OFW Mary Jane Veloso’s incarceration would have not stirred the nation’s conscience a bit if it were not for three things: she might still face a firing squad despite the stay of her execution, she is in an Indonesian jail and there were international appeals to save her from her doomed fate.
Were it not for the decision of Jakarta to hold her death sentence and review her case, she would have been Flor Contemplacion and her sad Singapore story all over again.
The fact that capital punishment, an eye for an eye, is itself on its death throes in most civilized parts of the globe, made the death by firing squad in Indonesia (which was the fate suffered by Veloso’s co-indictees in the Bali Nine case), appear inhuman and out of place. And a jolt to evolving global trends on crime and punishment.
Mary Jane Veloso’s tragic Indonesian saga would probably be in the news for a while for the reasons mentioned above. Then, her life story, God should forbid this from happening, would be exploited by the movies for commercial gains. Or by the TV networks looking for a hit.
Then, like Contemplacion, it would fade from public consciousness as the headlines shift to a baser, grimmer story.
The attention span on the tragic stories of OFWs – and all Filipino workers for that matter – has the shelf life of a popular fast-food chain’s cheap spaghetti offering. Very few will even notice that the stay on the death sentence of Veloso came just a few days before the celebration of Labor Day. And on Labor Day 2015, very few asked: What has happened to the Filipino working class? Here are a few answers:
• The Filipino worker, on whose back the immense wealth of the country’s superrich is built, is largely invisible to policy makers.
• The Labor Code is a Jurassic document and there are no initiatives to amend it to attune it to the times.
• The minimum wage determination is being done by regional tripartite bodies that do not even realize that they have one of the most urgent and most vital mandates in government. The bodies are blissfully unaware that they are dealing with the lives of exploited millions.
• No one high up in policy making has ever denounced the evils of contractual work arrangements.
• There is no set of rules governing BPO workers, which is expected to have a revenue of $26 billion by next year.
• Retail and service industry workers here are often paid slave wages and their wage scales make Walmart and McDonalds look like the paragons of enlightened employers.
• There is no initiative from Congress, none whatsoever, to recapture its mandate on wage-setting just to make sure that, when there is a need, the floor wage is adjusted across the country in one piece of legislation.
• The percentage of organized workers is a low single digit and whether this is four, five or six percent is a debatable issue.
• We are heading toward the total evisceration of organized labor.
• Civil society and the country’s public intellectuals have banished labor issues and workers’s rights from their agenda.
• No one marches on Labor Day with fervor anymore. The clenched fists are gone. No one is brave enough to say Workers of the Country Unite, There is Nothing to Lose but our Miseries.
• And this is the clincher: Mr. Aquino does not see a capitalist that he does not like. And does not see a worker that he does not ignore.
As for the OFWs, policy makers often speak of remunerative jobs in the domestic market to attract the OFWs into returning home for good. Up to now, such jobs are non-existent and as a prominent banker has said the economy is a “ two-stop shop” of OFW remittances and BPO revenues. What he did not mention was this: the government has a marketing policy on the two sectors but nothing on the empowerment of the human components.
Labor Day has come and gone and what workers got from government was the standard “blah, blah.”
The government of Mr. Aquino is probably exulting in the timidity of labor, the evisceration of the unions and the absence of personalities as commanding and as fiery as Felixberto Olalia, Boni Tupas and the likes.
In earlier times, with organized labor assertive and undaunted, workers celebrated Labor Day with marches that stretched through kilometers, a sea of clenched fists and defiant banners. Then, it was not a boxing match that could put the country at a standstill—it was the collective voice of workers about to storm the palace gates to seek redress for a grievance.
Today, it is different.
Labor’s plaints have been reduced to a whimper. Even a timid version of this – Workers Unite! There is Nothing to Lose but Our Miseries—is unsaid.