A Reply to the March 29 Inquirer column of Inez Ponce de Leon
This refers to the March 29, 2023 column of Inez Ponce de Leon in the Inquirer, where she claimed my comment about a proposed paid menstrual leave supposedly represents a “culture of unfounded expectations” – after echoing the lines of online bashers lumping me together with “menstrual leave opponents around the world.”
While I am gratified that my concerns have triggered a debate on the merits of the proposed measure, online bashing by trolls notwithstanding, I am setting the record straight on some aspects of her column, and sharing the basis of my earlier opinion on the subject bill:
First, no less than the Philippine Statistics Authority’s 2021 List of Establishments notes that about 99.58% of 1,080,810 Philippine business enterprises are Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises.
Even the bill’s proponent, Rep. Arlene Brosas, admitted that while big corporations can afford giving women employees such a paid leave, she failed to answer directly when asked on TV if MSMEs have the funds to allow the two-day-a-month leave for women, even as she called for “wage subsidies” for MSMEs.
Second, MSMEs – described by the Congressional Policy and Budget Research Department as the “backbone of many economies” including the Philippines – are still recovering from the effects of the pandemic. Hence, while paid menstrual leave may be mandated in other countries, the question remains whether MSMEs in the Philippines can afford it. There is also a danger in referring to policies drawn from foreign experience without assessing its applicability to our local conditions.
Let me be clear: I am for creating a structure where employees, regardless of gender, can grow, prosper, and be rewarded. But we must look at the forest, not the trees: such paid leave may lead to unintended consequences, i.e. layoffs or outright closing if the owners do not have the budget for it.
The proponents of the two-day-a-month paid menstrual leave bill may not realize the impact of an additional 24 days a year of leave with pay on top of a 105-day maternity leave, 7-day paternity leave, 5-day sick leave, and 13- to 18-day vacation leave.
There may also be disincentivization for employers to hire women. The last thing we need right now is a policy that would serve as a blockage to any woman’s career growth and other discriminatory practices.
Also, the bill may reinforce the social construct that we have long been trying to break: that women are naturally inferior to men because of these innate processes that occur within their bodies.
Finally, supporting and empowering women goes way beyond giving them menstrual leaves, and not just for two days a month. It is guaranteeing security of tenure, offering non-discriminatory opportunities, and ensuring a thriving economy that embraces their potential.
No doubt, it is good to be perceived as pro-labor and pro-women. But it should not be at the expense of our investment climate and the economy that provide work in the first place.
As I always say, shortsightedness and knee-jerk reactions never help.
(Sgd) PANFILO M. LACSON
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