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Caritas launches legal service for Filipino workers

Livestreamed online program offers legal advice to workers who fear their rights are being violated or threatened

Caritas launches legal service for Filipino workers

Catholic seminarians stage a Labor Day march in Manila in this file photo. (Photo: Rico Ibarra)

The Catholic Church’s social action arm in the Philippines has launched a livestreamed program giving free legal consultations for workers to help protect their rights.

Caritas Philippines began the two-hour monthly service on May 1 — International Labour Day — with lawyers who specialize in labor law to address abuses of workers’ rights during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“[It] is livestreamed on the Caritas Facebook page every Friday. Workers can post their questions in the thread so that they can be answered during the program,” said Jehn Louie Velandrez, Caritas’ legal officer.

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He said the initiative was one way to honor and to help give Filipino workers the protection they deserve as they try to keep the economy alive in this period of crisis.

“There are plenty of workers needing legal assistance and counseling, and we are hoping the online program will be accessible to as many people as possible,” Velandrez added.

Guests in the first program included lawyer Sonny Matula, president of Nagkaisa workers’ coalition, and Manila’s apostolic administrator Bishop Broderick Pabillo.

We don’t see any more hope for change taking place in the remaining few months under Duterte

Matula explained the current situation and sentiments of Philippine workers under the Duterte administration.

“The hopes that workers had in Duterte have just faded. It’s been a half-decade of failure and pain which has been most clear in this pandemic … We don’t see any more hope for change taking place in the remaining few months under Duterte,” said Matula.

He said the Philippine economy recorded 9.5 percent negative growth in 2020, the worst figure since World War II.

“There are more than 20 million workers affected by the pandemic. Many were laid off. Some were suspended without regular benefits provided for by law,” Matula added.

“Despite the crises the Philippines is facing, there have been clear violations of human rights by some employers.”

Caritas chief Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo of Kidapawan in Cotabato province said there would be discussions with the Labor Department about providing job opportunities to people who have lost their jobs.

“We want to tap state resources and technical support, not only for job generation but also to create community social enterprises which are more sustainable and empowering,” Bishop Bagaforo told reporters.

Bishop Pabillo reminded Catholics about human dignity.

“Labor Day is also the feast of St. Joseph. This year is also the year of St. Joseph. First, we ask St. Joseph to bless our workers. We also ask workers to keep the faith. Let us remember that our laborers have dignity. Labor has priority over capital,” he said.

“Workers produce wealth. Laborers are important. Hopefully during Labor Day, not only do we ask help from St. Joseph but we should also work ourselves for the dignity of labor to be advanced.”

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