By ATTY. JOEY D. LINA
Based on the recent Pulse Asia survey on urgent concerns of the public, Filipinos want wages increased, inflation controlled, poverty reduced, and more jobs created – in that order.
And the need to intensify job creation efforts has become even more pressing, especially since President Duterte has appealed to the sense of patriotism of 260,000 Filipino workers in Kuwait to return home, as he assured them of many jobs here.
“Umuwi na lang kayo sa Pilipinas tutal marami nang trabaho, marami na talagang trabaho ngayon (Go back to the Philippines as there are already many jobs, there are really many jobs now), the President said in a speech. “I now appeal to your sense of patriotism. Come home.”
The President was apparently compelled to issue the appeal in the wake of the diplomatic fallout between Kuwait and the Philippines over issues of OFWs being abused. While he is quite right on job opportunities here, particularly those resulting from the highly-ambitious “Build, build, build” program to usher in a “golden age” of infrastructure, the current job situation is beset with many challenges.
Among the challenges is the latest SWS report covering March 2018 that showed 10.9 million Filipinos are struggling with joblessness, an increase of 8.2 percent since December 2017 when there were only 7.2 million jobless then. The SWS said the current 23.9 percent joblessness rate is second-highest under this administration since the 25.1 percent recorded in December 2016. Add to this the thousands of new college graduates, including the first-ever graduates of the K to 12 program, then the number of those seeking jobs would be much more.
Another challenge facing OFWs who may want to heed the President’s call to come home is the issue of job matching, considering that domestic workers in Kuwait households could not be absorbed immediately in the massive infra program here where skilled workers are needed. But proper training to be provided would certainly help OFWs acquire needed skills like in the field of welding where it has been proven that women can be the best welders.
Then there’s also the issue of business optimism falling to a two-year low that could adversely affect job creation. The International Business Report (IBR) of Grant Thornton, a leading global business advisory organization, said “business optimism in the Philippines dropped to its lowest quarterly rating in two years, even though it still scored higher than the average rating in Southeast Asia.”
The IBR, based on interviews last February and March of some 2,500 top business officials from all industry sectors, said the decrease in business optimism can be attributed to “a decline in employment expectations and investments in plant and machinery, decrease in investments in technology and demand, and the drop in terms of profitability expectations.”
The other urgent issues – wage hike, controlled inflation, poverty reduction – in the Pulse Asia Ulat ng Bayan March 2018 survey that interviewed 1,200 people are also quite challenging. Wage hikes could dampen job creation efforts and, worse, result in layoffs that make the ranks of the jobless swell even more. And raising wages without increase in productivity can lead to more inflation which can worsen the suffering of the poor from rising prices of commodities that worsens poverty.
Inflation has unfortunately reached a five-year high at 4.5 % in April this year, according to data released last week by the Philippine Statistics Authority. Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said “the current surge in inflation is partly an initial reaction to the implementation of TRAIN and is expected to be short-lived and should taper off over the coming months.” It’s reassuring that the Banko Sentral ng Pilipinas has said it is ready to raise interest rates to offset the impact of faster increases in prices of basic goods and services.
But while reducing inflation could go a long way in helping Filipinos most concerned with low wages, it still boils down to intensified job creation as the key to widespread poverty reduction. It has now become more compelling indeed for government to do everything necessary, with help from the private sector, to provide alternative domestic employment and make the business climate more conducive – with adequate infrastructure and improved ease of doing business – for more investments to spur job creation.
The focus ought to be on manufacturing and also on agriculture where the bulk of our labor force could be tapped. Investors must be encouraged to pour more funds into manufacturing facilities for processed agricultural products, a level higher than raw agricultural produce.
And let me reiterate anew the need for full implementation of the strengthened Public Employment Service Office (PESO) Act, RA 10691, to facilitate more employment at grassroots level. Enacted in 2015, it calls for establishing PESOs in all provinces, cities, and municipalities, to be operated and funded by local government units and linked to the central and regional offices of the Department of Labor and Employment for coordination and technical support.
Its purpose is similar to that of the Laguna Employment and Manpower Development Council (LEMDC) I organized in Laguna province when I was its governor. LEMDC specifically pursued job creation efforts and training of unskilled workers for business enterprises in the province. The LEMDC concept and organizational structure were later used by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority as its provincial template.
The PESO law, as well as strengthening of our micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) thru improved credit access, would go a long way in addressing the top concerns of most Filipinos, especially on joblessness. Needless to say, solving widespread joblessness is solving a host of problems: hunger, homelessness, malnutrition, sickness and disease, criminality, among many others.
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