A confluence of broken promises and tragedies are poised to make Labor Day 2018 a watershed in Philippine protest history.
Rival labor federations are uniting for a mammoth march and rally to Mendiola, in front of the Presidential palace tomorrow.
Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) and Nagkaisa Labor Coalition (Nagkaisa) expect 60,000 workers at the protest front lines, with other mobilizations in key cities nationwide upping the number of protesters to at least 150,000.
That’s just for organized labor.
The main themes Mayo Uno 2018 are President Rodrigo Duterte’s reneging on his campaign promise to end contractual job systems and the rising cost of living due to a new TRAIN tax program.
The plight of 250,000 overseas workers in Kuwait, now at risk because of the government’s irresponsible announcement of covert “rescue” operations in the Middle East country, will also figure in the protests.
Labor is expected to mock Duterte’s call for Kuwait-based workers to come home, given the reality of unemployment figures that are almost twice that of neighboring Southeast Asian countries. Underemployment rates are higher and contractual jobs deprive workers of social benefits and security of tenure.
Church people will also join the protests tomorrow, given two successive attacks on the religious sector in as many weeks.
Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick S Pabillo will celebrate an 8 a.m. Mass at the Quiapo Church for thousands of members of the Workers’ Resistance vs Tyranny and Human Rights (WRATH).
The crowd is expected to spillover to a plaza beside the church, a traditional site of militant protest.
The influential Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) backed labor’s demand in November last year, asking Duterte to defend Filipinos against “the exploitative and illegal end-of-contract and other labor contractualization practices of big businesses.”
Catholic congregations are also restive over the government’s efforts to deport Sr. Patricia Fox, an Australian nun who has served for almost three decades with agricultural workers, farmers and industrial labor groups.
Fox has served as coordinator of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, a big interfaith group that includes other Christian churches working in rural areas.
More than 60 farmers and agricultural workers have been killed under Duterte. His campaign pledge to complete agrarian reform is morphing into re-concentration of lands under big local and foreign conglomerates.
Anger among church workers intensified with the killing on April 29 of Fr. Mark Ventura, an environmentalist and migrants rights worker, in the municipality of Gattaran in Cagayan province.
Church groups underscored a poignant fact about the 37-year old priest: he is parish priest of San Isidro Labrador, a Catholic saint known as the patron of workers.
Ventura is the second priest assassinated under Duterte’s rule.
Fr. Marcelito Paez, 72, another leader of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, was shot dead by motorcycle-riding gunmen in Jaen, Nueva Ecija in December last year.
Confluence of events
There are no leads yet in Ventura’s killing. But his environmental activism strikes a chord with Filipinos at a time when Duterte is poised to give foreign powers the opportunity to own land in the country through charter change.
Duterte isn’t even waiting for charter change. He has given China first dibs on the reconstruction of the Islamic City of Marawi, now in ruins after a five-month war between government forces and groups linked to the Islamic State terror movement.
In the Cordillera region of northern Luzon, a subsidiary of a Chinese state agency has been awarded a contract for a massive irrigation system that would involve damming part of the Chico River.
Duterte has also shuttered Boracay, famous worldwide for its white sand, displacing 36,000 workers.
The President stressed an environmental crisis to defend his order. But Pagcor, the government gaming regulator, has bared the planned construction by a Chinese company of a giant casino complex on the island.
Duterte, facing a public backlash, denied giving his nod to the project, but local partners of the Chinese gambling firm continue to buy up land.
“This year’s commemoration of Labor Day will be different,” said a joint statement by labor federations. “It will be a national day of solidarity and action of leaders, members, allies and all citizens who have been frustrated over the injustices committed against workers and the Filipino people and government’s continued inaction and negligence.”
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.