Suspend, but not close

SHOOTING STRAIGHT - Valeriano Avila - The Freeman

I read this piece of news from The FREEMAN that due to the declining trend of COVID-19 cases in Cebu as a whole, the Bayanihan Cebu - Sacred Heart School Field Center in Cebu City will suspend its operation, something that officials said is proof of the effectiveness of the local campaign against COVID-19. The quarantine facility, which accommodates mild and asymptomatic cases, is the first to be established in Cebu City.

“Our collective efforts have paid off. The contribution of various sectors made this happen,” said Secretary Michael Dino of the Office of the Presidential Assistant for the Visayas (OPAV). In April, OPAV rallied the government and the private sector to come up with measures to prepare for the projected increase in the number of cases. This resulted in the creation of the Bayanihan Cebu PH.

While I may agree for the Bayanihan facility to be temporarily shut, whether we like it or not, there should be a skeletal force assigned in that facility. After all, we have yet to declare the end of COVID-19 in our midst. OPAV Assistant Secretary Jonji Gonzales told Laging Handa Network Briefing News, “the (48-bed Bayanihan SHS) facility was built to address the congestion in Cebu hospitals caused by the rising cases of COVID-19.” Based on Bayanihan Cebu’s data, 99 patients have recovered at the SHS facility. On the other hand, 179 patients have recovered at the Bayanihan facility at the International Eucharistic Congress (IEC) Convention Center, also in Cebu City, as of October 4. The IEC facility has a 130-bed capacity and remains operational with only 11 beds occupied.

The SHS facility endorsed its remaining patients to IEC facility, “thereby maximizing the efforts of the medical healthcare workers of both Field Centers to treat patients in just one quarantine facility.” We know for a fact that the Bayanihan was built through a multi-sectoral partnership involving the OPAV, Regional Development Council-7, DOH-7, Sacred Heart School-Ateneo de Cebu, Society of Jesus of the Philippines, Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cebu, Cebu Caritas Inc., LH Foundation Inc., and Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc. (RAFI).

So from as high as 3,852 active cases in a day, Cebu City only had 363 cases. Lapu-Lapu and Mandaue only have 89 active cases while Cebu Province has 417 active cases based on the DOH bulletin as of October 10. Cebu City has become a “model” for other cities in the country in terms of managing the COVID-19 crisis. This despite its worldwide reputation of being the city placed under the longest lockdown this global pandemic.

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In an up and coming battle, despite the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, employers are required to give their workers the mandated 13th month pay in December, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello said the other day. “We are not exempting anybody from paying 13th month pay,” said Bello. However, he clarified that the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the presidential decree mandating the granting of 13th month pay provide for exemptions, as in the case of distressed establishments.  However, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, a former labor secretary, said Presidential Decree 851, which mandates the 13th month pay, does not grant any exemption and that the IRR raised by Bello “could not be greater than the law.”

“For me, that (exemption) is doubtful and can be questioned. If exemptions are to be granted, it should be done individually. The exemption must be done per enterprise, not an entire industry,” Drilon told dzBB.

Tomorrow, Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) officials are scheduled to meet with both employers and workers groups to discuss which companies shall be covered by the exemption.

Last week, Bello said that DOLE is also exploring the possibility of allowing a deferment in the payment of 13th month pay if both employers and workers agree on such an arrangement. He underscored that a deferment cannot be done legally unless by voluntary agreement between employers and their workers.

According to ALU Vice- President Gerald Seno, “the 13th month pay benefit at this time of the year has already been earned and accrued by employees. Therefore, 13th month payment cannot be waived or taken away by giving exemption to employers or deferment of payment.” I may disagree with ALU on the companies that have not resumed operations for more than seven months, companies like tourism agencies and the like.

I only speak for the businesses and establishments that have remained close until today. They should be considered a “distressed company” and should not be made to pay 13th month pay.

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For email responses to this article, write to [email protected]  His columns can be accessed through www.philstar.com

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