By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
The Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research, Inc. (EILER) is decrying the recent move of the Makati City Prosecutor’s Office to dismiss the child labor case against Eton Properties and contractors. The said case was considered to be the strongest among the series of cases filed as part of the campaign for justice for the 10 Eton Residences workers who fell to their death in an accident at a construction site in Makati on January 27, 2011.
The group said the dismissal was a blow against the families of the victims, particularly the family of 17-year-old Kevin Mabunga, one of the killed workers. It also said the dismissal went against the Department of Labor and Employment’s (DOLE) campaign against child labor.
Maribel Dela Cruz, Kevin’s aunt who filed the case in behalf of Kevin’s father who resides in Marinduque, said she could not believe her eyes when she read the decision dismissing the “employment of minor in hazardous occupation.” She was up against six respondents including Lucio Tan, chairman of Eton Properties Philippines Inc (EPPI).
The resolution absolved respondents Lucio Tan, chairman of EPPI; Danilo Ignacio, president of EPPI; Engr. Jose Ramon Aliling, owner of Jose Aliling Construction; Johnny Tan, owner of CE Construction; Engr. Guillermo Torres, project manager of Arlo Aluminum Inc.;; and Eduardo Pinion, subcontractor of Arlo Aluminum Inc.
“If this is how our justice system will handle cases of employment of minors in hazardous workplaces, we are sure that DOLE’s Child Labor Prevention and Elimination Program (CLPEP), which targets zero child labor in 2012, will not be realizable,” said Anna Leah Escresa, EILER’s Executive Director.
The CLPEP plans to establish a community-based mechanism for detecting, monitoring, and reporting the most hazardous forms of child labor in their respective areas.
Escresa pointed out that monitoring and reporting are only some of the steps in the fight against child labor, but the effectiveness of the campaign against child labor rests also on how the government acts on reported cases and make companies employing child labor in hazardous workplaces accountable and penalized for their unlawful actions.
The three-page resolution released last May 2 concluded that Article 139 of the Labor Code, prohibiting the employment of minors in hazardous places, is not punitive in nature, and that the definition of what “hazardous” or “deleterious” maybe for a minor, rested in the hands of the Secretary of the Department of Labor and Employment.
“The resolution also exposes the grave loopholes of the child labor and labor laws under RA 7610, RA 7658 and the Labor Code. The lack of clear cut provisions on how to sufficiently address the issue of hazardous employment of minors between 15 to 17 years of age — as well as leaving the matter of determining what constitutes a hazardous workplace for child workers to the DOLE Secretary — adds to the climate of impunity of labor rights violations and death in the workplace,” Escresa said.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) has previously declared that the construction industry has one of the most hazardous workplaces. ILO reports that at least 108 thousand workers are killed on site every year, a figure which represents about 30 per cent of all occupational fatal injuries. In the ILO International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour, child labor is defined as “work situations where children are compelled to work on a regular basis to earn a living for themselves and their families, and as a result, are disadvantaged educationally and socially; where children work in conditions that are exploitative and damaging to their health and to their physical and mental development; where children are separated from their families, often deprived of educational and training opportunities; where children are forced to lead prematurely adult lives.”
A motion for reconsideration to the resolution on the case on employment of minor will be filed at the Makati Prosecutor’s Office towards the end of the month while other cases regarding the incident remain pending before the NLRC.
Eiler called on the DOLE and the government to study such discrepancies in the law and to put its foot down for workers.
“We cannot accept such injustice. It is enough that these workers had to pay with their lives to earn a living, receiving below minimum wage and enduring inhumane conditions, but to not serve justice on mere falsities of law and bias for big capitalists by the Department of Labor and Employment, shall not be condoned,” Escresa said.
Eiler is part of the Justice for Eton 11 Network, a broad network of labor advocates, non-government organizations, church groups and families of the Eton Tragedy.
Just last week, the DOLE identified 14 Eastern Visayas barangays as the pilot areas for the initial implementation of the Child Labor-Free Barangay project in the region. It was stated in a report of the Philippine Information Agency that of the 14 barangays with high incidence of children at risk of becoming child laborers, five are from Northern Samar, namely, Barangays Ipil-Ipil and Cawayan in Catarman; Barangay Eco in Mondragon; Little Venice in Laoang; and Barangay Dapdap in Las Navas town. Two remote villages of Babatngon, Leyte namely, Barangay Victory and District, three barangays in West Leyte; one barangay in Eastern Samar; one barangay in Samar; one in Southern Leyte; and one in Biliran, complete the pilot areas in Eastern Visayas.
It was said that most child laborers in the included villages are working below the allowable employable age and are engaged in the agricultural sector such as farming and fishing due to high poverty incidence in the localities.
In a write-up, it was said that the program hopes to encourage minors who are not already in formal schooling to return to school , through the Department of Education’s Alternative Learning System.