Hontiveros wants probe on retrenchment of nearly 500 Dole Philippines workers

Robie de Guzman   •   December 4, 2020   •   262

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Risa Hontiveros on Friday called on the government to look into the alleged irregularities in the mass retrenchment of nearly 500 regular workers of canned pineapple producer and exporter, Dole Philippines Inc. (Dolefil).

In a letter addressed to Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Secretary Silvestre Bello III, Hontiveros said that the company has not suffered any substantial and imminent losses in recent years to legally retrench its workers, based on their latest Annual Audited Financial Statements.

She also questioned why the company filed the notice of retrenchment on September 18, 2020, three days after the actual termination of the workers.

The mass retrenchment also appeared to have been done in bad faith as the company prioritized the termination of a significant number of regular workers instead of contractual employees, she added.

“Nakakaalarma rin na sa kabila ng pagreregular nila sa nasa 5,000 employees noong 2018 bilang suporta sa kampanya ng gobyerno laban sa endo, nagpatuloy pa rin silang maghire ng contractual workers. This clearly belied the basis given for the retrenchment of its regular workers,” she said in a statement.

The senator called on the labor department to mediate between Dolefil and the retrenched workers to determine the company’s possible violations of labor laws and to bring forth “a mutually-acceptable solution to prevent a more serious labor dispute.”

Hontiveros likewise urged the department to look into other companies that might have been illegally dismissing their employees amid the pandemic.

“Ngayong maraming negosyo ang naapektuhan ng economic recession, huwag nating hayaang masangkalan ang kapakanan ng mga manggagawa. At the end of the day, workers’ welfare and rights should come first. They should always be our top priority,” she said.

Dolefil has yet to issue a statement on the matter.

Meralco urged to extend installment payment scheme for customers

Robie de Guzman   •   January 12, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday called on power distributor Manila Electric Company (Meralco) to extend its installment-based payment scheme to help its customers cope with economic difficulties due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hontiveros said implementing stricter payment policies might lead to a “disconnected nation” that will make life harder for poor families and derail efforts to revive the country’s economy.

“Hindi maganda na ngayong 2021, maliban sa COVID-19 ay magkaroon din ng epidemiya ng tanggalan ng kuryente sa ating bansa,” she said in a statement.

“Mas mahihirapan umahon ang bansa mula sa pandemya at sa bagsak na ekonomiya kung mas maraming Pilipino ang mapuputulan ng kuryente sa kanilang mga kabahayan dahil sa mga polisiya ng Meralco,” she added.

Meralco earlier announced it has begun sending out notices of disconnection to customers using 201 kilowatt-hours and more per month, and those who are behind in their monthly payments.

The power distributor also said it will be hiking power rates up to P8.7497 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) this year, which means that an average household consuming 200 kWh per month will be charged around an additional ₱55 in their bill.

Hontiveros said the disconnection policy combined with new rate adjustment in the generation charge is on top of the already high regular monthly electricity bills consumers must pay.

“Itong anunsyo ng MERALCO ay mistulang one-two-three punch sa ating mga kawawang consumer, na marami ngayon ay knock-out na sa mga utang, mahal na bilihin at kakulangan ng hanapbuhay dahil sa pandemya,” she said.

“Mas malaki na ang singil ng kuryente, andiyan pa ang panganib na matanggalan ng kuryente kapag hindi nakabayad ng buo. Baka maulit o mas malala ito sa ‘bill shock’ last year na inalmahan ng ating mga kababayan noong 2020,” she added.

Hontiveros expressed hope that MERALCO will stick to its corporate motto of “May liwanag ang buhay,” and work with the government towards programs that will prevent the denial of power services to many Filipinos who are struggling amid the pandemic.

“Electricity is an essential need lalo na ngayong may pandemya. Hindi siguro kalabisan na humiling pa ng makatwirang palugit. Bago ang lahat, kapakanan muna ng ating mga kababayan ang pangunahin na mas dapat inuuna, bago ang kita,” the senator said.

She also advised the power firm to work with the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) and explore the possibility of extending its debt restructuring program, which offers flexible or staggered payment options for consumers who are having difficulties paying their monthly power bills so that they could avoid disconnection.

“Siguro naman, hindi hamak na may kapasidad ang MERALCO, ang mga power suppliers at kanilang mga bangko na i-manage ang problema sa utang kumpara sa pinapasan ng mga consumers ngayon,” she said.

“Accommodating this installment-based payment scheme will also ensure that more Filipinos will not get disconnected and will remain as MERALCO’s customers, which will be beneficial in the long run,” she added.

Bill seeking work benefits, incentives for Bantay Dagat volunteers filed at Senate

Robie de Guzman   •   November 23, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – A bill seeking to grant incentives and work benefits for Bantay Dagat volunteers or “sea wardens” in the country has been filed at the Senate.

Senator Risa Hontiveros said she has filed Senate Bill No. 1919 or the Bantay Dagat Welfare and Incentives Act which aims to recognize accredited bantay dagat volunteers who are mostly town fisherfolks who work with local and national agencies in conserving, protecting, and managing the country’s marine resources.

“Our fisherfolk communities are at the frontlines of climate change. Sila ang unang-unang naapektuhan ng pagbabago sa klima, pati na ng mga negatibong epekto nito sa ating kalikasan,” Hontiveros said in a statement.

“This gives all the more reason, to not only recognize their noble work, but also to provide tangible support. Bigyan natin ng dignidad ang kanilang ginagawa para sa ating bayan,” she added.

The bill seeks to entitle the volunteers to insurance and Philhealth coverage, hazard allowance, subsistence allowance, training and career enrichment programs, and access to loans.

It also aims to grant sea wardens the security of tenure, which means that they shall not be removed or terminated except for just and valid causes as determined by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.

The bill also mandates local government to allocate regular funding for Bantay Dagat volunteers and their operational requirements.

“The Bantay Dagat bill is an important step towards encouraging and giving recognition to the importance of community participation in the protection of our fisheries,” Hontiveros said.

“But government must further arm itself through modernizing and upping our defense capability towards the protection of Philippine waters. Nakahanda ang mga komunidad magbantay, palakasin din ang pagbabantay ng gobyerno,” she added.

Hontiveros also underscored the importance of installing Bantay Dagat volunteers especially within municipalities along contested waters, such as the West Philippine Sea, to aid in government surveillance efforts against illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.

The government must also beef up its capacity to ward off incursions in the WPS, she added.

Hontiveros urges NBI, DOH to charge hospitals violating anti-hospital deposit law

Robie de Guzman   •   September 24, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Risa Hontiveros has called on the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Department of Health (DOH) to file criminal charges against hospitals that violate the Strengthened Anti-Hospital Deposit Law.

Hontiveros, author of the law, said local government units (LGU) and law enforcement agencies should actively monitor and enforce sanctions through their regulatory powers on hospitals that violate the law.

The senator emphasized that hospitals demanding cash from emergency patients before providing treatment is unlawful.

“It is unjust to ask a dying person to cough up money before even attempting to save his or her life,” she said in a statement on Thursday.

“Bakit natin itinataboy ang mga pasyenteng nasa hukay na ang isang paa? Dapat maparusahan ang lumalabag sa batas. Hindi makatarungang may mga pasyenteng namamatay dahil sa kawalan ng pera lalo na sa gitna ng isang health crisis,” she added.

Hontiveros, meanwhile, welcomed the filing of criminal charges against two hospitals that refused to admit a pregnant woman without initial deposit in April, leading to her death.

“I hope the NBI, with the assistance of DOH and LGUs, will continue to file criminal charges against similar violators. Hospitals must not get away with these unjust refusals that literally kill our fellow Filipinos,” she said.

“Two people, a mother and her child, died that day, as countless others have because of this selfish practice,” she added.

Hontiveros likewise urged the LGUs to mobilize their Barangay Health Emergency Response Teams (BHERTs) to “own up to this life-saving responsibility, especially that they have consistently received assistance from the government in all health emergencies, including COVID-19.”

Hospitals violating the law could face a fine of P1 million and imprisonment of up to six years. Licenses of the hospitals violating the law could also be revoked.

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