By Mario Casayuran
A member of the Senate majority bloc said today that laws for the provision of social services to Filipinos and protection of workers are in place.
Senator Loren Legarda, chairwoman of the Senate finance committee, said these laws and government programs are funded through the 2018 national budget.
Legarda made the statement as she expressed support for the resumption of the peace talks between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
She is a consultant of the government panel for the peace talks with the NDFP.
Legarda said one of the important agreements to be finalized is the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) which is considered the ‘heart and soul’ of the peace talks.
“Among the provisions under the CASER is to ensure the delivery of basic social services to the people and protection of the rights of the working citizens as we pursue economic growth that is inclusive, resilient and sustainable,” she pointed out.
For the protection of rights of the working people, the CASER upholds the right to employment, livelihood and social protection, including free health care, free education and affordable mass housing, she explained.
Legarda said that under the 2018 national budget, P40 billion was allocated for free tertiary education in all state universities and colleges (SUCs), local state universities and colleges, and state-run technical vocational institutions.
For health services, part of PhilHealth’s budget is the additional P3 billion to cover health coverage of nonmembers, especially those who are not formally employed and financially incapable to pay for PhilHealth membership, and P3.5 billion for the health insurance of government employees under the Executive Department.
There is also additional P100 million for the National Nutrition Council’s (NNC) Early Childhood Care and Development Intervention Package for the First 1,000 Days; and budget for specialty hospitals was also augmented for medical assistance program for indigent patients, additional medicine for cancer patients and Health Facilities Enhancement Program.
Aside from the Labor Code, which needs to be amended to address current issues faced by Filipino workers, other laws are also in place for the protection of workers — such as the Domestic Workers Act (Republic Act 10361) and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration Act (RA 10801)—as well as promoting gender equality in the workplace (Magna Carta of Women, RA 9710), and eliminating child labor (Anti-Child Labor Law, RA 9231).\
The Philippines has also ratified the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 151, which guarantees the right of public employees to organize, provides adequate protection against acts of anti-union discrimination, and mandates that public employees’ organizations shall enjoy complete independence from public authorities.
“We have also been strengthening the protection of our citizens, especially women and children, from illegal trafficking. Through the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act and the provision of adequate funds for agencies in charge of implementing the law, we are gradually improving,” Legarda said..
She explained that the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act addresses the new challenges brought by human trafficking, such as online sexual exploitation of children.
Under the law, harboring a child for purposes of prostitution or production of pornographic materials is considered trafficking. Moreover, even acts that constitute attempted trafficking in persons are punishable. Accomplices and accessories to the crime will also be meted their due penalties.
Legarda assured that agencies concerned in implementing the law, especially the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) under the Department of Justice (DOJ), have enough funds to aid them in carrying out their duties.
In the 2018 national budget, she also ensured the increase in the budget of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Women and Children’s Protection Center (WCPC) for additional training and purchase of equipment, which will lead to more children being rescued, more criminals being arrested, and stopping human trafficking in its track.
“The CASER seeks to protect our people and provide for their needs and we can assure that this is already being addressed through existing laws and government programs. The government and the NDFP can work together to further improve these laws and programs and to propose new measures to ensure that the peace agreement, once finalized, will not be merely ink on paper but one that would benefit all Filipinos so that we can really achieve genuine and lasting peace,” Legarda explained.