The senators who voted for the anti-terrorism bill have nothing to say against the constitutional anomaly that while the measure gives the chief executive and the military vast authoritarian powers it is silent on Congress’ lack of power as a “check and balance mechanism” to executive abuse.
BY BOBBY TUAZON
Members of Congress, pro-administration or otherwise, who shelved the bill providing for a legislated wage increase of P125 for labor and approved the anti-terrorism bill (ATB) got it all wrong. They may have made the influential business groups feel relieved by thumbing down the wage increase measure and the U.S.-supported Macapagal-Arroyo administration ecstatic because now it can use the ATB to legitimize the suppression of political dissent in the guise of counter-terrorism. But the double whammy – done in barely two weeks – for sure made enemies out of millions of starving workers and multitudes of Filipinos particularly their political organizations who now face the prospects of being tagged collectively as “terrorists” in defense of their civil, political and economic rights.
Their anti-people acts are one more affirmation why Congress is a doomed institution – scarred by pro-Arroyo legislators who use their tyranny of numbers to shoot down two impeachment complaints against the President and to shortcut constitutional change for self-serving political reasons; and reeking of recycled political dynasties who use the institution to perpetuate class rule through generations.
Recently, pro-Arroyo congressmen moved to recall the recently-approved House Bill 345 providing for a P125 (about US $2.50) across-the-board daily minimum wage increase for workers, staggered over three years. (The Senate committee on labor and employment had earlier adopted the same House bill.) The movers, led by Cavite Rep. Jesus Crispin Remulla, cited “business concerns” and the measure’s “defects”, in asking that the wage bill be shelved.
It was evident, however, that they were acting on behalf of President Macapagal-Arroyo who had threatened to veto it following strong protests by the country’s business elite. In a brazen show of a pro-business stance, the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) and the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) also warned about the disastrous effects of the bill on the economy such as mass lay-offs and business closures, adding that regional wage boards remain the best venue to determine wage hikes.
Detained Anakpawis (toiling masses) Rep. Crispin Beltran, who as a leader of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU, May 1st Movement) had fathered the bill since the Estrada administration, said the approved wage increase was not even enough to cover a family’s basic daily expenses. Indeed, estimates by the research think tank, IBON Foundation, show that the ideal daily income for a family of six has climbed to P766 (US $15.32) even as real wages have consistently fallen over the years. The current daily national average is P283 (US $5.66), according to the DoLE itself, the equivalent of only 36 percent of the required daily minimum income – or one-half if the approved wage increase is added in full.
Wage increase has been labor’s centerpiece demand in the midst of a state policy of salary freezes that has been pursued in deference to the business opposition and in compliance with an archaic economic paradigm that says cheap labor means more investments. Several years ago, Congress enacted a law deregulating the daily minimum wage standard and creating the regional wage boards to determine wage increases. Workers were also left alone to slug it out with their employers through a collective bargaining agreement for higher wages.
Yet the CBA has been rendered inutile by more policies and labor directives that undermine union rights and the violent persecution of labor activists. Not a few unionists have died or been maimed fighting for a few pesos and their right to strike. Not a few determined workers struggling to feed their families have been tagged as “terrorists” or, as other military officials would prefer, “communist terrorists.” Now the government is about to be armed with a “legal teeth” to curb unionism and the democratic rights of other sectors.
Voting 16 to two, the Senate approved on third reading Feb. 7 SB 2137 or the Human Security Act of 2007, their version of the ATB with its contentious provisions defanged, according to those who voted in favor. The two nays came from Sens. Jamby Madrigal and Mar Roxas III. The Senate bill was authored by Senate President Manuel Villar with Sens. Panfilo Lacson, Jinggoy Estrada, Ramon Magsaysay Jr., Alfredo Lim, Bong Revilla and Joker Arroyo.