House panel approves pro-'sikyu' measure

A House of Representatives panel approved Wednesday afternoon a bill that seeks to address the plight of security guards, who proved themselves invaluable to the country during the height of the COVID-19-triggered lockdown.

Approved in principle by a sub-committee of the House Committee on Public Order and Safety was a substitute bill for the strengthening of the private security industry. The bill is meant to repeal Republic Act (RA) No. 5487, also known as "the Act to regulate the organization and operation of private detective, watchmen or security guard agencies."

Masbate 1st district Rep. Narciso Bravo Jr., chairman of the mother panel, described RA 5487 as "antiquated" since it was enacted way back on June 21, 1969.

Bravo moved for the approval of the substitute measure "in principle" after sub-panel members and resource persons went through all 26 sections of the bill during a four-hour virtual hearing. All of the proposed amendments to the bill will be taken into account, he said.

Sub-panel chairman, Iligan Lone District Rep. Frederick Siao carried Bravo's motion.

The substitute bill was a draft consolidation of House Bill (HB) Nos. 518, 2325, 3547, 3669, and 7037. The main body of the draft, HB No.7037, was jointly authored by Majority Floor Leader, Leyte 1st district Rep. Martin Romualdez; Tingog Sinirangan Party-List Rep. Yedda Marie Romualdez; and TUCP Party-List Rep. Raymond Democrito Mendoza.

"Private security agencies have been (instrumental) during the lockdown in the implementation of health protocols in workplaces and public places to control the virus. Security guards are essential workers, they're frontliners," Mendoza said in his sponsorship speech before the sub-panel.

"Security guards are credited by the PNP (Philippine National Police) as force multipliers in areas where it has limited personnel and unable to send mobile cars for regular patrols," he said, adding that there were an estimated 500,000 security guards in the country as of 2016. 

This is more than twice the number of active police personnel.

"'Sikyu' has always been characterized by low pay; long hours of work; poor, dangerous working conditions; unremitted social benefits and contributions; rampant violations to their right to security of tenure and self-organization. They are sadly often underpaid, deprived of benefits that private employees are entitled to under existing labor laws, rules and regulations," lamented the author.

Mendoza said his proposed measure seeks to uphold and enforce labor rights, incorporate pertinent law and DOLE (Department of Labor and Employment)-issued rules and regulations to protect the rights of security guards and also their agencies.

"Aside from this, it provides new provisions to govern administrative registration of security agencies with proper offices of PNP and DOLE. All in all, the bill seeks to professionalize the security agency and uphold ethical practices regarding contracting and sub-contracting," he noted.

San Jose Del Monte City, Bulacan Rep. Florida “Rida” Robes, another author, wrote in her explanatory note of HB No. 3547: "Despite these laws and administrative orders, rampant violations of the same committed by private security agencies have been documented wherein the security guards/personnel are (disadvantaged)."

"What is lacking right now is an Act or law with more teeth, so to speak. One that imposes a penalty of imprisonment to demand stricter compliance from the private security agencies," added Robes.

The penal provision in the approved substitute bill states that any private security agency which violates any provision of the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines and other existing penal laws shall be held liable.

The substitute bill is expected to get the mother panel's nod during the next hearing, after which it will be sent to the House plenary.