Category Archives: Urban Poor

Isang Bigong Taon: A failed one year for Digong – labor groups

Contractualization did not stop; wages remained low and regionalized; the unemployment and underemployment problems continue to weigh down on a large number of Filipino workers. “In sum, it was “Isang B(D)igong Taon” on the labor front for President Duterte’s first year in office,” stated various labor groups in their one year assessment of the President’s performance.

It can be recalled that the President made a campaign pledge that contractualization will stop the moment he becomes the President. He also vowed to raise wages and abolish the system of provincial rates.

“We tried to rate the President’s performance as objective as we can, but the outcomes for labor over his first 365 days have been generally wanting, have given us false expectations and given us many unfulfilled promises,” said the workers groups in a joint statement distributed to media during a demonstration held at the Boy Scout Circle in Timog Quezon City, Friday.

The mass action was organized by the Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (Sentro), Partido Manggagawa (PM), Federation of Free Workers (FFW), National Federation of Labor Unions (Naflu) and the Philippine Airlines Employees Association (Palea). Members of the World March of Women and Ateneo University’s Union of Students for the Advancement of Democracy (USAD) also joined the rally.

No end yet to endo

In a meeting on Labor Day, President Duterte asked labor groups to draft an Executive Order that would use prohibition of all forms of contractualization as a framework. This was after the unanimous rejection of labor groups of Department Order 174 issued by Labor and Employment Sec. Silvestre Bello III sometime in March. He also instructed the labor department to resolve with dispatch the years of dispute between PAL and PALEA on the issue of contractualization.

In response the labor groups submitted a unified draft together with the formal labor sector of the National Anti-Poverty Commission. But almost two months from its submission, the President has done no executive action to address the rampant contractualization.

“We have always advocated for a prohibition of all forms of contractualization and a stop to the abusive operations of manpower agencies and manpower cooperatives. The President himself at his assumption to power and in his first meeting with labor groups early this year openly expressed disgust over these as they ‘abused workers,’ using his words,” said the groups.

According to labor groups, DO 174 continues to permit contractualization and allows manpower agencies and manpower cooperatives to take a cut from workers’ salaries each payday.

There was also no certification issued by the President on pending anti-endo bills filed before the Congress. The PAL-PALEA dispute is not yet resolved.

The only token victory they got on this respect, the groups said, is the planned deputization of trade unionists as labor inspectors, the first batch of which are now undergoing training at the labor department.

Freedom of Association is also one of the areas where the President has a failing mark from the groups as organizing remains extremely difficult particularly in Economic Zones as workers get harassed and get fired for trying to organize unions.

Wages, power, employment, OFW fees, new taxes

With the regional wage setting mechanism still in place, discrimination in terms of wages still persists across the country. The President said he was for a national minimum wage, but such policy pronouncement has not translated even to a working paper from DOLE that they can discuss with workers.

“In the meantime the real value of wages continues to drop, power rates and prices of basic goods and services continue to climb, making it more burdensome for the working class. Meanwhile, the collection of exorbitant placement and other fees for OFW have not been addressed sufficiently if at all,” added the group.

In addition, the planned imposition of excise taxes on oil and the expansion of VAT coverage on goods and services under the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN), the group feared, will lead to further erosion of workers purchasing power especially those earning the minimum wage and below.

ILO Convention 151 ratification, the saving grace

The President, however, got a passing mark for being the first chief executive to endorse for Senate concurrence International Labor Convention 151 on Labor Relations in the Public Sector. The treaty, once ratified by the Senate, would guarantee the right to organize of public sector workers and allow them to bargain for better working conditions, among others.

Wrong war

Asked why the President failed to satisfy workers’ clamor for change during the last 365 days, the labor groups said, “It is expected when a leader quickly descends into a wrong war that only resulted to thousands of unsolved killings. While surveys have consistently showed that inflation, wages, and employment remain the top concerns of every Filipino.”

SENTRO vows to continue the struggle against contractualization

Photo by JTMata

Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa joins the global working peoples in their 130th commemoration of International Labor Day. Filipino workers have been commemorating the International Labor Day and the continuing struggles of the working masses since 1903, inextricably tying it to the anti-colonial struggle. Faced as it is by monumental challenges and massive societal roadblocks, SENTRO remains undaunted and steadfast in its commitment towards organizing, fighting and winning on behalf of the working peoples of the Philippines.

In less than a year, President Rodrigo Duterte has seen his popularity and trust ratings erode by 7% and 11% among the working poor. While a number of the population remains unperturbed by this, this development is an indicator that a significant section of our people is beginning to fear for their lives— and perhaps even regretting their complicity to the election of an unrepentant violator of human rights and democratic institutions.

The working people gave Pres. Duterte the benefit of the doubt on his promise to end the oppressive policy of labor contractualization. We hoped that Pres. Duterte will dismantle and replace the much-criticized Department Order No. 18-A. But our hopes were met with grim disillusionment with Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello’s release of Department Order No. 174 last March 19, 2017.

This policy will perpetuate contractualization by: a) allowing businesses to hire workers through agencies; b) allowing cooperatives to engage in labor contracting and subcontracting; c) no longer requiring the principal employer to provide unions a copy of the service contract; and d) allowing contracting agencies to further downplay the price of labor costs—guaranteeing even lower salaries and benefits for workers across industries. Clearly, DO 174 widely differs from what Pres. Duterte has promised.

Truth is, the Duterte regime is only consistent in one thing: it wants to kill, and the freedom to kill who it wants to kill. The spate of extrajudicial killings occurring all over the country—ostensibly sponsored and abetted by the Philippine National Police’s Oplan Tokhang and Oplan Double Barrel—has claimed anywhere between 8,000 to 10,000 lives already. This has worsened the situation of poor women, leaving them in trauma, isolation and greater vulnerability to further abuse such as prostitution. In addition to this,the Philippine Congress reintroduces the death penalty,and was passed by the House of Representatives last March 7, 2017, awaiting advancement in the Philippine Senate—despite the Philippines’ international commitment to treaties not to do so. Another legislative bill intends to lower the minimum age of criminal liability to nine (9) years of age, pushing back the victory in the past of children’s rights groups.

It is probably not without reason that this culture of death has been roundly condemned by the international community. The “War on the Poor,” as it is, has made a mockery of its initial propaganda to rid us of the menace of drug dependence and promote a secure, living society. While the poor is being killed, the drug profiteers like Peter Lim are left scot-free.

As expected, the elites are in no hurry to oppose or even modulate the Duterte regime’s reign of terror and death. Many of these politicians have kowtowed to Malacañang, probably in anticipation of the impending push for charter change, which may see the Philippines parcelled around longstanding political dynasties and the further dismantling of the country’s economic infrastructure through their hard-selling of Federalism.

Once again, it is up to the working people and their labor movement to defend our rights, even as we continue to deepen democracy in the country. It is for this reason that SENTRO, together with its allies amongst the progressive forces, is calling on all freedom-loving Filipinos to stand up and be counted in the fight to stop the killings, block Duterte’s Death Policies – the reimposition of the death penalty and the lowering of the age of criminality – and to resist moves to amend the constitution to institute “constitutional authoritharianism.” SENTRO believes that workers’ and trade union rights cannot genuinely exist if human and democratic rights are compromised and thrown to the gutter.

We call on the working people to continue the struggle against contractualization and the precariousness of living sustained by the Duterte regime’s neo-liberal policies. Let us assert our basic right to a dignified and genuinely safe society—not the selective security of the privileged that preys on the massacre of the poor.

Organize! Fight! Win!

Download FIlipino version of the statement

May 1 & May 9 calls: End Endo, End Poverty, Reject ‘Trapos’ and the Rising ‘New Right’!

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Around 6,000 organized labor belonging to SENTRO marched at 9:30 this morning from Welcome Rotonda to Mendiola

ORGANIZED labor reiterated its call against rampant contractualization while urging the people to repudiate the “trapos” or traditional politicians. The national labor center Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (SENTRO) also warned against the rise of the “new right” or neo-fascists during the celebration of International Labor Day today which is just a few days before the crucial May 9 elections.

“The already dismal poverty has further been aggravated by the country’s non-inclusive economic ‘growth’, SENTRO said in it’s May Day statement. “Only the elites have benefited from this through the widespread use and abuse of contractual labor, especially ‘end-of-contract’ or ‘endo’ workers,” it added.

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They called to end contractualization of labor by passing the Security of Tenure Bill

Aside from low pays and scarce benefits that burden the vast majority of Filipino workers, a rapidly growing segment of the labor force is being driven to highly exploitative and illegal contractualization or precarious work arrangements, including the “endo” or “5-5-5” scheme, where workers are endlessly hired and fired every five months to prevent them from becoming permanent or regular employees, availing of mandatory bonuses and other benefits and joining a union, Sentro emphasized.

On the eve of next week’s polls, Sentro expressed its concern that while the people’s deep-seated frustration over the ineptness of the government has prodded more voters to rebuff “Aquino clone and neoliberal” Mar Roxas, and “barefaced trapo and corrupt” Jojo Binay, the citizens are yet forced to choose among the other dubious presidential bets: “unreliable” Miriam Defensor-Santiago, “egocentric and budding ‘trapo’” Grace Poe, and “rambling fool and thug” Rodrigo Duterte.

Sentro particularly voiced out its apprehension over the topping in the surveys of Duterte and vice presidential aspirant Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., son and namesake of the notorious late Philippine dictator, who also looted tens of billions of dollars from the country’s coffers. Marcos has continued to deny the wide-scale human rights violations and big-time thievery of the Marcos regime.

Duterte has ruled Davao City with iron-fist and widely acknowledged as the brains behind the extrajudicial killings there not only of criminals but many innocent people as well, including children. He was recently condemned and charged for his disgusting statement on a slain rape victim, reinforcement of rape culture and abusive behavior. His image is further tainted now with recent evidences to his secret wealth on his undisclosed bank accounts that are alleged to contain billions of pesos.

“Desperate for change, the voters, especially the rich and the middle class – and even many from the masses – are now opting for supposedly ‘instant solutions’ that is paving the way for the rise of ‘neo-fascists’ like Rodrigo Duterte and Bongbong Marcos,” Josua Mata, Secretary-General of SENTRO said.

Mata added, “It seems that the people have yet to learn the lesson behind the myth of strong leadership – that the huge power amassed by a leader leads to momentous errors at best as well as disaster and massive bloodshed – and looting – at worst. The dark years of martial law should be a grim reminder for all of us.”

However, SENTRO admitted that “while we could blame the ruling elites’ ineptitude for the rise of neo-fascism or extreme Right, we at the Left are partly responsible, too. The broad left groups, including in the mass movements and the trade unions, have again failed to get our acts together – reminiscent of the events prior to the rise of Nazism of Adolf Hitler and Fascism of Benito Mussolini. In fact, a major wing of the current Philippine Left is backing Duterte, another for Poe, and yet another is pro-Roxas.”

“Ultimately, real change can only come from conscious and organized people who have powerful labor or trade union movement and other progressive social movements,” SENTRO emphatically said.

SENTRO does not support any presidential candidate, but has so far formally endorsed Leni Robredo for vice-president and Walden Bello for senator. They got Sentro’s endorsement after signing their respective memorandum of agreements with the labor center last March 19, which enjoin them to “jointly and steadfastly promote and pursue (Sentro’s) labor and other social advocacies” specified in the MOAs.

Robredo and Bello joined several thousands of Sentro members from its various affiliate organizations and supporters who observed today’s Labor Day in Manila. They assembled at the Quezon City Welcome Rotunda in the morning and marched to Mendiola, near Malacañang, where a program was held. Other allied organizations present were the Partido ng Manggagawa (PM), National Federation of Labor Unions (Naflu), Ang Nars party-list, and Public Services Labor Independent Confederation (PSlink).

Other Sentro May 1 mobilizations were held in Batangas, Cebu, Davao, General Santos and Cotabato.

Sentro holds ‘people’s Passion play,’ highlights workers’ woes

 Photo by FDC

Photo by FDC

THE PASSION of Jesus Christ is not merely a tale from a bygone time because it is still happening among the majority poor and oppressed people.

This was reiterated by members of the national labor center Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa as they staged today their annual “people’s Passion play” in observance of the Lenten season, which portrays or reenacts the many “crosses” of most Filipinos that weigh them down.

Sentro members from the trade unions, urban poor and youth sector marched from Morayta to Mendiola, near Malacañang, some of them wearing Roman soldier costumes armed with papier-mâché spears that signify specific everyday and long-term problems, such as job contractualization, low wages, scarce benefits, high costs of living, demolition of urban poor communities, inefficient public transport system, trapo (traditional politics) or elite “democracy,” neoliberal policies, among others.

One Sentro member acted as “Kristong Manggagawa” or Christ the Worker, who is being crucified or persecuted by a socioeconomic structure where a few gets richer and rules the overwhelming majority that remains poor or becomes poorer.

During the program in Mendiola, the actors playing the Roman soldiers stabbed “Christ” with their spears that symbolized the various issues and problems plaguing the common citizens.

The protesters dared the national and local candidates and party-list groups in the upcoming May elections to “decisively break” the “Roman spears” that represent and perpetuate poverty and many other forms of injustice.

In Mendiola, Sentro members also linked up with other allied organizations, led by the Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC), which earlier conducted an activist interpretation or a “people’s contemporary version” of the “Pabasa” or “Pasyon” (Pabasa ng Pasyon or “Reading of the Passion”), which is based on a 16th-century epic poem introduced by Spanish friars and adapted by the early Filipinos. It narrates the life, suffering, death and resurrection of Christ and recited by devotees through nonstop chanting in different Philippine dialects during Holy Week.