DTI, DoLE clarify guidelines on testing returning workers


TRADE and Labor officials on Monday clarified the rules for employers on testing workers as more industries are allowed to resume operations following a two-month lockdown due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) spread.

Senators and other sectors on Monday raised concern over the lack of required testing under the guidelines issued by the Inter-Agency Task Force. “We need to test workers returning to work.

This needs to be arranged by employers and DoH (Department of Health),” Senator Risa N. Hontiveros-Baraquel said in a statement.

“We cant ease quarantine if we’re not doing mass testing.”

Department of Trade and Industry Secretary (DTI) Secretary Ramon M. Lopez, in a statement, explained that companies will be required to screen all employees and test symptomatic or suspected COVID-19 patients, while those without symptoms will be allowed to return to work.

“Companies also have the option to conduct testing for all their employees,” Mr. Lopez said, reiterating that the cost of testing will be shouldered by the company.

“But this also means the employer can reimburse the cost from PhilHealth (Philippine Health Insurance Corp.) up to the amount allowed and under such conditions sanctioned by PhilHealth.”

The Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) also issued an advisory indicating that employers should pay for testing-related fees, along with other health and safety protection measures.

“The employer shall shoulder the cost of COVID-19 prevention and control measures such as but not limited to the following: testing, disinfection facilities, hand sanitizers, personal protective equipment (PPEs i.e. face mask), signages, proper orientation, and training of workers including IEC materials on COVID-19 prevention and control,” DoLE said in Advisory No. 18 released on Monday.

The Palace, meanwhile, said the government does not have a mass testing program that is as expansive as in other countries and it is counting on the private sector to help in this aspect of containing COVID-19 transmissions.

Wala pa pong ganiyang programa at iniiwan natin sa pribadong sektor (We don’t have that kind of program and we will leave it to the private sector),” Palace Spokesperson Harry L. Roque said in a briefing.

The government aims to have a testing capacity of 30,000 per day by the end of the month.

DoH data show that as of last week, only about 200,000 people have been tested out of the country’s population of over 100 million.

DoLE also issued guidelines on job arrangements that employers should implement to keep their business running while observing employee safety.

In Labor Advisory No. 17, the department listed alternative schemes that could be adopted to avoid terminations and closures.

These are: 1) Transfer of employee to another branch; 2) Assignment of employee to another function or position, in the same or another branch or outlet; 3) Reduction of normal workdays or work hours; 4) Job rotations; 5) Partial closure of an establishment while some department or unit is continued; and 6) Other schemes that is necessary or peculiar for the survival of a specific business or establishment.” — Charmaine A. Tadalan and Gillian M. Cortez

ABS-CBN asks high court to hasten TRO request

ABS-CBN Corp. asked the Supreme Court to immediately issue a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the cease-and-desist order of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), which forced the network to go off air on May 5 after its franchise expired.

In a nine-page urgent reiterative motion, the broadcasting network said that it will take some time before it gets a new congressional permit even if members of the Senate have expressed willingness to act immediately on the measure of the House of Representatives to grant it provisional authority to operate until October 2020.

The measure has been passed at the committee level. “This may take some weeks if not months,” it said.

“In the meantime, ABS-CBN, its employees, various stakeholders, and the general public will continue to suffer grave and irreparable injury as a result of the cease and desist order issued by the NTC,” it added.

ABS-CBN reiterated that the order endangers the livelihood of its 11,000 employees.

The shutdown, it said, “means a significant reduction of income” for the company and its affiliates, which results in reduced tax revenues for the government.

It said it paid up to P70.5 billion between 2003 and 2020.

The company said in its May 7 petition that it would lose up to P35 million per day it is off air.

ABS-CBN also said the order deprives the public of a leading source of news and entertainment, impairing their right to information.

The NTC issued the order on May 5 after the legislative franchise of ABS-CBN expired on May 4.

Meanwhile, lawyer Lorenzo G. Gadon asked the court to deny the petition of ABS-CBN, saying the network failed to exhaust available administrative remedies before going to the high court, violated the hierarchy of courts, and did not comply with the basic requirements under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas

ECOP pushes for benefits for freelancers

THE Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) urged lawmakers to include freelancers in the informal sector to allow them to avail of government assistance.

“I’m quite surprised that freelancers, like writers, painters, artists and sculptors as well as the gig economy, the singers and dancers… in bars and restaurants have not been included as members of the informal sector. They should be in the informal sector, they are not registered with the government. They are not in any way taken care of by the government at all,” ECOP Governor Antonio H. Abad said during the virtual hearing of the House of Representatives committee on employment on Monday.

Mr. Abad added that the government should also provide informal workers with a venue that will serve as their workplace.

“Private property should not be subjected to the use of informal workers under the coercion of the local government unit,” he said.

Defend Jobs Philippines (DJP) Spokesman Thadeus Ifurung, for his part, said the informal sector helps address poverty and unemployment. Mr. Ifurung, speaking in Filipino, said informal workers are an “essential and important sector” that should be recognized and given protection under the law.

The panel was discussing House bills seeking to provide a Magna Carta of workers in the informal economy. A subcommittee has been formed to consolidate all related measures. — Genshen L. Espedido

DoJ orders prosecutors to prioritize complaints over cash aid anomalies

JUSTICE Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra said he will direct prosecutors to prioritize complaints against local officials charged over anomalies in the distribution of cash aid for low-income families affected by the lockdown due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak.

“I will direct our prosecutors to give priority attention to the preliminary investigation of these criminal complaints,” he told reporters in a Viber message.

The Department of the Interior and Local Government said the police already filed 12 criminal complaints for graft and corruption against 23 barangay officials relating to the social amelioration program.

“Puspusan na rin ang imbestigasyon at case build-up para masigurong makakalaboso ang mga walang-hiyang tao na ito na nakuha pang manggantso sa mga mahihirap nating kababayan (We are thoroughly investigating and conducting case build-up to ensure the imprisonment of these shameless people who had the nerve to defraud our poor countrymen),” Interior Secretary Eduardo M. Año said in a statement.

He said four more cases will be filed in the next few days and case build-up is ongoing for 110 more officials.

The National Bureau of Investigation on May 11 also charged three barangay officials in Hagonoy, Bulacan.

Interior Undersecretary and spokesperson Jonathan E. Malaya said the anomalies are usually splitting the amount intended for one household, falsification of the master list of beneficiaries, and getting a “cut” from the beneficiaries. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas

Bill imposing higher penalty for perjury OK’d in Senate

THE bill imposing stiffer penalties for committing perjury has been approved on third and final reading in the Senate.

With 20 affirmative votes and no negative, the chamber passed on Monday Senate Bill No. 1354, amending the Revised Penal Code by subjecting offenders to penalties of six- to 10-year imprisonment and up to P1 million in fine.

At present, offenders are only sentenced to four months to two years and four months in prison.

The bill is intended to ensure that testimonies made under oath in proceedings, such as legislative hearings, remain truthful.

“The current penalty for perjury is subject to probation and the bail imposed is also low, roughly P6,000 only,” Senator Richard J. Gordon, who sponsored the bill, said in a statement.

“Given the high costs involved in prosecuting a crime, there is no motivation to prosecute the crime of perjury,” he said. Two counterpart measures at the House of Representatives are pending at the committee level. — Charmaine A. Tadalan

Malacañang says federalism shift not a priority

MALACAÑANG on Monday said shifting to federalism is not in the government’s priority now as it battles the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak.

The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) is pursuing the information campaign and signature drive for constitutional reform.

“It is not really a priority. They (DILG) are continuing because the mechanism is there. Pero nakatutok po talaga tayo ngayon sa COVID-19 (But the focus now is on COVID-19),” Palace Spokesperson Harry L. Roque said in a briefing.

Mr. Roque added that it is part of DILG’s mandate to conduct the charter change campaign, noting that officials could be charged with dereliction if they fail to do so.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte created in 2017 the Consultative Committee to review the 1987 Constitution and prepare recommendations for a new one. A draft was completed by 2018, but constitutional reform has failed to gain traction in the Senate. — Gillian M. Cortez