Palace sides with Bello: No EO vs contractrualization, up to Congress to pass law

MANILA, Philippines – Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III on Thursday, April 19, confirmed that there will no longer be an executive order (EO) against contractualization, and left it to Congress to pass a law instead.

In a press briefing on Thursday, Bello said that the EO will be deemed pointless if it's not enforced strictly, saying that penalties should be imposed on erring establishments which an EO cannot cover.

He said that the drafts were submitted to the Office of the Executive Secretary for signing, but they already mirrored the bills filed in Congress. The final version of the draft EO was made by labor groups after several discussions with the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).

"Mabigat lang ang issue ng penalty (The issue of penalty is grave) which could not be provided in the proposed EO because only Congress can propose penalty," Bello told reporters on Thursday.

Bello pointed out that it's "better not to issue" an EO if it will not be implemented strictly anyway.

"Walang kabuluhan ang EO kung hindi naman iimplement. (The EO has no use if it will not be implemented)," the labor secretary added.

Bello also said that DOLE has issued Department Order (DO) No 174 which can help address unlawful contractualization. DO 174 sets stricter guidelines against contractualization, which labor groups argued, only allows "legal endo" or "end of contract" arrangements. (READ: Keeping 'endo' alive: DOLE's Department Order No. 174)

"Actually the bill and the proposed EO is a reinforcement of Department Order No 174 and we have been emphasizing this during our meeting with labor groups that we can address the issue on unlawful contractualization if there is an effective, honest-to-goodness implementation [of the order]," he said.

Malacañang also sides with Bello. Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque on Thursday said that "an EO can only do so much."

"The position of Secretary Bello is, it is better to leave the matter of endo to Congress... The position of Secretary Bello is the position of Malacañang as well. Let's see what kind of legislation Congress will finally approve, noting that the matter is pending in the Senate alone," Roque said in a media briefing.

'Labor Day gift'

As Labor Day nears, labor groups are keen on urging the President to sign the EO against contractualization.

Associated Labor Unions-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (ALU-TUCP) said that these positions are "merely the positions of Bello, Roque, and the Department of Trade and Industry and not the President himself."

ALU-TUCP maintained that signing an EO will serve as a "signal" to Congress to fast-track the passage of the bill on security of tenure.

"Workers will only have one wish to President Duterte as Labor Day gift to workers: sign and ratify the Executive Order drafted by labor groups. He promised to get rid of Endo, contractualization and 5-months contract and all forms of short-term work scheme, now is the best time to do it," ALU-TUCP spokespersonm Alan Tunjusay said in a statement.

Meanwhile, labor group Sentro said that Duterte is "backing down" on his promise to workers by "passing the buck to Congress."

"If this is true, then Mr Duterte is reneging on his promise. Because he can't stand up to carpetbaggers like ECOP (Employers Confederation of the Philippines),  he is now passing the buck to Congress," Sentro secretary-general Josua Mata said.

A key provision in the draft EO being contested by the DTI is the prohibition against contracting or sub-contracting – which would allow direct hiring to be the general norm in employment relations, should it be signed by the President. (READ: Will Duterte sign EO vs contractualization on April 16?)

Earlier in April, Malacañang admitted it cannot end contractualization by itself as that would require action from Congress. The House of Representatives approved the security of tenure bill on its 3rd and final reading in January.

Last year, DOLE was able to regularize at least 125,000 of the 200,000 contractual workers it planned to put in permanent positions. There are an estimated 1.3 million contractual employees in the country.– Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.

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