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Aquino’s May Day ‘good news’ met with stunned silence

/ 06:34 PM May 01, 2012

MANILA, Philippines—The stunned silence with which President Aquino’s package of benefits for workers in the public and private sectors was met at Tuesday’s Labor Day rally at the Don Chino Roces Bridge (formerly Mendiola) spoke volumes about Aquino’s “good news,” which apparently fell short of the workers’ expectations.

But the unexpected appearance of three of the President’s men—Budget Secretary Florencio Abad,  spokesman Edwin Lacierda, and political affairs adviser Ronald Llamas—brought the tiniest hope to some 15,000 members of the Nagka1sa, a newly formed coalition of labor organizations, that their “realistic” wish list would reach the President.

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Most of the demonstrators, including government workers, food chain employees, sea farers and hospital workers, were clamoring for the President’s certification as urgent of the security of tenure bill for the public and private sectors as well as for a reasonable and practicable wage increase.

Partido ng Manggagawa (PM) chairman and one of the Nagka1sa convenors Renato Magtubo told the Inquirer that while a P30 minimum daily wage increase would be good enough for a worker to buy a kilo of rice, P90 would be the most workers could ask for to afford a sack of the staple.

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“P125 is too much. It is unrealistic. What we are clamoring for are concrete and practical wishes that the government could address. We are hopeful that President Aquino will act on our demands because he said that we are his boss,” Magtubo said.

It was Magtubo who personally handed a letter for the President to the Palace officials. The letter contained at least six demands, which included the immediate passage of the security of tenure bill to do away with contractualization; the President’s support for the workers’ demand for across-the-board wage increases for both the public and private sectors; the repeal of the oil deregulation and the Energy and Power Industry Reform Act (Epira); as well as the prevention of violent demolitions of squatter homes.

Abad, addressing the demonstrators, repeatedly assured them that the President would thoroughly study the wish list of the coalition and delegate the appropriate action to the departments concerned.

But when he announced the result of the breakfast meeting between the President and the leaders of the Nagka1sa, the crowd listened quietly, particularly when he mentioned the implementation in July of the salary standardization law for the public sector, which would amount to P2.7 billion as well as the P11.2 billion educational assistance fund for all members of the Social Security System and the Government Service Insurance System.

The silence of the crowd seemed to indicate bated breath for the promised “good news,” specifically word on a possible wage increase, which never came. Instead, Abad said, “another good news is that there will be a quarterly dialogue to discuss and address the demands of the workers.”

The members of the Nagka1sa gave him courteous applause as he left the stage and the President’s men made their way back to Malacañang Palace.

Asked by the Inquirer if the promise of a thorough study of their demands would suffice, Magtubo replied: “Bitin, but we are hopeful.”

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A group of Metropolitan Manila Development Authority street sweepers were hardly impressed by the pronouncement of the President’s men. “Promises again. I hope they make good on their word this time,” one of the street sweepers, who requested anonymity, remarked.

Lorna, 25, confided that they were paid P254.55 daily as contractual workers and have not been given a chance to be regular employees. “I have been working here for three years. We have to buy our own broom, the dustpans we use, our transportation and pay for our own uniforms.”

She said that she sweeps an area of 1,000 meters of EDSA without hazard pay.

“They promised to raise our daily pay to P404 last year but until now, they have not done so, which would have meant so much to our families,” she said.

Even vendors, drivers, and construction workers participated in the Labor Day rally. Their clamor: a moratorium on demolitions.

Lolita Barrera, 65, a fish vendor for almost half her life, said that it was her first time to participate in a mass demonstration.

But apart from supporting the laborers’ cause, she said she was there to push for socialism, which could put a stop to the demolition of a squatter colony in Malabon, where she lives.

Katherine Loh, the subregional secretary for Southeast Asia of the Public Services International, led a contingent of some 70 foreign labor leaders from India, Singapore, Malaysia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Tonga, Japan and Cambodia to ask for the Asian Development Bank to take full responsibility for the energy crisis in the Visayas and Mindanao.

Loh claimed that it was the ADB that provided technical assistance and funding for the implementation of the Epira Law for the privatization of the energy sector. The privatization, she maintained, is to blame for the power crisis and the high cost of electricity experienced in the two regions.

She said that they decided to join the Philippine labor organizations in the celebration of Labor Day to highlight their unity with the clamor for reasonable cost of electricity, which eat up a huge chunk of a worker’s earnings.—

With reporting by Julliane De Jesus, PDI trainee

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TAGS: demonstrators, Government, Labor Day, Labor Day rally, workers
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