IF it is not quite yet fair and accurate to characterize President B.S. Aquino 3rd as someone hostile to the welfare and interests of the Philippines’ vast working class, it is very quickly approaching that point.
The Mary Jane Veloso case has caused many in our country to take a closer look at the realities faced by Philippine workers and their families. What is coming to light is an Aquino Administration record on labor issues that is so destructive, it is hard to imagine it was not intentionally planned that way.
The breathtaking callousness with which the President himself – and as the woeful tale told by the Veloso family revealed, every responsible agency of his government – treated Mary Jane Veloso’s case, even through the 11th hour when she was granted a temporary reprieve discloses the mindset of Aquino toward workers. When it emerged a few days ago that Mary Jane’s father was an itinerant cane-cutter at Hacienda Luisita – in effect, making her family among the lowest of the serfs toiling for the President’s own Cojuangco clan – the surprising but not at all ironic revelation confirmed the policy philosophy: Workers are merely a commodity, and a cheap one at that.
The hostility towards workers is not only revealed in the attitude, in the dismissive “we didn’t create your problem,” Aquino reply to the criticisms leveled at the government by the Veloso family, but in political action as well. Just last week, The Manila Times reported the alarming pattern of obstruction of labor legislation in Congress; no fewer than 18 bills, most of them dating back to 2013, have been buried in the House Committee on Labor, Committee on Civil Service and Professional Regulation, or Committee on Local Government, all of which are headed, not surprisingly, by staunch Administration allies.
The bills, if they ever eventually see the light of day, would provide for such things as limitations on the length of probationary employment periods, regular employment status to temporary or contractual government workers after a certain number of years of good service, and security of tenure for barangay-level workers such as health workers and barangay secretaries.
In terms of Aquino’s concern for other OFWs in distress because of a variety of legal problems in other countries, he emphasized his lack of it with a veto message at the end of December, which in effect assigned the P100 million OFW legal assistance fund to a vast, poorly-defined pool of funds to be disbursed at the discretion of the Budget Secretary.
This only became news at the beginning of March – and only momentarily, as it failed to attract any public attention or response whatsoever – when Senator Nancy Binay inconclusively questioned the suspect budget arrangement in a Senate hearing.
According to Department of Foreign Affairs data, as of June 2014 there were more than 6,000 Filipinos in jail in other countries. Of those, at least 79 are facing charges punishable by death, and are in need of skilled legal assistance. They are at the point when they need it most, the point at which Mary Jane Veloso did not receive it. The demeanor and actions of the President, unfortunately, do not suggest he learned any lessons from her case.
Filipino workers are not a consumable resource, despite the fact that there are chronically far too many of them for the number of jobs available for them. If President Aquino is so incorrigibly misanthropic that he simply cannot conceive of a wage earner as a human being, perhaps considering the matter in impersonal terms might help him. It is, after all, a rather simple economic relationship: The earnings of our OFW heroes fuel the consumption that drives the economy. Take anything out of that formula – either the workers overseas, or the ones who fill the jobs back home that the presence of a vast pool of consumable income creates – and the economy collapses. If the workers are not happy and productive, the economy collapses.
Take care of your workers, Mr. BS Aquino.