By William Casis

At least three senators on April 27 showed their support of the proposal to allow the return to work those from the agriculture, construction and manufacturing sectors to curb massive hunger, social unrest and criminality that could be triggered by prolonged enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Luzon and other parts of the country. 

Senate Agriculture committee chairperson Cynthia Villar, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Senate President Pro Tempore Franklin Drilon said they agreed with the suggestion to open these industries. 

Villar noted that agriculture comprises 22 percent of workers in the country; 10 percent, in manufacturing and 10 percent, in construction. Construction workers numbered 3.9 million in 2018 and almost the same number in manufacturing. 

“Agricultural and construction workers work outdoors in open spaces and are exposed to sunlight, so the risks of them getting infected are much lower, as long as the people practice personal protection measures,” said the Senator.

While the agriculture sector is in full swing, she said some allied industries have limited operations or have ceased operations already. 

“This has displaced food manufacturing workers and limited the supply of food in the market. With the extension of the ECQ for another half a month, we need to intensify food production as well as ensure the unimpeded flow of fresh produce and food products all over the country,” said Villar.

With work stoppage due to the lockdown, many of them are not only stranded in their workplaces but without any income, as well.

“As we all know, workers in construction and manufacturing are daily wage earners who are compensated on a “no work, no pay” basis. They have no source of income while on ECQ. While the government and companies may have extended financial assistance and relief goods, those will not be enough,” said Villar.

Villar said ECQ should not only be dependent on areas but on industry types or sectors also.

“We should remember that 70 percent of the gross domestic product of the Philippines is in NCR, Calabarzon and Central Luzon. And if we do not practice partial lockdown in these areas, we lose 70 percent of our gross domestic products, “the Senator added.

Conceding there are health risks in going back to work, Villar said workers should follow government-implemented health and safety protocols such as social distancing and wearing of face masks. She said employers can also make sure that they comply with those. “They can even provide shuttle services to their employees.”

She said if the issue of hunger is not immediately addressed, people may turn to crimes to get money for food. Villar said, “Many are willing to risk their lives and get infected with coronavirus, just to provide food for their family. They can be heard on TV and in social media.”

Drilon emphasized social unrest that could result from two million workers unemployed for the past six weeks is a reality. 

“From the economic standpoint, I am extremely concerned of the further damage to our economy by the continued lockdown of the agriculture, manufacturing and construction sectors,” he said.

“From the health standpoint, those companies in the agricultural plantations, in the manufacturing and construction sectors should have a rapid and mass testing of their workers to determine whether or not they are affected with the corona virus,” related Drilon.

Sen. Ralph Recto said, “Expect higher unemployment knowing that the consumer would have confidence issues. Investors will adopt a wait and see attitude. Government must improve its health capability to improve consumer and investor confidence as well.”