IBON Features | Many hope that the elections will usher in reforms and alleviate the worsening plight of the Filipino people, including the country’s 38.6-million labor force.
Also on the elections and prospects under the incoming administration: The Ills of Privatized Elections; RP under new gov’t: is there hope for our backward economy?; First 100 days: beyond corruption, real steps to reform; From a weak republic: Challenges for the next administration; Seeking change: Will the May 2010 elections deliver?; The May 1 question: What hope has labor after the May 2010 polls?”
IBON Features—Today’s commemoration of Labor Day will be marked not only by workers’ affirmation of a continuing struggle for their rights but also by their participation in the coming May 2010 national elections. Like for many, this period symbolizes hope that the elections will usher in reforms and alleviate the worsening plight of the Filipino people, including the country’s 38.6-million labor force.
The Filipino worker’s misery has been worsened under the Arroyo administration due to job insecurity, measly wages, poor working conditions and attacks on workers’ civil and political rights. Labor contractualization has become legal with the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Order #18-02 of 2002, wherein actual work term can be shortened than what is stated in the contract. The minimum wage has for a long time been pegged at a miserable low (P382 in NCR) against government’s own family living wage estimate (conservatively at P917 in NCR). Workers also continue to lament DOLE’s Assumption of Jurisdiction order which calls for government takeover management’s handling of workers’ strikes, which has led to violence and bloodshed in picket lines.
The Arroyo administration has also vigorously encouraged Filipinos to work abroad: 8.2 million overseas Filipinos have been recorded in 2008, counting 4.3 million temporary workers and 3.8 million permanent residents, while 1.29 million more overseas Filipino workers [OFWs] – counting an average of 3,845 OFWs per day – were deployed abroad in 2009.
The country’s unemployment rate has reached its worst nine-year sustained high of joblessness since 1956 at 11.2% counting 4.3 million Filipinos. The employment figure of 35.1 million in 2009 attempts to conceal poor quality of work revealed in these figures: 4.2 million are unpaid family workers, 12.2 million are own account workers while 11.7 million wage and salary workers are without written contracts. Similarly, one out of three jobs are merely part-time work, 6.6 million Filipinos are underemployed (employed but still looking for more work and income) and the number of working children aged 5-17 years old number 2.7 million.
Workers’ demands and the presidentiables
This election season, workers’ groups put forward their demands which they call on candidates, especially the presidentiables, to squarely address: just wages, job opportunities and security, humane working conditions, a reversal of the labor export and labor contractualization policies and justice for victims of union busting and repression. Change groups also urge candidates to make a stand on protecting the domestic industry by addressing working people’s issues. How do the presidentiables fare with regard to these demands? More concretely, how far has each gone to genuinely address workers’ issues?
In her platform, independent candidate Maria Ana Consuelo ‘Jamby’ Madrigal states a comprehensive, pro-labor stand. According to her, a genuine and pro-Filipino industrialization will ensure adequate and decently paying jobs. She also says that Filipino labor must be protected and nurtured through living wages, regularization of work tenure, banning of contractualization and agency-hiring, and defense of migrant rights. Her platform fully supports the campaign for a nationwide P125 across-the-board daily hike in wages.
Like Madrigal, the platform of Bangon Pilipinas candidate Eduardo ‘Eddie’ Villanueva boasts of support for labor and the local industry: shifting the direction of Philippine agriculture to producing finished products over mere raw materials and providing support for research and development for this purpose; generation, growth and development of small and medium enterprises; development of skilled and smart labor by granting scholarships for poor ut deserving youth; forging a strong and vibrant domestic economy by adopting a policy of ‘self-help first before foreign aid’; and lifting tariffs and duties for equipment and technology to aid Filipino invention and production of goods. He believes that the state should promote an environment where job and business opportunities will enable Filipinos to live decently.
Most candidates’ platforms support job opportunities, jobs security and just wages, such as that of Liberal Party’s Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino, John Carlos ‘JC’ Delos Reyes of Ang Kapatiran Party and independent candidate Nicanor Jesus ‘Nick’ Perlas III. Creating jobs at home so that working abroad will be an option rather than a necessity and protection for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are also common in almost all of the presidentiables’ platforms, especially that of Aquino, Delos Reyes, Madrigal, Villanueva and Bagumbayan presidential candidate Richard ‘Dick’ Gordon.
However, Gordon contradicts his own pronouncement about OFWs with his plan to encourage migration into jobs and countries with higher potential for skill-acquisition and to make OFWs global ambassadors for global expansion and tourism.
Meanwhile, Lakas-Kampi presidential candidate Gilberto ‘Gibo’ Teodoro Jr. says that there is a need for more job-creating opportunities especially in the industry and services sectors. Manuel ‘Manny’ Villar of the Nacionalista Party further believes that a government stimulus package could address the needs of laborers and employees for a just and decent wage. However, both Teodoro and Villar say it is up to the National Wages and Productivity Commission NWPC) and the Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity Boards (RTWPB) to handle petitions for wage hikes. This is despite complaints from the labor sector that these bodies are more inclined to favor employers rather the interests of employees .
On the issue of strengthening the domestic industry to ensure local job creation, Aquino’s plan is a bit broad, saying he plans to “harness homegrown talents” for economic growth. Meanwhile, Gordon’s plan does not veer much from the past administrations’ strategy, saying he plans to turn Luzon into an investment hub with industries relocation, infrastructure building, seaports, airports and super-highways. He also plans to turn Visayas and Mindanao into tourism, agriculture and aquaculture centers. Former president Joseph ‘Erap’ Estrada, meanwhile, believes that economic growth should be spurred by strengthening the domestic economy especially in the field of agriculture.
Delos Reyes plans to generate jobs by allowing small and medium enterprises (SMEs), including cooperatives, to thrive without corruption and with tax exemptions for small businesses.
Villar’s platform particularly states that the key to economic growth, aside from agricultural development, is the promotion of a viable manufacturing sector. He says that government must fully support the development of local industries, including SMEs, through subsidies and tax relief for Filipino industrialists.
On the other hand, the prospect for strengthening the domestic economy dims in Teodoro’s plan to allow foreigners to fully own lands for commercial and industrial purposes. Also instead of building the domestic industry with local resources and capacity, Teodoro’s vision is similar to those of past administrations that highly relied on attracting foreign investments.
Weak track records
In terms of promoting workers’ interests, the track record so far of Delos Reyes, Teodoro and Villanueva are lacking. Meanwhile, the track record of the rest of the candidates serves as a better gauge of how genuine their support for labor is compared to their promises.
As senator, Noynoy Aquino authored the Productivity Incentives Act that grants annual productivity incentives to all private sector workers and increases penalties for non-compliance to “prescribed increases and adjustments in the wage rates of workers.” However, all of Aquino’s positive written and spoken notes on jobs and wages are offset by his long-time tolerance of unfair labor practice and unjust workers’ wages as part owner of Hacienda Luisita. He has also not expressed explicit support for a P125 across-the-board wage increase.
Under the Estrada presidency, unemployment rate rose to 11.2% in 2000 from 10.3% in 1998, which saw 416,000 more jobless Filipinos. Livelihood and employment, which were among the flagship programs of the then National Anti-Poverty Commission, never inched forward due to lack of funds. Instead, labor export and contractualization flourished. Major strikes were also violently dispersed, such as those by the workers of the Philippine Air Lines, Light Rail Transit and the Manila Hotel. Estrada also ignored calls for minimum wage increases for fear of “scaring away investors” and taking away the country’s comparative advantage in labor costs.
Like Teodoro, former Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SMBA) chairperson Gordon’s idea of building the local industry to create jobs is not through boosting the capacity of the local manufacturing industry but through tourism and attracting foreign investments. For example in 1996, years after the removal of the US military bases, there was an influx of foreign blue-chip companies in Subic after he aggressively promoted the SBMA to foreign investors.
Through her foundations, Madrigal says she has sponsored livelihood programs particularly for women workers. For example, through her Abad Santos Madrigal Foundation, a Basic Reflexology Training Program was able to train more than 10,000 reflexology therapists nationwide. Meanwhile, Perlas says he has helped with poverty reduction and job creation in over 230,000 micro-finance partners throughout the country as a former bank officer.
As a legislator for several years, Villar authored several bills pertaining to the development of local SMEs and the promotion of working people’s rights. Some tackled the establishment of an SME stock exchange and regional and provincial business one-stop shop centers for these; development of and assistance for micro and cottage industries; job training programs for mature or older workers; and the further development of Filipino seafarers through information and technology.
After May 10, Filipinos have yet to wait and see if the winning candidates have enough political will in pushing for the genuine upliftment of workers and the domestic industry. This is especially since history has proven that elections have not been the perfect vehicle for even alleviating the plight of Filipino workers, moreso if compared with the workers’ vigilance in tirelessly, constantly and creatively echoing their demands and working determinedly to address them. IBON Features