Bill seeking to protect interns against exploitation pushed in Senate

Robie de Guzman   •   September 10, 2019   •   368

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Risa Hontiveros has filed a bill seeking to protect interns against exploitation from companies and promote their professional growth.

The Senate Bill No. 994 or the Interns’ Rights and Welfare bill lists down the responsibilities of host training establishments (HTE) to their interns, with the end view of establishing a proper and relevant experience for them.

“Internship is for students and young people to learn more about the workplace and to deepen their craft. Internship is not an excuse for employers to take advantage of cheap or free labor,” she said in a statement.

“Dahil walang employer-employee relationship, maraming nagiging kaso ng exploitation at kawalan ng professional growth,” she added.

The proposed measure requires any employer who chooses to host interns to come up with a contract and program that details the professional training of interns. It also seeks to strengthen schools vetting process for HTEs.

“Schools have a responsibility to accredit reputable HTEs for their students and to ensure that students do not undergo internship in companies with dubious internship programs,” the senator said. “Hindi pwedeng ipag-intern mo yung mga estudyante sa mga kumpanyang may questionable labor practices na pwedeng maglagay sa kanila sa alanganin.”

The measure also seeks to put a cap on internship hours.

Internship should not exceed 300 hours, nor last for more than 6 months in the government sector while in industry-based internships that are more technical in nature, internship hours are capped at 660 hours per semester, which is equivalent to 15 units per term.

The bill also protects all interns from any form of workplace abuse and harassment.

Senate Bill No. 994 contains the following key provisions:

  • providing basic benefits and remuneration (75% of the prevailing minimum wage in the region for private companies and 75% of Step 1 Salary Grade 1 for interns in the public sector);
  • appropriating funds for government agencies to host interns in order to promote public and civil service among young people; and
  • a grievance mechanism to address any violation of basic interns’ rights.

“Preparing our young people for the workforce includes a viable internship program that centers on their professional growth,” Hontiveros said.

“Our country’s policy on interns reflects how we value humane and decent work. It is time to put a stop to internship horror stories. It is time to stop the abuse and exploitation of interns as part of our education and labor policies,” she concluded.

Hontiveros vows to push hard for divorce law in Philippines

Robie de Guzman   •   August 5, 2019

Senator Risa Hontiveros

MANILA, Philippines – Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros on Monday vowed to push hard for the passage of divorce law in the country as she met with groups advocating for its legalization.

Hontiveros, who chairs the Senate Committee on Women, met with five advocacy groups including the Divorce Advocates of the Philippines (DAP), Boses ng Kababaihan, Divorce for the Philippines Now International (DIPI), Divorce Philippines Coalition (DPC), and Divorce and Dissolution of Marriage Philippines (DDoMPh).

The lawmaker, in filing the Senate Bill No. 356 or the Divorce Act of 2019, sought to make “psychological incapacity of either spouse,” “irreconcilable marital differences,” marital rape, or being “separated for at least 5 years” grounds for divorce, among others.

Hontiveros said meeting with these groups is in preparation for a “historic fight to free Filipinos from abusive, loveless and unhappy marriages.”

“This is history in the making. This meeting marks an important stage in the larger work to have a divorce law in the country. It’s time that we gave Filipinos the chance to free themselves from abusive, loveless and unhappy relationships, and to help them find love and start all over again,” Hontiveros said.

However, some senators have said they are not inclined to support the bill.

READ: Senators may likely back dissolution of marriage than divorce – Sotto

“I will definitely oppose it,” said Senator Joel Villanueva when asked about his thoughts on the proposal being revived in the Senate.

Villanueva has previously expressed strong opposition to the divorce bill, insisting that the Philippines is a Christian nation where marriage is considered sacred.

“Banal na sakramento ang kasal, at naniniwala po tayo na hindi po dapat payagan, in general concept hindi dapat paghiwalayin ng tao,” he said.

Senators Cynthia Villar and Manny Pacquiao are also not in favor of the bill.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III, meanwhile, said senators are more likely to support the measure if it is not called “divorce.”

“Mukhang mas madali, karamihan sa amin, mas madali kung pag-uusapan namin ay dissolution of marriage,” Sotto said in an interview.

Aside from Hontiveros, Senator Pia Cayetano also filed her version of absolute divorce bill that seeks the legal termination of marriages by Philippine courts.

Hontiveros said her office is now in the process of consolidating the different versions of the bill, setting the appropriate committee hearings and talking to like-minded legislators.

“I believe in and support the institution of marriage. I myself was happily married. However, I also believe that Filipinos, especially women and their children have the right to second chances to turn the page and live good and happy lives. This measure is for them,” she said.

Hontiveros eyes bill protecting Philhealth from false claims

Robie de Guzman   •   August 1, 2019

Senator Risa Hontiveros

MANILA, Philippines – Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros on Wednesday said she is planning to file a bill seeking to protect the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (Philhealth) from fraudulent activities such as overpayments and false claims.

Hontiveros said the bill, which will be called the PhilHealth Insurance False Claims Act, is seen to deter and minimize fraud notwithstanding the penalties provided for under the Universal Health Care (UHC) Act.

The senator said she will file the bill after Senator Panfilo Lacson revealed that the Philhealth incurred billions of losses due to alleged fraudulent benefit claims involving corrupt health officials.

“The seriousness and disturbing nature of these allegations should prompt a review of PhilHealth’s anti-fraud mechanisms,” she said in a statement.

“Every peso lost to corruption in our health programs would mean that a citizen is deprived of potentially life-saving medication or treatment. Corruption makes our people unhealthy and even threatens their lives,” she added.

Under the bill, Hontiveros proposes to improve PhilHealth’s fraud detection mechanisms, including a shift from the current case rate payment to a diagnosis-related grouping provider payment mechanism, and providing support to PhilHealth staff who flag anomalies.

She also wants to revisit the penalty of suspending hospital operations and seriously consider imposing monetary penalties that are at least three times the amount of detected fraud.

Hontiveros said she was particularly alarmed over the report that PhilHealth continues to overpay fraudulent hospitals and clinics via “overstaying” or “ghost” patients.

“Mukhang tuloy-tuloy ang mga anomalya mula sa hakot operation ng mga eye clinics, ghost dialysis patients hanggang sa mga kontrobersyal na repayments. Hindi maaari ito,” she said.

“Defrauding the government and depriving countless Filipinos of access to health services is an unacceptable and criminal misuse of public money. Every single peso under our health programs could potentially spell the difference between life and death for our constituents. Let us make sure that it is well spent and will not end up in the pockets of the corrupt,” she added.

Senators divided over PCSO gaming suspension

Robie de Guzman   •   July 29, 2019

MANILA, Philippines – Senators have expressed varying opinions on President Rodrigo Duterte’s suspension order on all gaming activities of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO).

In a statement, Senator Panfilo Lacson said that as far as lotto operations are concerned, it should have been spared “since there are no reports of revenue cheating,” and that its activities are “computerized and automated and therefore closely monitored.”

President Duterte last week ordered for the suspension of all PCSO gaming operations amid corruption allegations in the state-run lottery agency.

Over 21,000 lotto outlets and other PCSO gaming kiosks nationwide have been reportedly closed after Duterte declared these as illegal.

Lacson said that if the president’s intention is to stop gambling altogether, then “all forms of gambling, including the PAGCOR-regulated games like casinos and online should have been included.”

Opposition senator Risa Hontiveros also questioned Duterte’s order, saying if he wants to rid the PCSO of corruption then he should go after corrupt officials who “connive with jueteng operations in using PCSO small town lottery (STL) franchises as fronts for illegal gambling operations.”

“Why shut down the entire multi-billion peso charity operations, including small lotto outlets which are highly regulated by the government?” she said.

“Thousands of our fellow Filipinos rely on the PCSO for financial assistance to cover costly medical expenses… Many Filipinos also base their employment and livelihood on small lotto operations,” she added.

The lawmaker said Duterte should explain his “abrupt, yet serious allegations” against the PCSO.

“How pervasive is the corruption within the PCSO? How are these forms of corruption carried out? And why expose this only now after three years of handling the PCSO?” Hontiveros asked.

Senator Grace Poe likewise called on the government to swiftly uncover the issue for the sake of many indigent Filipinos who rely on the PCSO for medical subsidies.

On the other hand, Duterte allies Senators Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa and Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go expressed support for Duterte’s effort to cleanse the PCSO from corruption.

“May wisdom si Presidente kung bakit ipinahinto yan, gusto niyang linisin,” dela Rosa said.

“Mayroon namang possibility na babalik po yung operations basta walang graft and corruptions,” Go said.

The Malacañang earlier promised the president would soon name the persons involved in the alleged anomalies. The gaming ban would also stay until the government concludes its investigation.

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, meanwhile, suggested that PCSO gaming activities be privatized to shield it from corruption.

Its proceeds should be remitted directly to the Department of Social Work and Development to fund social service programs, he added.

“This way we can avoid the mishandling of funds that are supposed to be allocated to help the poor,” Gatchalian said.

Malacañang earlier said the president first met with new PCSO general manager Royima Garma prior to his suspension order last Friday (July 26). (with details from Nel Maribojoc)

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