President Aquino holds 2-hour dialogue with labor leaders

April 30, 2014 6:06 am 

By Jelly F. Musico

MANILA, April 29 (PNA) — President Benigno Aquino III on Tuesday held an impromptu dialogue with labor leaders for almost two hours in Malacanang, ending the Pre-Labor Day Dialogue organized by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).

President Aquino was scheduled to deliver a speech in front of over 30 labor leaders from private and public sectors but decided to hold a dialogue that allowed the labor leaders to express personally their grievances to the Chief Executive at the Heroes Hall of the Malacanang Palace.

”I’m looking at my schedule, I will deliver speech and we’ll have photo op. But it’s a dialogue. So let’s forget my speech, let’s proceed to our dialogue. It is important for me to hear from you,” President Aquino said, drawing applause from the audience that also include Cabinet secretaries and officials.

The President started the dialogue by addressing problem of energy sector and the effort of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) to increase competitiveness of skilled Filipino workers.

”We want to make sure there is enough power not only in the NCR (national capital region) and urban areas but in all the growing economies in the different parts of the country and in the agriculture sector,” he said.

DOLE Secdretary Rosalinda Baldoz enumerated to the President the labor issues and the government agencies’ commitments that were discussed throughout the 26 dialogues held between the government and the labor sector this year.

President Aquino, however, opted to directly hear the grievances and recommendations of the labor groups on how to foster greater cooperation among various groups in order to better serve the Filipino workforce, the backbone of the country.

Josua Mata of Alliance of Progressive Labor took the floor and thanked the President for the efforts of his Cabinet secretaries to address their demands from the government.

”But the result is not really enough, in particular, can I be frank Mr. President? We are really disappointed with Commissioner Kim Henares (BIR). We are open to the idea of tax breaks, we are not talking about the 'de minimis'. We are just saying how the salary increases of the minimum wage earners will not be taxed,” Mata told the President.

In response, President Aquino cited Article 6 Section 28 of the Constitution which provides that taxation shall be uniform and equitable.

”If we grant tax breaks in one sector, can it be done without violating the Constitution which provides uniform taxation?” the President said.

The President, however, assured the labor sector that the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) is addressing the issue.

Baldoz said the BIR made commitment that it will hold information campaigns to explain "de miminis" and other tax concerns.

Mata also suggested for the government to construct own power generation plants and admit that “we are in an emergency situation.”

Presidenet Aquino believed that the country is not yet facing power crisis but assured the government is addressing the problem.

”The EPIRA does not allow the government to set generating power plant,” the President explained.

Baldoz also presented to the President the other labor issues that include substantial progress on the extra judicial killing, agro-industrial plan, security of tenure, ratification of International Labor Organization (ILO) No. 151 on labor relations and "Yolanda" Job-led recovery.

On extra judicial killings, President Aquino announced last Monday during a joint press conference with United States President Barack Obama the creation of inter-agency body that will look into the extra judicial and medial killings.

Baldoz said Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Leila de Lima has come up with circular requiring the government prosecutors to participate in the Freedom of Association advocacy seminars and provide legal assistance to the labor groups.

On the labor sector to push for the passage of Security of Tenure (SOT) bill, Baldoz said there still no consensus on the pending SOT measures both in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

To address the high cost of power, Baldoz said the Department of Energy will spearhead the creation of a task force composed of labor and consumer groups, Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry and other stakeholders to look into and study the electricity prices.

The labor leaders also asked for regular dialogue with President Aquino to provide him update on the issued addressed to the agencies.

President Aquino has instructed his Cabinet members to come out with their concrete actions on the issues raised by the labor groups.

Aside from Baldoz, Henares and De Lima, other government officials present during the pre-Labor Day dialogue include Secretaries Gregory Domingo of Trade and Industry, Jericho Petilla of energy, Arsenio Balisacan of Economic Development, Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras and Civil Service Commission chairman Francisco Duque. (PNA)

LGI/JFM

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