“The massive unemployment among the youth is testament to the Aquino regime’s failure to bring change to the lives of Filipinos. Millions of our countrymen are hungrier than ever, with most people remaining jobless, and those with jobs are living with barely sufficient wages.” –Kabataan Party Rep. Terry Ridon
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Waves of red flags filled the streets of Manila as workers marched this May 1 Labor Day. They also carried placards amplifying the demands of workers, which included an end to contractualization, regular jobs, respect for union rights and their longtime call for a P125 ($2.81) across-the-board wage increase nationwide.
Various workers, from the manufacturing sector such as the semi-conductor industry to the business processing outsourcing (BPO) industry joined the big mobilization led by the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU).Bannering their theme “Oppressive, Corrupt, Puppet of America: Oppose and Overcome the US-Aquino Regime!” the workers were joined by different peoples organizations who assembled at different areas and converged in a march toward Liwasang Bonifacio in Manila. Later in the afternoon, they marched to the Chino Roces Bridge (formerly Mendiola Bridge) where, immediately upon reaching the place, they burned the effigy of President Benigno S. Aquino III, which they called “Noynoy Puppetnoid.”
They also slammed the recent signing of Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the US and Philippine governments https://www.bulatlat.com/2014/04/30/is-the-us-ph-enhanced-defense-cooperation-agreement-a-deal-between-two-equals/. “Aquino betrayed the Filipino people by signing the EDCA, the contents of which were not yet scrutinized by legislators and the people,” said KMU chairman Elmer “Bong” Labog during the program at Liwasang Bonifacio.
Labog also slammed the government’s lavish spending for the state visit of US President Barack Obama last April 28 and 29, saying that it was the people’s money that the government had wasted. “While Aquino was feeding Obama in Malacañang, protesters expressing opposition to the EDCA were being violently dispersed by their fellow Filipino police men who used truncheons and water cannons.”
Similar May 1 protest actions were also held in at least 10 regions all over the country including the National Capital Region, Cordillera, Central Luzon, Southern Tagalog, Bicol, Eastern Visayas, Cebu, Panay and Southern Mindanao.
Worse working conditions
According to Mark Gonzales, president of the Planters Development Bank Employees Association, bank employees are being threatened of losing their jobs due to the implementation of Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Circular No. 268.
“Behind our neat uniforms and air-conditioned offices in a business district like Makati, we worry over our job security,” said Gonzales. He said that through an agency or a third party service provider, an employee is hired on a contractual basis and this is because of the BSP Circular 268 that mandates outsourcing of positions such as that of credit investigator, appraiser, clearing and processing of cheques, among others.
“That is why we are here to defend our right to job security,” said Gonzales, a bank employee for 17 years now. He said five bank unions in Metro Manila have also joined them in the Labor Day Rally.
The BPO employees also decried worse working conditions such as the pressing down of basic salaries for entry level positions. “BPO clients from the US are forcing local employers to trim down basic salaries to as low as P10,000 ($225.37) – P12,000 ($270.45) on entry level positions whereas back in the year 2000, BPO employees enjoy as much as P20,000 ($450.75) – P25,000 ($563.44),” said Ian Porquia, spokesman of BPO Industry Employees Network (BIEN).
“The growing competitive environment in the BPO industry is forcing many companies to lower wages in order to maintain global recognition as the cheapest labor force up to date. However, this compromises the quality of living that BPO workers are facing today.”
They also decried lack of job security and they are prohibited from forming workers’ unions. “We cannot petition for profit sharing and appraisal on our pay, we are simply left to take calls and eventually outgrow norms inside the industry.”
Workers of the multinational company NXP semiconductors also attended the labor day protest vowing to continue their fight. Recently their management declared a deadlock in the negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA). Reden Alcantara, president of NXP employees union, said the management continues to harass workers who are opposing contractualization.
Unemployment and forced migration
Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon dubbed this year’s Labor Day as “the worst May 1 for workers in years,” noting the worsening youth unemployment. He said that half of the three million unemployed Filipinos are from the youth with ages 15 to 24.
“The ranks of the unemployed would swell once again, with the entry of more than 700,000 graduates in the labor market. And the government’s response is to hold job fairs! It’s simply not enough,” Ridon said.
“The massive unemployment among the youth is testament to the Aquino regime’s failure to bring change to the lives of Filipinos. Millions of our countrymen are hungrier than ever, with most people remaining jobless, and those with jobs are living with barely sufficient wages,” Ridon added.
Garry Martinez, national chairman of Migrante, said that despite the government’s claim of economic development, thousands of Filipinos still have to brave finding jobs overseas. He said that under the Aquino administration, the number of OFWs leaving the country rose from 2,500 daily in 2010 to 4,884 in 2013.
“Last year, the Philippines breached the two million mark in deployment of OFWs in a year, the highest in history. This is the result of massive unemployment, low wages, landlessness and privatization of social services under the Aquino regime,” Martinez said.
“While the government spent P300,000 ($6761.24) per night during Obama’s state visit, poor Filipino families are eating pagpag,” Martinez said. Pagpag is a Filipino term for dust-off, which, in this context, refers to left over food picked up from the trash.
Aquino, deaf to the calls of workers
According to news reports, Aquino did not grant a wage increase for minimum wage earners and state workers, even as he met with labor leaders in Malacañang on Tuesday, April 29. This was immediately slammed by Labog of KMU, who said Aquino is quick at granting the demands of big businessmen like Henry Sy, Gokongweis, among others, but not when it comes to workers’ demands such as for a wage hike.
“The Aquino administration has been deaf to the workers’ call of granting justifiable wage increases,” said KMU vice chairman Lito Ustarez.
“It was 14 years ago when the late KMU chairman, Crispin ‘Ka Bel’ Beltran, started the call for a P125 wage increase across-the-board. It has been four years now since Aquino became president, and he remains deaf to our long-time call,” Ustarez said. The campaign for a P125 wage increase was first launched in 1999.
Ustarez said they have been steadfast in their call for a P125 across-the-board wage increase and during the 15th Congress House Bill 375 or the P125 Wage Hike Bill was passed in third reading. “However, former Congressman Crispin Remulla blocked the transmission of the bill to the Senate, that it is why it is now once again pending in Congress.”
Still, Ustarez said, they continue to push for the long overdue wage increase and their consultations with legislators continues. “We have gained overwhelming support from the people’s champion, and also the worker’s champion, Sarangani Congressman Manny Pacquiao.”
Oppose anti-people, anti-workers policies
“Today we condemn the betrayal of Aquino in signing the EDCA while he continues to deny the workers’ long time calls for a wage increase, an end to contractualization and for job security. This is how the corrupt and negligent Aquino treats Filipino workers” said Labog.
Anakpawis Rep. Fernando Hicap also called on workers to unite and demand for a national, legislated wage increase, for job security, humane working conditions and union rights. Hicap said these basic workers’ rights are perennially being ignored by employers and the government. He pointed to the injustice in the fact that “Workers are the producers of social wealth and yet they are among the most impoverished. Their families are poor and hungry. They cannot send their children to school. They survive on a hand-to-mouth existence.”
Hicap encouraged workers to “fight and take back what is rightfully theirs,” saying that beyond the yearly Labor Day demands, workers must work for a better future, a better Philippines.
“We must fight against exploitation and social inequality and work to realize genuine social change,” Hicap told workers.
Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general Renato Reyes also slammed the EDCA. Under the agreement, he said, US troops are being allowed to stay in the Philippines without paying rent or taxes. “Do you know that while the people are finding it difficult to pay for their rent, US troops can stay in the Philippines for as long as they want for free? Are we just going to let this pass?” he asked the crowd, who replied a resounding no.
“We will not let the US to once again colonize our country. It is better to live free even for just one day than to live a slave forever,” Reyes said.
In response, the gathered workers chant together: “Imperyalismo, ibagsak! (Down with imperialism!)
Roger Soluta, secretary general of KMU, blamed the dire poverty of Filipinos to the government’s implementation of “anti-people policies.”
“It is with these policies that imperialists are now continuing to control our economy and plunder our natural resources,” he told the protesters at Mendiola.
Anakbayan chairman Vencer Crisostomo said the first chant aired by workers in their first May 1 rally in the Philippines in 1903 was “Death to imperialism!” He said the workers shouted it out at a time when their families had nothing to eat, when unemployment was high, when the prices of basic commodities were rising.
Those things still happen today, Crisostomo said. So, he urged the gathered May 1 crowd: “Let us all chant this, ‘Death to Imperialism!’ with rage, and with high hopes that the country will soon be freed from imperialism.”