A sensational story about the “yaya meal” in one of our better-known island-resorts off the Pacific challenges our long-held view of ourselves and compels us to inquire what has become of our society and our people. Like all rich people, the Filipino rich have more money than the rest, as we have long heard from the literary giants Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
But the rich we know who are also practicing Christians try to live the spirit of poverty, and try to be egalitarian. They look to the poor as their equal, and at their own domestic staff as family members. Thus while the story about the island-resort serving a “yaya meal” to the “yayas” (nannies) seems to put their social class on the defensive, they probably have nothing to do with it at all.
The resort can probably sufficiently account for the error: they did not know any better. In the restaurants of the world’s finest Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons and Kempinski hotels, vegetarians and vegans merit regular mention, but not nannies, bodyguards, or even boxing champions.Their Michelin-rated chefs work on their culinary masterpieces without trying to separate the palate of crowned heads and CEOs from that of ordinary mortals.
I do not know if they have any Michelin-rated chief at Balesin, but I cannot imagine them downgrading the quality of a plate by calling it a “nanny meal.” Nor can I imagine them doing it out of malice, just to conjure an artificial gastronomic caste system. It could only have happened out of ignorance, pure and simple. It is, after all, one of our more natural national products, inspired and promoted by Malacañang.
How have we been treating the poor?
Still uproar over this “nanny meal” episode is a service to us all. For it opens a long-sealed chamber in our minds, hearts and souls, and asks the question, how have you been treating the poor, the least of your brethren, the smallest of the small? The question is addressed to each one of us, even though we may ourselves be poor and small, for we shall always find others who are poorer and smaller.
And of course, it is addressed to the rich captains of industry, who employ multitudes, and to the officials of the powerful State who have the duty to create job opportunities and to enact the appropriate laws and policies for the protection of labor. How have they been treating their workers?
The worker’s lost humanity at the mall
Let us begin with/at the shopping malls. The shopping mall has become the most visible symbol of “progress” in every community feeding on the dollar remittances of our Overseas Filipino Workers. It rises in population centers where the traffic is already congested, and inevitably becomes more monstrous as a result thereof. The mall owner does not have to construct access roads to his mall, as they do in the United States, where the mall is located away from the congested areas, and the owner has to build his own access roads to and from the main transport arteries.
It does not matter that the mall eventually kills every small competitive venture in the vicinity; it creates a mecca of shopkeepers who dream in vain of sharing the fortunes of the mall owner, and shoppers who get addicted to going to the mall even when they do not need to. The owner of the largest and the most number of malls in the country is now the richest Filipino dollar-billionaire on the annual Forbes magazine list, employing a vast sea of mostly women employees.
They are young, personable, and with legs strong enough to withstand long hours of serving customers without having to sit down, except when they take a toilet break and slip into a momentary nap while doing so. Highly preferred are those who do not believe in labor unions or the right to strike. At the end of five months, they learn to speak a word that is not taught in any post-graduate language course: ENDOC.
Total circumvention of the law
This means, END OF CONTRACT. However perfect the employee’s performance has been, her contract has to end after five months, and renewed only after a certain number of days has elapsed. The sole purpose of this hiatus is to prevent continuity of service, which would allow the employee to gain all the rights and privileges conferred by law on permanent employees. And this is not happening to a handful of employees once in a long while in one small crowded place of employment.
It is something that happens with unerring regularity, once after every five months, to all the members of the work force in our shopping malls, restaurants, factories, beauty salons, spas, many call centers, and what have you. And it is happening with the full knowledge, consent and cooperation of the Department of Labor and Employment, the Department of Justice, the Commission on Human Rights, the two Houses of Congress, the Cabinet, and the President of the Philippines. Ranged against all these small powerless people is the entire government, in tandem with the retrograde oligarchy.
My friend Timoteo Aranjuez, a senior labor leader, recalls that many years ago, when the vast SM empire was but a small P100,000-shoe store operation in Carriedo, Quiapo, its owner asked him to show his firm some leniency in the implementation of labor laws until it could gain stronger footing. He said he readily agreed. But what he cannot understand is that after the SM owner had become the biggest Filipino billionaire on the Forbes annual list, the firm’s low regard for labor has remained unchanged, and the workers’ condition had grown worse.
Was Marx right after all?
If we did not know any better, we might end up believing that capitalism, instead of being transformed by the social teachings of the Church, has failed, and that Marx has been finally proved right. In Das Kapital, 1867, Marx writes about the “immiseration” (dehumanization) of man, in which he says, “All the means for the development of production undergo a dialectical inversion so that they become a means of domination and exploitation of the producers; they distort the worker into a fragment of a man, they degrade him to the level of an appendage of a machine, they destroy the actual content of his labor by turning it into a torment, they alienate from him the intellectual potentialities of the labor process… they transform his life into working-time, and put his wife and children beneath the wheels of the juggernaut of capital.”
This cannot be the fault of capitalism at all. The dehumanization of the Filipino poor has been the active handiwork of a thoroughly depraved and perverse government, which seems completely unaware of what it owes the poor. The Aquino regime has abandoned its duty to the workers, and has become the protector of the predatory policies and practices of their private employers.
What about the OFWs?
Does it get any better when we talk of our 10 million to 12 million OFWs? Hardly. Cheap political rhetoric has elevated the OFWs to the rank of “new heroes,” but no special day or monument has been assigned in their honor, unlike the unexamined lives of Aquino’s deceased parents. The OFWs are credited with an annual dollar remittance of $26 billion (and counting), although the US-based Filipino data scientist Dr. Gil Ramos points out that the total should be at least twice this amount, given the high-value “balikbayan boxes” which the OFWs regularly send to their relatives in the provinces.
Indeed, the OFW remittance has made the Philippine economy what it is today despite the disappearance of manufacturing, the destruction of agriculture, the corruption and incompetence of the Aquino government and the continued turbulence on both sides of the Atlantic. And yet, there has been no effort to mobilize OFW money for long-term development that would benefit the nation or the families themselves. Supporting immediate consumption, rather than production, seems to be the sole consideration.
From time to time, an ignorant OFW is convicted as a drug mule in some foreign outpost. This is when Vice President Binay, as Presidential Adviser on OFW Concerns, is sent abroad to plead for clemency for the death convict, even if there is no chance of obtaining pardon or a commutation of sentence. Despite this experience, Aquino has never found the courage to declare that he might bar OFWs from going to those countries which refuse to show clemency to offending OFWs. Neither has it occurred to him to demand that Christian Filipinos employed in Saudi Arabia and other such countries be guaranteed their basic right to practice their religion, just as Muslims are allowed to practice Islam freely in the Philippines.
Throughout their lives, the Filipino poor try to create a world where, whatever happens to their politics, they would always have a clear vision of God with them. This is no longer certain. The moral, social and political degradation of the Filipino poor has been total under PNoy.