ABS-CBN News : Returning DOLE chief Laguesma: ‘No magic wand, quick fix’ to solve PH labor issues

By Katrina Domingo | ABS-CBN News

MANILA – Former secretary Bienvenido Laguesma on Monday confirmed returning to helm the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) under incoming President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.'s administration, but underscored there was no "quick fix" to issues such as contractualization.

Laguesma said he has yet to craft a solution to address issues surrounding the non-regularization of several workers – colloquially termed “endo” – despite working at DOLE for about 20 years before being named department secretary for the first time under President Joseph Estrada’s administration.

"Una muna siguro bigyan niyo kami ng pagkakataon na magkaroon ng mga konsultasyon sa mga sektor ng aming Department," he told ABS-CBN News in a virtual interview.

"Nais kong bigyang diin na wala akong dalang magic wand o quick fix solution sa mga issues na bumabalot o bumabatay sa larangan ng pag gawa."

The incoming DOLE leadership should first sit with workers' and employers' groups to know their expectations and find a middle ground amid their differences, added Laguesma, who started as a contractual worker at DOLE, before eventually becoming a lawyer for investors.

"Nais kong makipag-ugnayan muna sa kanila. Hindi ako babalangkas ng sarili kong solusyon sa problema," he said.

"Alam naman po natin sa globalisasyon na nangyayari hindi lamang sa Pilipinas kung di sa buong mundo, ’yan pong contractualization ay may tamang pagtingin, tamang pananaw at tamang pagpapatupad ng mga regulasyon at batas na umiiral.

"Wala po akong dala ngayon na sigurado at quick fix at saka tanggap na tanggap ng sektor na formula."

DEPLOYMENT BAN

Laguesma also distanced himself from questions about his stance on halting the deployment of overseas Filipino workers (OFW) in Arab countries that honor the kafala system, which allows employers to treat their workers as pseudo-properties.

The Philippines earlier stopped new OFWs from working in several Arab countries after a series of abuses and deaths among domestic workers who were supposedly abused by their employers.

Current Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III wants to keep the deployment ban in place with Department of Migrant Workers Secretary Abdullah Mama-o seeks to lift it, echoing the plea of several OFWs.

Laguesma said he doesn’t see him and incoming Department of Migrant Workers Secretary Susan "Toots" Ople clashing over the issue.

"Ang aming common denominator ay serbisyo sa manggagawa at sa mga namumuhunan, whether that is local or overseas," he said.

"Hindi po ako nakakakita ng sitwasyon na kami ay magkakaroon ng problema pagkat parehas ang aming pananaw na dapat pagaanin, i-simplify at tiyakin ang serbisyo publiko ay naibibigay natin sa ating mga kababayan.

"Iyong mga personal na isyu, ayaw po natin bigyan ’yun ng diin."

VETERAN LABOR OFFICIAL

Laguesma appealed for time to hold dialogues and study the current developments at the DOLE, where he has worked since 1975 during the administration of Marcos Jr.'s father, late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr.

He started his career at the labor department in the 70s as a labor arbiter. He rose from the ranks as regional director, assistant regional director, executive labor arbiter and undersecretary, before eventually being named as Estrada's DOLE secretary.

Laguesma, a lawyer, also served under the administration of President Fidel V. Ramos as a presidential assistant for two years.

After his stint in government, Laguesma was appointed Commissioner of the Social Security Commission (SSC) in March 2011, and one of the representatives of the Social Security System (SSS) board.

"Noong panahon ni President PNoy (Benigno Aquino III), ako ay inanyayahan din, but noong panahon na ’yun aking sinisimulang palakasin ’yung aking naitayong law office," Laguesma said.

"Karamihan, kung hindi man lahat ng aming mga kliyente ay galing sa hanay ng mga namumuhunan kaya hindi madaling tumanggap ng ganitong klaseng posisyon [noon] sapagkat kailanbgan matiyak mo na sa iyong paglilingkuran ay mayroong balanse at mapaglilingkuran mo ang hanay ng mga manggagawa at hanay ng mga namumuhunan."

Laguesma earned his political science degree at Lyceum of the Philippines, and pursued law at the Ateneo de Manila College of Law.

He maintains a private law office, and was a director of Philex Mining and the First Metro Investment Corp.

RETURNING TO GOVERNMENT SERVICE

Marcos Jr.'s camp first announced last week its intention to tap Laguesma to lead DOLE, but did not immediately get an answer from the former labor official.

"Bukod sa edad, matahimik ang buhay ng private citizen," he said when asked why it took him some time before accepting Marcos Jr.'s offer.

Laguesma is turning 72 years old in October.

"If you situate yourself sa aking sarili, hindi ganoon kadali ang pagpapasya. On the other hand, hindi rin madali ang magsabi na ayaw mong tumulong," he said.

"Parang malaking hamon at magandang sumama para tingnan kung mayroon kang maiaambag. Kung ikaw naman ay magiging pabigat, magpaalam ka na rin."

Laguesma said he had to consult his family first about returning to public service, noting that his wife Teresita had to "sacrifice a lot" when he previously worked for government.

"Bilang pribadong mamamayan, bagamat ako ay may ibang natutulungan, gusto ko sana ang mga huling taon — sana marami pa no — ng aking buhay ay maiukol sa aking pamilya," he said.

"'Yun ang isa sa dahilan subalit dahil ang aking maybahay ay maunawain at matulungin at mayroon ding puso sa manggagawa at nanggaling kami parehas sa hanay ng mahihirap, ay nasabi niya na bigyan natin ng pagkakataon na muli tayong makatulong sa kanila sa abot ng ating makakaya."