workers groups at Malacañang.

In lieu of his no show on Labor Day rites to mark the international observance of this occasion, Malacañang merely released a copy of the President’s message to both workers and employers and a special appeal to lawmakers in Congress to pass more pro-worker laws.

The presidential appeal was obviously based upon the report of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) about at least five landmark laws that the 17th Congress approved since the Duterte administration took office in June 2016. At the Labor Day celebration, DOLE Secretary Silvestre Bello III led the signing ceremonies for the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the latest labor-friendly law under Republic Act (RA) 11210, or the Extended Maternity Leave (EML).

With this in mind, we asked the sentiments of the workers and employers in our own Labor Day celebration at the Kapihan sa Manila Bay breakfast news forum at Café Adriatico in Remedios Circle in Malate.

For the workers, Alan Tanjusay, the official spokesperson of the Association of Labor Unions-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (ALU-TUCP), welcomed the presidential statement with words of hope. Hope, in the sense that the government would strictly enforce the letter and spirit of the laws while employers or the management would faithfully comply with all the labor laws of the land.

Representing the employers group were Henry Lim Bonliong, newly elected president of the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industries Inc. (FFCCCII), and George Siy who heads the FFCCCII committee on trade and industry and concurrently is the director of the Integrated Development Studies Institute (IDSI).

Speaking for the Chinoy business community, Lim and Siy welcomed the issuance of the IRR of the EML since President Duterte signed it into law last February. The new law now allows 105-day, or three months of paid maternity leave for female workers in both government and private sectors, regardless of the civil status or the legitimacy of her child.

By way of a joke, Lim quipped he might just hire a menopausal secretary just to mitigate the impact of the EML to his personal office operations. Lim admitted he could not survive working at his office without any assistance from his secretary for three months, much less even for a day. Getting into light-hearted discussions during our Kapihan sa Manila Bay, Siy feigned fears that legislators might think of also extending the paternity leaves for male workers.

Under RA 8187, or the Paternity Act of 1996, male workers are entitled to a paid seven-day leave. Gender-sensitivity-wise, I surmised, the paternity leave with pay applies to all male employees and workers, also regardless of the civil status or the legitimacy of his child.

Levity aside, Tanjusay noted with bated breath the reported 21,000 prospective new jobs that would be created out of the $12.6 billion worth of investments and trade deals that were signed in the presence of President Duterte during the latest trip to China. “That’s really good news. But we want to make sure it’s not just Palace press statements. We will check on the grounds if there would really be new factories actually being built,” Tanjusay pointed out.

The bulk of these investment and trade deals were entered into by Filipinos and Chinoy businessmen delegation led by Lim who was elected just three weeks ago as the new president of the FFCCCII. A total of 19 business agreements on energy, infrastructure including tourism-related facilities, industrial parks, communications and internet connectivity, agriculture, and skills training for Filipino workers were entered into between Filipino conglomerates with their respective partners in China.

During our Kapihan sa Manila Bay news forum, Siy strongly took exceptions to fears foisted about Chinese workers being brought to the Philippines to work at construction sites and for other jobs when there is no dearth of skilled Filipino workers. “That’s fake news,” Siy swore.

Under the natural law of supply and demand, Lim explained, skilled Filipino laborers, also known for their English-speaking, remain their biggest advantage amid fears of losing jobs to Chinese.   

Tanjusay though lauded the official guarantee made by Transportation Secretary Arturo Tugade that they required in these contracts for Chinese companies to provide skills training to Filipinos who must be hired in construction projects. Tugade joined President Duterte in his Beijing trip last week.

For the past five days, President Duterte has been staying with his family at their residence in Davao City since last Saturday night when he flew back directly from Beijing. The 74-year-old President apparently needed to rest after the whirlwind of official functions he attended during the Belt and Road Initiative Forum that required his almost four days of stay in China.  

By the President’s own public admission before a doctors’ forum last April 23, it is worrisome to note that he has been undergoing blood tests almost “every other day” related to the treatment of his Buerger disease condition. From, it is described as a rare disease of the arteries and veins in the arms and legs. In Buerger’s disease – also called thromboangiitis obliterans – the blood vessels become inflamed, swell, and can become blocked with blood clots. 

By this time, our absentee President perhaps got enough rest and would feel better soon to report back to office at Malacañang.

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