Marching under the theme "Kalayaan Mula sa Pulitikong Kawatan, Delubyong Kahirapan, Trahedyang mula sa Kalikasan", some 5,000 members of the broad labor coalition NAGKAISA (United) took to the streets today to celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of the plebeian hero Andres Bonifacio.
The protest, which assembled in the morning at the Mehan Garden for a short program and wreath-laying, marched to Mendiola at noon to call on President Aquino to urgently address corruption, poverty and climate crisis.
The group also demanded that their hero be declared as the first president of the Philippine republic.
Turning in his grave
Josua Mata, NAGKAISA convenor and Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL-SENTRO) Secretary-General, said the miserable state of Filipino workers and the dark clouds of hopelessness hovering above the nation are enough for Bonifacio to be turning in his grave.
“NAGKAISA thus call on the Aquino administration to address the problems of low wages, contractualization, spiraling electricity and water rates, uncontrolled oil prices, forcible demolition of informal settlers and, political patronage and corruption,” said Mata.
He added that the State not only has the duty of providing full protection but also of raising the dignity of labor. “One step to dignify labor’s role in our struggle for independence is to rectify historical errors and proclaim the late Supremo as the first president of the Philippine republic,” he said.
Corruption and elite rule
Among the issues highlighted at the protest was the controversial pork barrel scam. Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP) president Leody de Guzman said, “Workers are being made to believe the so-called ‘tuwid na daan’ of the Aquino regime. Yet, despite the all-too familiar critique against the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) for breeding political patronage, this seemingly anti-corrupt administration doubled it in 2010”. The Supreme Court declared the PDAF unconstitutional last November 19.
De Guzman added, “We owe this victory against the PDAF to the thousands that participated in the anti-pork barrel protests since the August 26 Million People March in Luneta. Although we welcome the recent decision of the Court, we call on the people to remain vigilant. Traditional and elitist politicians like senate president Drilon and budget secretary Abad are now seeking loopholes to retain the legislative largesse and the entire pork barrel system. Don’t expect political dynasties to go down without a fight”.
Poverty, low wages and contractualization
At the NAGKAISA mass action, speakers tackled gut-issues such as contractualization, starvation, wages and high power rates.
Gerry Rivera, president of the Philippine Airlines Employees Association (PALEA) stated, “PALEA has lifted our picket lines because we have won the battle at PAL through the collective solidarity of NAGKAISA and the entire labor movement. But the fight for regular jobs is not yet over, the scourge of contractualization remains as the number one threat to workers’ rights and welfare”.
Last November 14, PAL management settled with PALEA which members have daringly fought and resisted the company’s outsourcing/contractualization program for 26 months. The settlement wins back the union and its members' status as regular employees.
Renato Magtubo of Partido ng Manggagawa (PM), meanwhile, criticized the Aquino administration for preserving starvation wages.
“Wage Order 18 of the NCR wage board is the lowest pay hike for minimum wages in its entire history. Last May 2012, after Labor Day, Noynoy echoed the capitalist blackmail line against wage increases by threatening us with retrenchment and closures. This yellow government maintains wages far below the cost of living in adherence to its tacit policy of cheap labor,” Magtubo avowed.
Alan Tanjusay, Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) spokesperson added that the purchasing power of current wages is falling due to spiraling commodity prices and electricity rates. He said, “Electricity rates in the country are among the highest in Asia, causing not only the unabated increase in prices and the decrease in real wages. High power rates are the single most deterrent to investments thereby preventing job creation that is essential to genuine inclusive growth”.
Climate change and man-made calamities
Nagkaisa bewailed that a century and half hence the birth of Gat Andres Bonifacio and the nation is still in shambles. Super typhoons have become the new normal due to climate change and global warming. The recent disasters brought by earthquakes and storms revealed the government’s ineptitude to respond to natural calamities.
“Unless the Aquino administration becomes an active player in the global campaign for climate justice, for lower carbon emissions from advanced countries and for reparations to devastated Third World countries, it will be forever remembered in history as the worst man-made calamity to hit the nation,” Mata concluded.