LEGENDARY actor Eddie Garcia arrived on set on June 8, 2019 for the taping of an upcoming television series, Rosang Agimat. During the shoot, the 90-year-old actor accidentally tripped over a cable, fracturing his neck which eventually left him in a coma. He passed away 12 days after the accident.
Less than a month after the actor’s demise, the Eddie Garcia Bill was filed in the House of Representatives. In November 2020, the proposed bill (House Bill 7762) was approved for third and final reading with 235 votes. It is currently in the process of review for approval in the Senate.
The Eddie Garcia Bill seeks to “protect and promote the welfare of workers or independent contractors in the film, television, and radio entertainment industry.”
The Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP), through its Safe Filming program, organized a Safety and Health Orientation Webinar, an online discussion on safety and health for film and audio-visual production shoots during the pandemic which covered the bill extensively.
It is no secret that workers on film and TV shoots have to endure long working hours, and often the freelancers working on these projects do so without written contracts and for measly pay.
“For the longest time, workers in the industry have endured these conditions and [they] have even persevered,” said former child actor and Pangasinan 4th District Representative Christopher “Toff” De Venecia during the Zoom webinar on Feb. 17. “I think it is time for the State to listen to the needs of the workers in the industry especially when it comes to the occupational health and safety,” said Mr. De Venecia, who sponsored the Eddie Garcia Bill.
The bill covers “all workers or independent contractors in the film, television, and radio entertainment industry,” and Section 5 of the bill states that “the worker or independent contractor and the employer or principal shall execute an agreement, or employment contract in a language or dialect understood by both parties before the commencement of service.”
“Dapat in writing itong kontratang ito duly signed by both parties, at dapat may kopya ang pareho (It should be a written contract duly signed by both parties, and each secures a copy),” Mr. De Venecia said. “The policy we want to espouse is to institutionalize the best practice of having written contracts for every service that will be rendered by the worker,” Mr. De Venecia said.
Regarding work hours, these shall be “based on the terms and conditions set in the employment contract.” According to the bill, the normal working hours shall be eight hours a day. It can be extended to 12 hours maximum “served intermittently or continuously, exclusive of meal periods.”
In Section 7, it says the minimum wage “shall not be less than the applicable minimum wage of the region,” and it shall be “paid on time, as agreed upon in the contract, directly to the worker or independent contractor.”
Meanwhile, Section 11 of the bill discusses the workers’ health and safety. The employer shall comply with health standards provided by existing laws and “the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) officer of the employer or principal shall conduct a risk assessment of the workplace or location of production to identify and eliminate or control any potential hazard…”
Arguably, if a regulation like that of Section 11 had been in place on June 8, 2019, Eddie Garcia would not have tripped and fallen.
DOLE’S ROLE IF THE BILL IS PASSED INTO LAW
Once the bill is passed into law, the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) will implement it under the context of 187 Series 2017 Revised Tools of the Administration and Enforcement of Labor Laws pursuant to Article 128 of the Labor Code of the Philippines.
DoLE’s mandate under the law includes the reconstruction of Tripartite Councils (ITC) for the entertainment industry. The ITC shall serve as a link to everyone involved in production such as employers, principals, independent contractors, directors, and actors; and provide a platform to represent their respective groups in crafting policy decisions.
“The reason why we have the Tripartite Council is that if there are agreements among the sectors let’s say, ‘to increase [the working hours] to 16 [hours], or 52 or 60 hours a week,’ this will be agreed upon by the sectors,” said Mary Liza Dino-Seguerra, FDCP Chair and CEO. “Para lang hindi natin binabago yung batas (We do not change the law) but we make sure that there is an ITC that agrees on our extensions.”
DoLE will also be mandated to write the law’s Implementing Rules and Regulations, to render technical assistance, conduct capacity building for safety officers, and collaborate and be an active partner with other agencies.
DoLE Medical Officer Mark Valeros stressed the role of the labor department: “When we do our enforcement activities, yung mga labor inspectors natin, hindi lang police work ang ginagawa nila kung ‘di developmental [din]. Kung may nakita tayong kailangan i-improve, nagbibigay sila ng lecture at assistance (When we do our enforcement activities, our labor inspectors do not only police but do something developmental. If something needs improvement, they give lectures and assistance).”
DoLE does three types of inspection: routine inspections which are scheduled regardless if there are no complaints; complaint inspection; and Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) investigation when there are incidents on set.
Mr. Valeros explained that if there are violations, an action plan will be formulated by the inspectors and employer. If the violation poses an imminent danger, it will require immediate intervention such as a temporary work stoppage until the violation is resolved.
“The ball is in the Senate’s court now. Hopefully before the 18th Congress ends, they approve their own version of the bill or adopt the House’s version. And once that happens, we go into a bicameral conference, and the President can either sign the bill into law, or let it lapse into law,” Mr. De Venecia said. “On our part [in the House of Representatives], what we can do is to lobby our senators to take up the bill already and pass it, so it can be transmitted to the President.”
“Once this bill becomes a law, however, we must remember that our journey does not end there. There’s so much left to be done, not just to protect the welfare of the workers in the agency but to develop the industry itself, to flourish and prosper and soar to heights,” he said.
The film industry currently follows the Joint Memorandum Circular (JMC) Series of 2020 signed in February 2020 by the heads of the DoLE and the FDCP which states the industry’s guidelines on the working conditions and occupational safety.
SAFETY IN PRODUCTION DURING COVID-19
Last month, the departments of Trade and Industry, Labor and Employment and Health issued Joint Administrative Order (JAO) No. 2021-001 (JAO) on Health and Safety Protocols for the Conduct of Film and Audiovisual Production Shoots and Audiovisual Activities During COVID-19 Pandemic. This replaces JAO No. 2020-001 signed in June 2020.
Mr. Valeros said that the latest JAO order is currently treated as a separate issuance to the pending Eddie Garcia Bill as it is more specific to COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
Under the JAO Order, at least one OSH officer should be present in each production venue, and workers must wear masks and face shields.
“The mere fact that we are talking about safety is a huge leap from where we were before. Yes, it was expedited because of the COVID-19 situation,” Ms. Dino-Seguerra said. “It’s good to know that there are production companies that are setting an example that is possible to be more organized for our shoots.”
“It’s really a paradigm shift. We have to shift our mindset, we have to change the way we do things,” she said. — M.A.P. Soliman