Broken vow, dashed hope?
In the days leading to May 1, various labor groups vowed to mount the biggest Labor Day march in years to protest what they say is the Duterte administration’s rank betrayal of its promises to Filipino workers — specifically its inability, or unwillingness, to end labor contractualization.
They may yet pull it off: The two biggest federations — the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) and the Nagkaisa Labor Coalition led by the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, which have long been ideological rivals — have agreed to set aside their differences and march as one to express what they described as the “growing frustration, disappointment and dissatisfaction of workers over President Rodrigo Duterte’s failure to fulfill a promise…” That failure has “only bonded workers,” said the organizers, leading to the unprecedented joint action today that protest leaders are calling “a historic first.”
As many as 150,000 workers all over the country are set to take to the streets, and about 60,000 in Metro Manila.
They will be marching, most urgently, to decry Malacañang’s abandonment of President Duterte’s key campaign promise: to end “endo.”
That vow was unequivocal back in April 2016, when then Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte made his electrifying declaration during the third and last debate among presidential candidates: “The moment I assume the presidency, contractualization will stop,” he said.
A month after assuming office, the President reiterated his promise, even threatening to shoot stubborn business owners who refuse to end the practice: “If we have no power to close down [the business], I will go there and shoot [the owner]. Then it’s over. The business is now closed down.”
But, over two years and two months later, the Palace has practically thrown in the towel, saying Mr. Duterte would no longer issue an executive order outlawing “endo” and would instead leave it to Congress to amend pertinent laws on the matter.
As KMU and Nagkaisa’s joint statement pointed out, they had participated all this time in good faith in what they thought was a sincere push by the government to change the onerous system and finally give lowly Filipino workers a measure of job security and stability.
“For two years, we participated in labor summits called for by [the Department of Labor and Employment], dialogued with the President three times, drafted an executive order on contractualization, negotiated with him through five drafts—all to no avail,” they lamented.
Successive administrations did not lift a finger on “endo,” but Mr. Duterte had raised workers’ hopes by specifically vowing to end the practice; it is thus understandable why his administration’s seeming abdication on the issue rankles.
That wallop also comes at a particularly challenging time for Filipino workers and their families — among the country’s most bereft citizens.
A recent survey by Pulse Asia found that 4 out of 5 Filipinos “strongly” felt the effects of the rise in prices of basic commodities, especially rice and other food items, in the wake of the just-passed tax reform law.
Nearly 98 percent of survey respondents are reeling from inflation (4.3 percent in March, the fastest since August 2014), but the sentiment is highest among those in Class E (88 percent) — the category to which the majority of the country’s workers and laborers belong.
And if Mr. Duterte’s call for Filipino workers in Kuwait to quit their jobs en masse because that Gulf state “does not like them” materializes, the ranks of the unemployed are bound to swell some more, with 260,000 more Filipinos now having to scramble for scarce jobs at home.
What is the government’s jobs generation plan? And beyond that, a vision, other than mere campaign words, to change the systemic injustices afflicting Filipino labor? There appear to be none.
And so, more disillusioned than ever, Filipino workers are to march again today — as they must.
Yet, at press time, the President’s spokesperson raised a faint hope: that there is still a chance for a positive development, depending on the result of a crucial Monday meeting.
Is anyone holding their breath?
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