By Charissa Luci-Atienza
Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur 2nd district Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte asked the government on May 3, Sunday, to work out a “rescue” masterplan that would benefit hundreds of thousands of stranded construction workers nationwide, saying that their current situation is “a humanitarian crisis in the making.”
He called on the the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging Infectious Diseases to coordinate with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to draw up a rescue program for laborers who were stranded in their urban job-sites following the imposition of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).
“This situation (stranded and dislocated workers) is a humanitarian crisis in the making, as countless laborers in suspended infrastructure projects, mostly in Metro Manila and the Calabarzon (Cavite-Laguna-Batangas-Rizal-Quezon) subregion, are stranded and starving in their job-sites without any means of obtaining food and getting back to their home-provinces,” Villafuerte, a co-author of Republic Act (RA) No. 11469 or the “Bayanihan to Heal as One” Act, said in a statement.
He said daily food packs should be given to the stranded laborers “until such time that they are able to go back to their provinces—which should be ASAP (as soon as possible).”
“There can be no healing for these construction workers if they continue to have no income, considering that they subsist on the no-work, no-pay arrangement, and have neither access to food packs nor the SAP (social amelioration program) cash subsidies as they are not permanent residents of the cities or municipalities where they have found work,” he said.
He proposed that the provincial governors, and the mayors of cities and municipalities where suspended construction projects are located should join the IATF and DSWD in drafting the rescue program.
“The provincial governments of the concerned construction workers should take charge of providing buses to take them home, put them in isolation for the mandatory 14-day quarantine period, and work out temporary and long-term jobs and livelihood opportunities so these laborers could stay in their provinces for good even after the threat of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is gone,” Villafuerte, a former governor, said.
He said the IATF and DSWD can pattern the rescue program for stranded construction laborers from the repatriation services that the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) have been extending to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in distress in their respective host-countries.
“Enabling these stranded workers to return home and eventually secure jobs and livelihood opportunities in their provinces is at the heart of the Balik Probinsya program, which President Duterte himself endorsed in one of his televised public addresses last month,” Villafuerte said.
He said 24/7 telephone hotlines should be set up “where the stranded laborers could call to identify themselves and seek help from their respective provinces in providing them with food and a means to return right away to their families back home.”
Rural job generation
Villafuerte said the plight of stranded laborers and other workers economically displaced by the COVID-19 crisis prodded him and Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano to pursue the filing a measure on rural job generation and a multi-year spending program on health, education, agriculture, and livelihood (HEAL) infrastructure.
He said such measure seeks to support the Balik Probinsya program, and complement House Bill (HB) No. 6623 or the proposed “New Normal for the Workplace and Public Spaces Act of 2020,” which calls for the establishment of policies and regulations for the “new normal” way of life.
He noted that the plight of the stranded construction workers was raised in last week’s virtual session of the Defeat COVID-19 Committee’s Social Amelioration Cluster.
Quoting the the Philippine Construction Association (PCA), Villafuerte noted that 1.3 million workers are expected to lose their jobs as a result of the economic standoff fired up by the implementation of the ECQ.
He noted that there are 10,000 workers from Camarines Sur who are stranded in Metro Manila and elsewhere.
He said to assist the stranded workers, the provincial government has sent 10 to 15 buses daily to the metropolis to fetch the workers in their job-sites and return them to their families in CamSur.
“These affected workers are sent to designated quarantine facilities in the provinces for their mandatory 14-day mandatory isolation period and where they are fed and provided with essential items like mattresses, blankets, and toiletries,” he said.