POSTSCRIPT / May 3, 2022 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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We’ve been driving with handbrake on!

I was again driving, virtually, last Sunday when assailed by unusual noise and the smell of something burning. Something was wrong.

Having gotten used to the refreshing wind on the media freeway since the 1986 EDSA Revolt, I’ve been moving around without noticing that my handbrake has been left on – giving me a false sense of being safe and free as a member of the working press.

Filipino workers and labor groups gather along EDSA-Cubao on Labor Day. Photo: Renato Reyes, Bagong Alyansa Makabayan

All this time, more so during this election campaign, I’ve been operating with the virtual handbrake ready to stop me if I go too fast or off-lane. But last Sunday, I sort of veered out of my usual lane on the media freeway, and the handbrake did not work.

I thus I lost my spot and my column went missing on May 1, the day when we lavish attention on the Worker who is mostly ignored and neglected the rest of the year.

• Labor’s calls fall on deaf ears

Labor Day (May 1 in the Philippines) saw workers from various sectors again calling for higher pay, to allow them a decent living wage, and for security of tenure – but those appeals, as expected, bounced off deaf ears again.

The Filipino Nurses United called for an increase in the salaries of nurses in the private sector. It noted that nurses remain “underpaid, overworked, and unappreciated” despite health workers’ manning the frontlines amid the pandemic.

Citing January 2022 data of the health department, the group said over 30,000 health workers have tested COVID-19 positive and 117 have died of it. It raised such concerns as understaffing, which leads to prolonged work hours and unsafe nurse-to-patient ratio, and the “no-pay, no-work” scheme because of contractualization.

Kilusang Mayo Uno hosted a program titled “A10 ang Bukas: Mabuhay ang Manggagawa” on EDSA to rally for higher wages and call for an end to contractualization and red-tagging, and to disband the government’s anti-communist task force. The show smeared some innocent persons.

PISTON, BPO (business process outsourcing) Workers for Leni and Kiko, Migrante International, Peasant Movement of the Philippines, Gabriela Women’s Party, and Anakpawis party-list were at the rally. The Sumilao farmers, who walked from Bukidnon for 40 days, were also there.

Anakpawis asked that the minimum wage be raised as prices of essential goods continue to rise. Migrante called for more services and protection for overseas Filipino workers, on top of creating more jobs so Filipinos need not look for work abroad.

• NUJP takes up cudgels for media

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines called for a safer work environment for newsmen as bad working conditions persist. It noted that aside from being overworked and underpaid, journalists do not always receive their employers’ support when needed.

Newsmen write on labor issues affecting others but overlook their own. “We welcome the law declaring Aug. 30 as National Press Freedom Day,” the NUJP said. “But we recognize that the unfair economic and work conditions in media are among the factors that keep us from being truly free.”

We link NUJP’s mention of “being truly free” to the generally poor working conditions in media that add to socio-economic pressures that make practitioners susceptible to corruption, exploitation, and the sapping of their drive to excel.

• When workers rise in judgment

Please indulge me again this Maytime in refreshing our memory of Edwin Markham (1852-1940) and his immortal poem “The Man with the Hoe” which is best read aloud:

Bowed by the weight of centuries he leans
Upon his hoe and gazes on the ground,
The emptiness of ages in his face,
And on his back the burden of the world.
Who made him dead to rapture and despair,
A thing that grieves not and that never hopes.
Stolid and stunned, a brother to the ox?
Who loosened and let down this brutal jaw?
Whose was the hand that slanted back this brow?
Whose breath blew out the light within this brain?

Is this the Thing the Lord God made and gave
To have dominion over sea and land;
To trace the stars and search the heavens for power;
To feel the passion of Eternity?
Is this the Dream He dreamed who shaped the suns
And marked their ways upon the ancient deep?
Down all the stretch of Hell to its last gulf
There is no shape more terrible than this —
More tongued with censure of the world’s blind greed —
More filled with signs and portents for the soul —
More fraught with menace to the universe.

What gulfs between him and the seraphim!
Slave of the wheel of labor, what to him
Are Plato and the swing of Pleiades?
What the long reaches of the peaks of song,
The rift of dawn, the reddening of the rose?
Through this dread shape the suffering ages look;
Time’s tragedy is in the aching stoop;
Through this dread shape humanity betrayed,
Plundered, profaned, and disinherited,
Cries protest to the Powers that made the world.
A protest that is also a prophecy.

O masters, lords and rulers in all lands,
Is this the handiwork you give to God,
This monstrous thing distorted and soul-quenched?
How will you ever straighten up this shape;
Touch it again with immortality;
Give back the upward looking and the light;
Rebuild in it the music and the dream,
Make right the immemorial infamies,
Perfidious wrongs, immedicable woes?

O masters, lords and rulers in all lands
How will the Future reckon with this Man?
How answer his brute question in that hour
When whirlwinds of rebellion shake all shores?
How will it be with kingdoms and with kings —
With those who shaped him to the thing he is —
When this dumb Terror shall rise to judge the world.
After the silence of the centuries?

(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 3, 2022)

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