‘Lazy,’ ‘slowpoke’

/ 05:28 AM March 14, 2019

That’s the sweeping description of Filipino workers that was made not by an irate or disgruntled construction boss compelled to explain the preference for Chinese workers in construction sites in the Philippines, but by somebody the Filipino workers themselves must have thought would be more sympathetic to their plight: Ramon Tulfo.

Yes, Ramon Tulfo, the journalist who has made a lifelong and lucrative career out of fighting for the poor, the powerless and the oppressed in society, who had styled himself as a blunt, fearless crusader against police scalawags, arrogant generals, power-tripping bureaucrats — the high and mighty of the land.


But that was then, perhaps, when Tulfo was as lean, hungry and angry as the underprivileged masses he was championing. These days, he’s a friend to and strident defender of the powers that be, and has even been rewarded for it with a plummy-sounding position — special Philippine envoy to China.

And so the truculent Ramon Tulfo of old who had successfully marketed his brand as the defender of little people is now not only on the side of their oppressors, but has even taken to disparaging them to boost the stock of the horde of illegal Chinese workers that many fear are displacing the already hard-up locals.


A guy has to earn his title, after all; the “special Philippine envoy to China” might not be received as warmly in Beijing if he didn’t do his job of highlighting the superior benefits of Chinese labor over the Filipino kind.

To do that, Tulfo has unleashed a virtual litany of gripes against Filipino workers.

“Mabagal silang magtrabaho, puro satsat, puro daldal, ang tagal ’pag nag-merienda (They’re slow workers who talk a lot and take long breaks),” he said. Filipino workers “take time, pupunta sa CR, iinom ng tubig, iihi… (they often take restroom breaks, drink water). You know why developers prefer Chinese workers? Hardworking. Filipino workers aren’t respectful anymore. ’Yung mga Pinoy workers, ’pag pupunta sa job site, saka lang dun magpe-prepare ng kanilang tools, sigarilyo nang sigarilyo. Mga Chinese, diretso na, ’di sila nag-uusap, talagang trabaho (When they’re on the job site, that’s the only time they prepare their tools, and they smoke a lot. The Chinese go straight to work, they don’t even talk, they just work).”

Called upon by various incensed quarters to apologize for or resign over his odious remarks, Tulfo simply doubled down. Macho men never apologize. He even flipped the bird, on TV, at a labor group that had demanded his removal from office. And he tweeted what he must have imagined was his coup de grâce, the final blow to bring the targets of his contempt to their knees: “To the Filipino construction workers: Why should I apologize to you for telling the truth that you’re basically lazy and a slowpoke? Does the truth hurt?”

An estimated 2.3 million Filipinos are toiling in foreign lands at this very minute, a great many of them in construction and other menial jobs. They wouldn’t be there if they were indolent, inefficient or sloppy in their work.

The fact that workers here or abroad, Filipino or otherwise, need to take a break from their tasks from time to time — to relieve themselves, to eat, to drink something, to engage in human interaction in the workplace — has been recognized as essential rights to dignified labor. Those are basic human needs, and any company or boss denying their workers such rights is a heartless, callous entity in violation of elementary labor laws.

Tulfo, however, prefers the docile, uncomplaining breed of worker, of which, in his mind, the Chinese excel. But of course: Chinese workers come from a country where labor unions and the right to strike are banned, where workers cannot organize themselves, where the government is authoritarian, harsh on dissenters, and nonaccountable to its citizens.


It’s only been five months since Tulfo was appointed as so-called special envoy for public diplomacy to China by President Duterte, and yet here is the guy now — more popish than the Pope, as they say, suddenly all-too-enamored of China’s model of submissive, subjugated labor and impatient to impose it on his own countrymen. Perhaps Tulfo is an envoy of the wrong country?

At any rate, labor groups have challenged Tulfo to a dare: “to live and work with us for three days,” in the heat and dust of construction, for him to see in person the daily ordeal of ordinary Filipino workers. No word yet from Tulfo, and perhaps that’s understandable; the newly minted champion of Chinese workers is 72, and surely he can’t be deprived of his requisite restroom breaks.

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