NEWS | Groups condemn gov’t negligence amidstPH economic downturn

By: Jaxine Dominique Laguio & Miraflor Anacio

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), in its recent job displacement report, revealed that a total of 133,315 workers were displaced as businesses in the country continually plunged into deeper losses amidst the pandemic. With the continuous aggravation of the living standards of Filipinos, sectoral groups staged an indignation protest in Mendiola yesterday, February 20, calling on the government for a concrete action plan focusing on appropriate pandemic and economic responses.

Unceasing harm in the business sector

According to DOLE secretary Silvestre Bello III, 4,220 micro, small, medium and large businesses ceased operations, laid off some of their workers, or reduced the working days of employees. Due to this, at least 25,226 workers were retrenched while 108, 089 more, were either not paid or suffered from huge pay cuts.

Majority of the newly displaced workers were from Metro Manila which accounted for 15,324 individuals, 3,671 from Central Visayas, 1,957 from Calabarzon, and 1,456 from Central Luzon.

Meanwhile, among those who were disemployed, 6,151 or 24 percent were in the construction sector and 4,919 or 20 percent in the services sector. Both the administrative and support services and manufacturing sector also laid off 2,663 and 2,662 workers respectively.

Micro enterprises with one to nine employees, on the other hand, were the topmost closed business in January 2021. A total of 604 temporarily halted operations, while 54 totally shut down.

Sufficient subsidy wage program?

DOLE is currently proposing a P52-billion wage subsidy program as more Filipinos face the aftermath of the widespread job losses. Bello explained that under the program, they hope to retain the status of employment of about two to three million Micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) workers.

Employers are also encouraged to retain their existing workforce and re-hire those whose contracts were terminated last year as the said initiative will cover 25 to 50 percent of the salary of their employees and will be sustained for six months. However, it is said that only MSMEs will be its benefactors.

Call for government accountability

In commemoration of the First Quarter Storm and indignation to the economic and social turmoil, multi-sectoral groups led a protest marching from Morayta to Mendiola yesterday, February 20. The youth, alongside marginalized sectors, expressed their dismay over the government’s mishandling of the pandemic and continuous militaristic approach to various crises the country is facing.

The protesters were outraged for the lack of government support for the Filipino masses amidst the surge in prices of basic commodities and high unemployment rate. They emphasized the need for a wage hike considering that goods are no longer affordable for minimum wage earners.

Kate Calimag from Anakbayan Morayta claimed that instead of lowering commodity prices and implementing humane wages, the government chooses to instill fear among their people, by sending state forces to intimidate and silence the masses.

Among their calls were the release of a P10,000 pandemic financial aid, approval of P750 national minimum wage, an additional Php 100 emergency wage relief, and access to safe, effective, and free vaccines.

According to Anakbayan Makati, the Duterte administration is responsible for the deaths of Filipinos, reiterating that on top of the threats of the virus and attacks of state forces, Filipinos are also made to suffer from poverty and hunger.

Threatened academic freedom and right to education were also one of the issues raised. National Union of Student of the Philippines (NUSP) President Jandeil Roperos reported how the public persistently called for a safe and inclusive education, however, the commissions on education remained untroubled. This led to teachers being exploited and a high percentage of students opting to drop-out. Roperos emphasized the call for #LigtasNaBalikEskwela and asked the Duterte administration to act on concrete plans for the benefit of the education sector.

Nearing the end of the protest in Mendiola, the police interrupted and tried to stop the protest by destroying the ignited effigy of President Duterte. The cops were reported to incessantly attack protesters with sexist remarks and tail some of the media personnel covering the event.

Consequently, they also attempted to arrest Froilan Cariaga, Chairperson of the University of the Philippines Diliman Student Council. Before his arrest, Cariaga called out the government to stop the attacks, particularly against Indigenous People.

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