As good as it gets

TO THE QUICK - Jerry Tundag - The Freeman

The public reaction to the signing by President Duterte of an executive order putting an end to the so-called “endo,” Philippine slang for end of contract, or what is known as labor-only contracting, falls into either of only two categories --cautious optimism on the side of business, and a sense of betrayal by the labor sector.

This is exactly the very same reaction that greeted the leaders’ summit between the two Koreas only very recently. If there was anything that seemed too good to be true, this was it. And yet there is no way anyone can reject it flatly because it is also probably as good as it gets. What if this was it? And so with the Korean situation, so it is with endo.

The executive order signed by the president may be good enough for the moment, but it can never hope to do away with the problem. That is because the very environment in which the law is expected to operate is fraught with loopholes. Why, even the government itself is the single biggest practitioner of endo. So how can it be expected to aggressively crack the whip on this phenomenon when it is itself its biggest perpetrator?

And so, expect the new law to be felt in certain areas where it is designed to make an immediate palpable impact. The government needs to extract from its medicine a quick response it can use to dress up its initiative. But what many people fear, especially those in the labor sector, is what happens when the need to window dress has been satisfied.

Again, the Philippine situation is not conducive for honest-to-goodness labor-law-compliant environment. The Philippines, for all intents and purpose, still has not attained the level of development where the major concerns for labor such as salaries, security of tenure, and other benefits can be dispensed with on a scale that is truly universal.

There is still a lot of struggle going on in the economy. Even businesses still have to strive mightily to achieve the level of competitiveness that introduces the foundations for responsible employment. And if even businesses cannot escape great challenges, the more it is difficult for the labor sector. Workers are forced to bite the bullet because the alternative is always never an option.

The endo EO will be good for where it is designed to work, which is in the areas that are good for showcasing its strong and viable points. Nevertheless, in areas where certain things are often away from the eye, where the endo EO truly counts is exactly where it will be less palpable, if not totally alien. Certain things just cannot be cured by what the law provides.

The economy, after all, has its own parameters where it takes no dictates from anyone, not even from government. Market forces have a way of characterizing the landscape according to what conditions are allowed to prevail of their own volition. Any government can issue as many laws and regulations that it can, but it can never ram down the throat of economy what economic conditions do not allow.

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