POSTSCRIPT / May 3, 2012 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Noy offers empty hand to expectant laborers

LABOR UNREST: Despite a promised May 1 package of benefits, President Noynoy Aquino failed to calm the unrest gripping the labor front.

The bill proposing a P125 daily wage increase via legislation is dead in the water as the President nixed the idea as too costly for employers and the economy.

In his meeting Tuesday with labor aristocrats in Malacañang, the President citing unvalidated statistics claimed that the wage hike would amount to P1.43 trillion and lead to massive layoffs with 527,000 workers, and trigger higher inflation.

He tried mollifying labor by ordering the regional wage councils to speed up hearings on petitions for wage increases, such as that filed by the TUCP for a P90 daily increase. If he succeeded remains to be seen.

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BEWILDERING STATS: Where the President got the P1.43-trillion figure and the job loss of 527,000 is still challenging the number crunchers of the labor movement.

There are only around four million wage earners in the country, in almost a million establishments, 90 percent of which are small enterprises that could be exempted from a wage hike.

The President noted that the $9-$10 daily minimum wage in the Philippines — much higher than the $2 daily wage in Kampuchea and Indonesia and a little more than the $3 in Vietnam – should attract foreign investments. But he glossed over the cost of living context.

He also cited the stability in the prices of commodities and inflation at 4.8 percent. But he failed to compare current prices with those when he took over in 2010.

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CONTRACTUALS: The President also mentioned the problem of contractualization that has made a mockery of the security of tenure clause in the Constitution.

Majority of companies in almost all industries are now hiring contractuals for five-month periods to avoid regularization of workers and the payment of benefits provided by law.

While the government looks the other way, casual workers continue to be hired even for jobs considered as vital, necessary and indispensable to the company operations.

He announced the issuance of Department Order 18-A by Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz. To monitor and ensure compliance with the order, an additional 372 labor inspectors will be hired. Many employers and workers saw this as opening another racket for inspectors!

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WORST EXPLOITER: The President failed to see the lengthening lines of hungry Filipinos in just about every corner of the national capital itself:

People lining up in soup kitchens, children scavenging in garbage bins near restaurants for leftovers that they then reheat for a meal, workers’ children dropping out of school and serving as drug couriers, if not sellers, in the slums, the upsurge in street crimes, thousands of unemployed workers lining up in job fairs where only 5 percent of applicants might be hired, senior citizens scrounging for extra income given their miserable pensions, mothers begging in the streets with their malnourished children in tow.

Unemployment, which remains understated in statistical reports, is still the worst exploiter of workers.

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SKEWED POLICY: Mr. Aquino’s economic policy is not focused on the welfare of laborers, but on the old-rich caciques turned renters and controllers of government regulatory agencies that are behind the high price of electricity, water, transport and real estate.

The new rich are the smugglers, real estate speculators, public works contractors, gambling lords and drug pushers.

The President ignores the fact that the exploitation of workers has not really stopped. This is a burden carried over from previous administrations.

Workers have remained marginalized, mired in poverty and desperation.

One thing he can do is look at the plight of the workers of Hacienda Luisita, then examine his own reaction and that of other landlords to the land-distribution and compensation ruling of the Supreme Court.

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NO REVISION: The just concluded “2+2” ministerial meeting in Washington between the Philippines and the United States did not alter the basic treaty commitments between the two allies in military and defense matters.

The US is still not committed or disposed to automatically come out shooing away, much less shooting at, Chinese naval and fishing vessels intruding into Philippine territory and mocking the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Their 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty still carries the understanding that military action is to be resorted to only in case of an external armed attack on either party and, in the case of the US, subject to its constitutional (congressional) processes.

The only imaginable scenario that could trigger an instant US retaliation is if its own forces in or near the Philippines are directly attacked.

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BENEFITS: State Secretary Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta spoke for the US in the meeting, while Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin represented the Philippines.

Their 80-minute meeting, however, was useful for the Philippines in that:

* It elicited (1) a US assurance to help its former colony maintain maritime security in the West Philippine Sea and (2) a reaffirmation of the US desire to resolve territorial disputes with the Philippines’ neighbors in a multilateral and collaborative manner.

* It served notice to actual and potential trouble-makers and neighborhood bullies like China that Big Brother stands by the Philippines.

* It promised accelerated delivery of military hardware to boost the defense capability of the Philippine armed forces, especially its navy.

Although there was no direct reference to China, the post-meeting communiqué had for its background Beijing’s disturbing the peace with its use of superior force in pushing its territorial claims in the area.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 3, 2012)

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