POSTSCRIPT / May 9, 2017 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Who’ll protect Tadeco workers?

“WHEN elephants rumble, the grass gets trampled.” We are reminded of that African proverb as we watch two powerful Davao del Norte congressmen tangle over girlfriend issues, influence and a juicy long-term government joint-venture contract.

Close to 10,000 workers are in danger of losing their jobs as Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Rep. Antonio Floirendo Jr. clash over the 25-year lease of 5,038 hectares of the Davao Prison and Penal Farm to the Tagum Agricultural Development Co. Inc. (Tadeco) of the Floirendo family.

The feuding politicians talk about the law, violations and revenue losses, but hardly would one hear them propose anything substantial about protecting workers who will get trampled like the grass when bull elephants fight.

The Speaker has unleashed two House committees — on good government and public accountability, and on justice — to open today an inquiry into Tadeco’s joint venture agreement with the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) whose terms he has denounced as grossly disadvantageous to the government.

Alvarez represents the first district of Davao del Norte, and Floirendo the second. Both are major supporters and personal friends of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Floirendo was reportedly one of the biggest contributors to Mr. Duterte’s campaign in the last presidential election. But when the lawmakers’ debate detoured to their sex life and raked up Alvarez’s siring children with women other than his wife, the President defended him as not a solitary case.

The Solicitor General has declared that the BuCor-Tadeco deal violated the Constitution and a Commonwealth-era edict restricting the use of public land.

Even as a showdown looms, labor is still waiting for someone big in government to take up the cudgels for almost 10,000 workers who stand to lose their jobs if the Tadeco contract is voided and its banana plantations in the Davao del Norte cities of Panabo and Tagum are closed.

Tadeco plantations raise Cavendish bananas that are exported under the Del Monte brand to Japan, Hong Kong, China, South Korea, the Middle East, Russia, Malaysia and Singapore.

The firm has been paying the BuCor a fixed annual rent of P6,050 per hectare, plus a share of 23 centavos for every P100 worth of bananas exported. Alvarez said the annual lease rate for the land is less than one-fourth of the prevailing P25,000-per-hectare in the district.

On today’s House inquiry, Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel, chairman of the good government and public accountability committee, said: “Every accusation that a public transaction is highly detrimental to government is a grave matter that we are duty-bound to investigate painstakingly.

“The performance of any contract deemed ‘manifestly and grossly disadvantageous’ to government constitutes a punishable corrupt practice, whether or not the public officers involved profited or will profit from the transaction.”

• Tadeco job loss alarms labor group

THE LARGEST labor federation in the country has expressed “grave concern and serious alarm” at the possible layoff of Tadeco workers who are members of the Associated Labor Unions by way of ALU affiliate Southern Mindanao Federation of Labor (SMFL).

The ALU-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (ALU-TUCP-NAGKAISA) assailed advance conclusions, and their implications, of government officials that the BuCor-Tadeco joint venture agreement is “null and void.”

The group said there are some 8,000 workers under the agreement, 1,100 other male inmates under rehabilitation also working and receiving stipends, and 101 women in the packing station. The inmates are called trainees, receiving a stipend equivalent to the daily minimum wage.

Michael Mendoza, ALU-TUCP president, said of their predicament: “In this unseemly and hasty rush to kill off the JVA, injustice will be inflicted on the ordinary workers who will lose their jobs. Thousands of workers and their families will be reduced to subsistence survival levels, becoming mere shadows of ‘the elect and the elite’ lording it over them.”

Mendoza appealed to President Duterte to look into the plight of the workers and their families who seem to have been overlooked in the quarrel of the powerful congressmen. This, he said, despite the fact that the workers have been supporting him since he was Davao mayor.

“If indeed there were legal infirmities in the JVA, corrective measures should have been made first,” he said. “Innocent laborers and their families should not be dragged into the quarrels of government officials.”

He added: “Rulings that are mere table studies done by lawyers in air-conditioned rooms do not reflect the hard, backbreaking work of those laboring under the sun with little or no government assistance. After years of benign neglect by government, we are slapped with harsh legal opinions cranked out without hearing the side of those most adversely affected.

“Their rulings are clearly towards a pre-ordained conclusion that will determine who will be employed, where they will be employed and under what terms. Our workers thought that the determination of what is legal and illegal is done by the Judiciary following due process. Our workers expected more than this callous, cavalier, high-handed execution of our livelihoods.”

“Government should put workers’ interests first and foremost,” explained SMFL-ALU president Sammy Cardenio. “Marami sa kanila walang pagtingin sa manggagawa.  Baka magkaroon ng mga occupy-occupy yung mga miron. Kagulo ang industriya. Kawawa naman mga pamilya namin. Stabilize muna sana, manggagawa muna.”

(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 9, 2017)

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