By Johanna M. Sampan And Catherine S. Valente Reporters
AN official of the influential Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) on Tuesday called for an increase in the minimum wage to enable workers to cope with the spiraling cost of living.
Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo issued the call on the eve of Labor Day, when
President Benigno Aquino 3rd thumbed down various labor groups’ proposals to certify as urgent the security of tenure bill and to raise the tax exemption for bonuses and other benefits from P30,000 to P60,000.
Pabillo explained that the country’s growing economy is useless if it would not trickle down to the ordinary citizens.
“One way to have equality in the economic growth is a proper salary and benefits for the workers,” Pabillo, the chairman of CBCP’s National Secretariat for Social Action (Nassa), said.
“It’s really one issue that the government should face this Labor Day if they really want an even growth for everybody and not just for the few,” he added.
Labor groups had been calling for a wage hike to help workers meet their basic needs.
Moderate groups are asking for an P85 increase while militant workers proposed an additional P125.
The prelate said the P456 daily minimum wage in Metro Manila is not even half of the estimated P1,000 daily cost of living.
“So the minimum wage is really not enough if the government will not enforce wage increase,” he reiterated.
On Wednesday, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle is scheduled to hold Mass at the Quiapo Church to pay tribute to the workers’ “invaluable contribution” to the society.
This will be Tagle’s second Labor Day Mass since he assumed his post in 2011.
Last year, the cardinal called on capitalists and the government to recognize workers’ dignity.
In his speech after the pre-Labor Day dialogue with 18 labor groups, President Aquino said the proposed measures will result in more job losses.
“Taliwas ito sa agenda nating magdagdag ng trabaho, dahil habang may 1.8 milyong manggagawa ang makikinabang, mayroon namang tinatayang sampung milyong Pilipino ang mawawalan ng trabaho. [This runs counter to our agenda to create jobs: While 1.8 million workers may benefit from this, it will cause an estimated 10 million Filipinos to lose their jobs],” Aquino said, noting that only bills that pertain to calamities and national security can be certified as urgent.
But the President said he is open to amending the measure and ordered the Tripartite Industrial Peace Council to study the “real situation” and recommend possible solutions.
On calls to increase the P30,000 tax exemption of minimum wage earners to P60,000, the President said this will translate to a loss of about P2.7 billion in tax collections.
The amount lost, by his estimate, could fund the construction of thousands of classrooms and hundreds of public housing.
“Makatwiran bang ilagay po natin sa alanganin ang edukasyon ng mga kabataan?
Ipagkakait ba natin ang mga proyektong pabahay para sa mga maralita? Huwag naman po sana. [Would it be just to put the education of our children at risk, or to deprive our less fortunate countrymen of housing projects? Let us not do that],” he pointed out.
According to the National Statistics Office, 7.1 percent of the 9.8 million Filipinos remain unemployed as of January 2013, almost three years into Aquino’s six-year presidency.
Despite turning down labor’s most urgent proposals, the President assured workers that his administration is working to improve their plight.
“Ang maipapangako po namin ngayong araw ng paggawa: Tunay na solusyon na tumutugon, hindi lang sa mga problema ng manggagawa, o ng mga negosyante, kundi ng buong sambayanan [What we can promise today are real solutions to the problems not just of labor, not just of management, but of all Filipinos],” he said.
He also stressed that all solutions to labor woes must “see past the short-term” and that many Filipinos will actually benefit from them.
The government, Aquino said, has earmarked P180 million to hire 327 more labor law compliance officers to ensure more effective implementation of existing laws and prevent the so called “555” practice or the renewal of contracts every five months.
“Inaasahan nating pagdating ng Oktubre, makakatulong na sila sa paghuli sa sinumang umaabuso sa ating mga batas paggawa [We are hopeful that come October, they will be helping us identify and apprehend those abusing our labor laws,” he said.
Daniel Edralin of the Alliance of Progressive Labor said besides the suppression of the right to form a union, there have already been six cases of unionists’ murders recorded so far.
The President vowed to address the growing incidence of attacks on union members.
"Inatasan na natin ang DOJ [Department of Justice ] na doblehin pa ang kanilang pagkilos para sa mas maigting na imbestigasyon at pag-uusig sa mga labor-related cases [I[I have tasked the DOJ to double their efforts in conducting more thorough investigations of labor-related cases.] he said.
While it is clear that there are less of these cases under his watch, Aquino said people should remain alert “so that we may avoid all forms of violence, and so that we can make certain that those responsible are brought to justice.”
Meanwhile, Federation of Free Workers president Sonny Matula urged Aquino to make good on the promise he made last year to hold regular dialogues with them, not only on Labor Day.
The President said his office is open even “on days like today, when I have a Kermit the Frog voice.”
He noted that the regular meetings happen almost monthly.
“The decisions that cannot be made on the level of cabinet officials—those are the ones that are brought to my attention,” he explained.
Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the President left early for his next event but several Cabinet members continued the dialogue with the labor leaders.
“As described by a labor leader, they were ‘shell-shocked’ by the openness of the President and the Cabinet secretaries in discussing their various concerns and the options to address them,” Lacierda said.
“Towards this end, the cabinet secretaries have agreed to hold a regular dialogue with the labor sector representatives and the next dialogue will be held at the end of May,” he added.
The cabinet members present in the dialogue were Secretaries Rosalinda Baldoz, Florencio Abad, Cesar Purisima, Rene Almendras, Corazon Soliman, Jun Abaya, Gregory Domingo, Joel Villanueva and Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares.
For the members of the labor sector, those present were representatives from Federation of Free Workers, Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, Philippine Government Employees Association-TUCP, Alliance Progressive Labor, Public Service Labor Independent Confederation, Philippine Metalworkers Alliance, and National Confederation Labor.