At the ongoing strike of Lepanto mineworkers in Mankayan, Benguet, women and youths take turns to extend support. One of them, a young female pharmacology student in Baguio, shares a story.
By Abi T.Bengwayan
MANKAYAN, Benguet — Salem Dilem sits outside the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU – May 1st Movement) office in Mankayan this province on June 14. The weather is generally fair but breezy, with cool, blue skies. Beside her lie her books, piled neatly inside a polyester bag. Two more bags contain her clothes and other personals. She is all set to travel to Baguio City for her final year at the Pines City Colleges as a pharmacology student.
“I still have to wait for a package from Bauko,” she says while adjusting her cap. She plans to take the 11 a.m. bus trip.
The Dilem family migrated from Bauko in Mt. Province in 1989. Her father, Vicente Dilem, has worked Lepanto’s underground mines for 16 years. He is also an officer of the Lepanto Employees Union (LEU).
Salem, 20, is the second of four children. The eldest is now working. Her two younger siblings are in college and high school, respectively. All four children grew up in the village of Pallatong.
But with the ongoing labor dispute between management and the employees of the Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company (LCMCo) here, she is not quite prepared to leave home. She wants to stay and support the workers’ struggle until all demands are won. The strike has also become her struggle.
“No mabalin koma ket ditoyak pay tapno tumulong. Kayat ko pay koma nga agbati ditoy inggana agballigj daytoy” (I still would like to stay here and help. If I had to choose, I would want to stay here and support die workers’ struggle…until they claim victory).
She admits she has not set her mind for schooling because of the dispute and the possible picketline dispersal since the return to work order was issued on June 9 by Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) Undersecretary Manuel Imson.
On June 13, Salem represented the youth of Lepanto in a press conference, where she called on company management to grant the workers’ demands. This seemingly quiet youth spoke firmly.
“Iteddan koma ta bassit laeng daytoy a dawdawaten mi. Saan mi met a dawdawten a maramanan mi ti biag ti annak da, dawaten mi laeng nga maited daytoy nayon a sweldo ti am-ama mi” (I only ask the company to give what is due to our fathers. We are not asking to have the same lives as those lived by families of high-paying company officials, but do give the workers what is due them), she said.
She also called on her fellow youth to understand the situation their families are in and be more patient about it.
“Let us try to be more understanding with the situation our families are in at this time. If we need to stop our schooling for this semester, let us not take it against our families,” she said.
Salem relates that her family is going through hard times with the ongoing labor dispute, But we are not giving up,” she affirms. The Dilem family showed the same determination during the workers’ 2003 strike.
Back then, Salem narrates, she, together with other miners’ children studying in Baguio, would pool in their resources to save on food expenses.
“Nu awan talaga idi ti kuwarta, mapan kami kadagidyay am-ammnu mi idiay Trading Post tapno makipangan” (When we would run out of money, we would go to our friends living near the La Trinidad Trading post to share their meals), she recalls smiling. She adds that true enough, allowances did not come in full, but she made do with what was sent and was thankful for it. Resiliency has taught her to survive.
Salem’s mother, Prescilla, continues to support the workers’ struggle for just wages and benefits. She has joined the women and children of Mankayan on that historic May 31 march-rally in support of the workers’ demands, even before the strike took off on June 2.
While she will attend to her studies in Baguio, Salem only hopes that the miners’ children will continue to support the strike. “I also hope that support from communities outside Mankayan will pour in,” she says.
Salem is a new member of the Anakbayan (nation’s youth) chapter here. She shares that through Anakbayan, she has discovered more means to help other people and understand the issues behind the strike more comprehensively.
She wishes to be able to come home here immediately. “But that all depends of course,” she quips, with the family’s economic constraint.
“After this, I plan to look for a job… hopefully,” she adds.
With the recent rains, the road from Mankayan to Baguio City is a bit tedious. Landslides have narrowed the main highway. But Salem will get there once she boards that city-bound bus. Nordis / Posted by Bulatlat