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Commentary

A time for shared sacrifice

We are now in an extraordinarily trying time. COVID-19 has brought to the fore the need for an organized, systematic response by all. No man is an island, each of us is the other’s brother or sister. Faced with a common, deadly unseen enemy, our established institutions are being put to the test. It is not only our government that is called upon to respond effectively, decisively, and appropriately to address the emergency situation. The private sector is also expected to do its share.

Many other countries the world over are similarly situated. But our situation is doubly difficult. We are a small country with teeming millions of poverty-stricken people, mostly minimum wage earners.

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Now more than ever, the constitutional mandate to afford full protection to labor must be properly enforced and immediately translated into actual terms. This principle, embodied in Article XIII of the 1987 Constitution aptly titled “Social Justice and Human Rights,” was intended to address the pressing concerns of the most vulnerable sectors in our society, and it starts with the working sector.

In better times, the demands of organized labor would concern “merely” higher wages, more benefits, etc. But this time, there are millions of hungry and angry workers with nothing to feed their equally hungry families. As a worker said in a TV interview, it is not COVID-19 that will kill him but hunger.

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Thus, it is no longer a question of balancing the interests of labor and capital. We need to ensure the survival of the poorest sectors of our society, because a hungry mob would know no law nor authority.

The sector most vulnerable to the lockdown and COVID-19 are the ordinary workers, mostly paid daily, who are now quarantined within the confines of their small houses and cramped communities. It is “no work, no pay” for them, and that is a crushing burden.

President Duterte has called on private firms to grant workers their 13th-month pay in advance to help those who may suffer from job disruptions or even job loss. We’ve heard of establishments announcing that they will shoulder a month’s pay of their workers even as businesses are closed. Hats off to them — these are positive and heartwarming responses to the crisis.

What about other big establishments in the private sector? Workers and businesses should enjoy a partnership based on mutual respect, not only during good times but especially during difficult periods when workers are left more vulnerable and at risk. Partners must help each other, bear each other’s burden, and lift up each other especially in times of adversity. Theirs, after all, is a symbiotic relationship. As underscored by the Supreme Court, labor is not only a factor of production—it is a human product no matter how modest (G.R. No. 190486, Nov. 26, 2014).

While the Constitution recognizes the indispensable role of the private sector in national development, the Constitution affirms labor as the primary social economic force. If the working sector is not given its just share in the fruits of production during this critical time, the workers’ hunger, as well as that of family members who largely depend on them for support, may drive some of them to desperate action. And chaos is the last thing that we want—not for business growth and development, and certainly not for national development.

It is incumbent on big business to do its share for their workers—to see them at this critical time as partners in production who need all the help they can get to survive the pandemic. That sense of shared sacrifice will eventually redound to the greater good of the country, and help promote a more equitable society for all.

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Patricia Salvador Daway is a professor at the UP College of Law.

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TAGS: Commentary, Coronavirus Pandemic, COVID-19, Patricia Salvador Daway, Rodrigo Duterte
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