PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte remains in a quandary over a measure now awaiting his signature that imposes tighter controls on labor contracting, with a few days left before it lapses into law on Saturday sans any Executive action.

Pinag-aralan namin mismo (We have been studying it)… I have to confer with a lot of people affected. You know… this is a two to tango… it would affect employers and of course it would also greatly favor the workers,” Mr. Duterte told reporters at the House of Representatives on Monday night after delivering his fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA) midway into his six-year term.

“It’s a catch-22 for me… I can veto it… I can sign it or allow it to lapse into law.”

Labor Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III told reporters on Tuesday that he was not surprised that Mr. Duterte left the measure out of his SONA.

“Even before that, I was told by the president… that it’s under study… The intention of the president is to provide workers their constitutionally guaranteed right to security of tenure… ang gusto ng presidente ay iplantsa ng mabuti (what the president wants is to iron out any kinks in the measure ) so no one will question the validity of the law and its purpose,” he said.

Sought for comment, University of the Philippines professor Rene E. Ofreneo in a mobile phone message on Tuesday said Mr. Duterte has been performing a “balancing act” on this issue, with “industry associations opposed” while labor “unions see SOT (security of tenure) bill still weak.”

The proposed law, “An Act Strengthening Workers’ Right To Security of Tenure”, bans the practice of hiring workers for five-months stints in order to circumvent the requirement that they be automatically granted regular status on the sixth month of employment. It also provides that workers performing jobs directly related to the principal business of or are under the direct control and supervision of a contracting party “shall be deemed regular employees of the contractee… retroactive to the date they were first deployed to said contractee…”

There are four types of employment status allowed under the measure: probationary, regular, project and seasonal. Project-based and seasonal workers “have the rights of regular employees for the duration of the project (e.g. construction) or season (e.g. agriculture or where there are periods of increased demand or inherent industry fluctuations)… termination of which has been determined and made known to the employee at the time of engagement.”

Mr. Duterte vowed to do away with labor contracting during the campaign for the 2016 presidential elections, but has since tempered that promise, acknowledging that this employment practice is allowed by law with certain restrictions.

In a July 16 joint press statement, 13 local and foreign business chambers asked “the president to veto the security of tenure bill” since it “is redundant as there are previously approved laws that already protect workers from ‘endo’ (end of contract scheme), it impinges on management prerogative anchored on the constitution… it excludes contract workers hired by government agencies” and “could have a negative impact to the Philippine economy and to the workers whom the bill aims to protect.”

But in its reaction to the SONA, the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines — the country’s biggest labor group — said in a press statement on Tuesday that “the proposed Security of Tenure law, while it does not end all forms of contractualization, is a good start to address the abuses of labor-only contracting and will lessen our social and economic inequality.”

“The President should not be shaken by scaremongering of the economic managers, employers and the foreign chambers.” — with Gillian M. Cortez