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SONA lacks clear, comprehensive plan for millions of displaced workers — Villanueva

President Duterte failed to clearly spell out in his fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA) his plans for the millions of workers displaced by the COVID-19 pandemic, Senator Joel Villanueva said Monday night.

Sen. Joel Villanueva (Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN/MANILA BULLETIN)

In a statement after the President’s public address at the Batasang Pambansa complex on July 27, Villanueva said he was waiting for Duterte to tackle a “a clear and comprehensive plan” about the country’s unemployment problem.

“There are about 7.3 million workers across the country who lost their jobs during the lockdown, not to mention the estimated 400,000 overseas Filipino workers who are set to return to the Philippines after they have lost their jobs abroad,” the chairman of the Senate labor committee said.

“It would have been a relief for them if the government stated its plan to generate jobs for them and ensure that they and their families will have something to eat in the days to come. The concrete plan was not clearly stated earlier,” he said.

Villanueva also cited the need to review the salary and tenure of frontline personnel.

“We realized that our frontliners such as street sweepers and garbage collectors are among the most vulnerable and often subject to contractualization. And yet, they worked so we can stay safely at home,” he noted.

In his speech, Duterte acknowledged that many Filipinos lost their jobs amid the pandemic and the resulting lockdowns to contain it. He, however, maintained that fully opening up the economy is still “not an option” at this time due to the persisting threat of the coronavirus.

“Because whatever good it can produce will only be gobbled up, or be outweighed, by the bad it will generate. Sometimes, haste does make waste. The recent upsurge of infections when we opened little windows to the resumption of business is proof of that,” the President explained.

Duterte also admitted that his administration’s actions on the pandemic “have been far from perfect,” but assured that the government will continue to work on addressing the problems to help people recover and proceed to the new normal.

Aside from employment concerns, Villanueva also inquired about the government’s COVID-19 spending.

“The Department of Budget and Management said the P300 billion plus we’ve spent so far on COVID[-19] was internally financed: from savings and realignment of budget allocations. I want to know how the loans from international financial institutions have been utilized or are being utilized. If we have not utilized, what is the plan in utilizing this?” he asked.

He said he also wanted to know how the Duterte administration would modify its “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure projects to fit the economic recovery plan. 

“If we are thinking of pump priming, we should plan to spend on systems and infrastructure that will make us more resilient in the future, like investing in a national vaccine center. Moving our production to a greener economy might be a good direction so that we can also address climate change concerns,” he said.

Villanueva reiterated his appeal to employers to continue implementing  work-from-home schemes to help reduce the risk of workers of getting exposed to or infected by the virus.

He also called anew on the Department of Labor and Employment to step up its workers’ safety audits through labor inspections to make sure that minimum health standards are in place to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infections in the workplace.

Source: Manila Bulletin (

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