By Vanne Terrazola
Senator Joel Villanueva refused to accept the belief that the supposed lack of skilled Filipino workers caused the increasing number of Chinese workers in the Philippines.
At the resumption of the Senate Committee on Labor, Employment and Human Resources Development’s hearing on the influx of illegal foreign workers in the country on Thursday, Villanueva, committee chairman, aired his disbelief over the statements made by Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo who said that Chinese workers were being hired in the country due to the Filipinos’ lack of skills, particularly in construction.
Panelo, who saw nothing wrong with the presence of Chinese workers, then put to task the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) to teach more Filipinos the right skills so that they could be employed.
“Ito raw pong pagdagsa ng mga Chinese workers maging sa construction ay dahil wala nang natirang skilled workers in the country. Ang tono po parang kanta ng kaibigan nating si Gloc-9 na ‘Walang Natira’,” Villanueva said in opening the Senate inquiry, alluding to the rap song about the migration of Filipino professional and skilled workers due to the lack of job opportunities in the Philippines.
(This supposed influx of Chinese workers even in the construction industry was said to be because there are no more skilled workers in the country. Like the song of rapper Gloc-9.)
“Kaya napunta na lang sa mga Chinese workers pati trabaho sa construction dito sa Pilipinas (That’s why even the jobs in construction went to Chinese workers),” he added.
But Villanueva, who once chaired the TESDA, denied that the country lacked skilled workers. The TESDA, he added, produces enough skilled workers to undertake the jobs being given to the Chinese.
Citing goverment data, Villanueva said there were 234,534 graduates of construction-related trainings in TESDA last year alone. The number rose by 180 percent from the 83,649 construction graduates in 2017, he observed.
He also noted that majority or 97.5 percent of TESDA graduates chose to work in the country, while only 2.52 percent sought employment abroad.
Aside from these figures, he added that the TESDA was allotting 25 percent of its budget for Training for Work Scholarship Program (TWSP) on skills training on construction-related qualifications to boost enrollees in 62 construction-related training regulations.
“Mali po na sabihing wala tayong enough supply ng skilled workers sa construction kaya nag-open up na tayo sa mga foreign worker…Napakarami pong TESDA graduates ang pwedeng mabigyan ng trabaho (It is wrong to say that we don’t have enough supply of skilled workers in construction so we are opening up the jobs for foreign workers. There are a lot of TESDA graduates we could hire),” Villanueva said.
The labor committee chairman also lamented how some of the construction projects under the Duterte administration’s “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure employed Chinese laborers.
“Kaya ang tanong, bakit ipinamimigay sa mga dayuhan ang mga trabaho? Bakit hinahayaan nating manakaw sa ating mga kababayan ang mga oportunidad na ito? Para kanino po ba talaga ang trabahong dala sa construction industry ng Build, Build, Build Program – sa mga Filipino workers o para sa mga Chinese workers?” he asked.
Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, on the other hand, clarified that the government continues to prioritize Filipinos in the Build, Build, Build program.
He said that even the projects were China-funded, Filipinos, still, should be hired to implement them.
He also maintained that the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) do not give alien employment permits for jobs that can be done by locals, including construction, as stated in the Labor Code.
“Wala dapat maagawan ng trabaho na Filipino (No Filipinos should be robbed of employment opportunities)…we will not allow foreigners to work at the expense of Filipinos,” Bello assured in an interview after the hearing.
At the Thursday hearing, Bello announced that the government is finalizing the creation of an interagency committee that will regulate the entry of foreign workers.
The said interagency panel will be led by the DOLE, with the departments of Finance, Justice, Trade and Industry; as well as the Bureau of Internal Revenue, Bureau of Immigration, and Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) as members.