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At Large

Duterte and workers: BFFs no more

Each year, workers the world over gather on May 1 as a show of solidarity and defiance. Locally, this is observed as “Labor Day” and serves as a welcome day-off for the country’s working class, presumably to rest from their labors.

But as far back as I can remember, May 1 is instead observed as a day of protest, a day for marching, for indignation, for demanding for better wages and working conditions, for raising hell.

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So much so that a labor group chose for its name “Kilusang Mayo Uno” or May 1 Movement. During the term of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who pursued a policy of moving up or down national holidays so these fell on weekends, the labor movement was in an uproar when the observance of Labor Day was moved to another date. “After all,” said a niece facetiously, “the name of the group is Kilusang Mayo Uno, not Kilusang Mayo Dos.” Oo nga naman.

Well, these days there are issues aplenty for labor to protest. There is the pending demand for government action on the “endo” issue, the practice of contractualization that leaves workers on a revolving door career path that renders them jobless every six months. “Endo,” for “end of contract,” is marked in true Filipino fiesta fashion with a blowout by the departing worker. Pouring beer on sore sensibilities, as it were.

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The issue is made even more touchy these days because of the urong-sulong approach adopted by the Duterte administration. Putting an end to “endo” was a lynchpin of his campaign platform, one that drew the enthusiastic votes of millennials who feel particularly aggrieved by “endo” since it is aimed at the youngest, most vulnerable workers. But the headlines could only say that Duterte “may or may not sign” an executive order (EO) regarding the regulation (or end) of “endo.”

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said a draft EO has been sitting on the President’s drawer, but no one knows when or if it will be signed. So, protest pa more! (This column was written before President Duterte signed an executive order ending illegal contracting and subcontracting
yesterday.—Ed.)

Also, sure to make an appearance on placards are the fate of hundreds of thousands of overseas Filipino workers in Kuwait (and perhaps in the entire Middle East) who might all have to be repatriated unless an adult steps into the scuffle. They will be joining the thousands of workers displaced from their jobs in Boracay’s resorts and establishments and who have been ordered to leave and throw themselves at a fate more fickle than the winds and waves of our archipelago. One thing is for sure—Mr. Duterte and the country’s workforce are no longer “BFFs” (best friends forever).

In Seoul, reports the Guardian, buses “have acquired a new and highly controversial passenger.” She’s a “comfort woman,” young and clad in a simple hanbok or traditional Korean dress, barefoot with her hands resting on her knees. From
photos, she looks astonishingly real.

The statue started appearing on the front seat of buses in Seoul just recently, installed by the Dong-A Transit company “as a potent reminder of an unresolved wartime atrocity whose roots lie in Japan’s 1910-1945 occupation” of Korea.

Well, we also used to have a “comfort woman” statue in bronze on the baywalk along Roxas Boulevard, but she was removed—surreptitiously in the dead of night—without so much as a by-your-leave to the groups behind the erection of the statue.

President Duterte has since said he approved of the statue’s sneaky removal because it was causing offense, referring to Japan which has by turns denied the use of sex slaves by Japanese forces during World War II, or complained that the issue has long been settled by war reparations.

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Tessie Ang See, chair of the Movement for Restoration of Peace and Order, one of the groups behind the statue’s installation, decried the statue’s removal, describing it as “a betrayal of the Philippines and its history.”

Critics have accused Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who’s been denounced as a leader out to peddle a “revisionist” version of Japan’s role in the war, as putting diplomatic pressure on authorities whenever the “comfort woman” issue is brought up. But ironically, stunts like the nighttime assault on the “comfort woman” of Luneta only serve to revive memories of the atrocities committed by the Japanese during World War II.

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TAGS: At Large, contracualization, endo, International Workers’ Day, Labor Day, labor sector, Rina Jimenez-David, Rodrigo Duterte
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