The Guardian September 10, 2003


Worker and peasant struggles in the Philippines

Elmer Labog, Chairperson, May First Movement Labor Centre (KMU) in the 
Philippines was one of the international guests attending the ACTU 
Congress. He was interviewed by Peter Symon on behalf of The Guardian 
when he visited Sydney after the Congress.

PS: Comrade Elmer, could you tell us something about the overall 
situation in the Philippines at the present time?

EL: The situation is getting more difficult. The conditions in 
general are depressed especially for peasants and workers.

Wages are only about AU$7 a day for workers in the Metro Manila region. 
Workers that are far away from the Manila region receive much lower wages, 
even less than half of the nominal wages in the Philippines. It is 
unfortunate that we have over 500 wage levels all over the country because 
of the law that provides for regionalisation of wages. The contracting out 
of labour is also a policy of the Arroyo Government. Attacks on trade union 
rights are an ongoing thing in the Philippines.

There is massive militarisation in the countryside especially in far flung 
areas. The killings perpetrated by the military of the Government are 
unabated. There are more than 32 people killed already who are members of 
organised socialist parties of Bayan of which KMU is a part. The Arroyo 
Government is continuously implementing the neo-liberal policies of 
globalisation, liberalisation, privatisation and deregulation.

We are actively in opposition to the policies of this government which are 
dictated by the United States imperialists.

Massive displacement of workers

There is massive displacement of workers in the strategic industries that 
are privatised, especially the water, electricity and energy industries.

The deregulation of electricity has caused a lot of hardship to poor 
Filipino people because the electricity costs are up by more than 50 per 
cent of the total income of Filipino workers, that is, if they have an 
income to talk about.

The deregulation of agriculture has caused massive displacement of 
peasants. Farm products coming from other countries including the United 
States, Thailand, Vietnam and even China are much cheaper than locally 
produced items, especially rice which is the main stable food in the 
Philippines.

PS: What's the proportion of workers to peasants in the Philippines?

EL: Peasants are about 85 percent of the population while workers 
are only 15 percent of the semi-colonial/ semi-feudal set up. Less than 10 
percent can be considered middle class. The remaining 0.1 per cent are 
elite or high society.

PS: There have been recent strikes of seafarers and dockworkers and 
of Nestles' workers. Can you tell us about them?

EL: Local seafarers were fired and replaced by irregular flag of 
convenience crews. This was the basis of the strike by the seafarers and 
dock workers. It was the first national strike to take place for the past 
53 years.

The Department of Labour and Employment issued an order forbidding the 
striking workers to go on with their strike. Essentially the striking 
workers defied the order and were able to get an agreement with management 
after a two day strike.

Seafarers win jobs back

The management lost about 54 million pesos, so they were forced to make an 
agreement which provided that the sacked workers immediately return to 
work.

Out of the 27 active cargo and passenger ships, 25 were stopped nationwide. 
It was so effective that even the dock workers took part and joined the 
strike.

The other strike is at Nestle. The main reason for the Nestle strike was 
that management does not respect provisions on the retirement of employees 
of Nestle. Most of the workers have been serving the company for over 20 
years and once they are separated from the company they won't have any 
retirement pay.

In spite of an order from the Supreme Court calling for the management to 
sit at the negotiating table and one of the elements of this order was that 
the retirement pay was a valid issue that should be discussed in the 
negotiation, the management won't respect the Supreme Court order. This 
strike has been going on for over a year already.

Boycott Nestle coffee

So we are calling for a national as well as an international boycott of all 
Nestle products and support for the struggle of Nestle workers on the 
picket lines.

We had a great struggle against the Nestle guards on June 23 against the 
goons, the police and a big number of guards of the Nestle plant.

The management summoned the police, the military and especially the Special 
Action Forces. This is the part of the military that are used against 
revolutionary guerilla forces as well as rebel elements. They are now being 
used against unarmed striking workers who are legitimately struggling for 
their demands, like just wages, respect of their trade union rights as well 
as the respect by Nestle for their retirement provisions and their 
collective bargaining agreement.

PS: There is a lot of Nestle coffee sold in Australia. Are you 
calling upon the Australian people to join in this boycott?

EL: Yes, the striking workers of Nestle have a just and legitimate 
demand especially since the Nestle workers in the Philippines are not that 
young and once they are fired from their jobs it wont be very easy for them 
to find another job because of their age.

PS: I understand that a specific clause of the Government's anti-
terrorist legislation is being directed specifically at the trade union 
movement. Could you please comment?

EL: This is the first part of the Anti-Terrorism Bill being 
deliberated upon in Congress. This bill practically prohibits the launching 
of any mass action or concerted action in the Philippines including 
strikes.

Last year President Arroyo made a pronouncement that those workers who are 
striking and who are "terrorising" companies whether local or foreign are 
terrorists.

Terrorism Bill

It follows that this provision would be part of the new Anti-Terrorism 
Bill. Once you are branded or charged as a terrorist one could be jailed 
for your lifetime and you would be penalised up to ten million pesos. If 
you are an accessory in committing a terrorist act you could be jailed for 
half of your life and penalised 5 million pesos.

It looks like a joke but these are really the provisions that are part of 
this Anti-Terrorist Bill now in Congress.

PS: There is an increasing militarisation not only by Arroyo but 
also by the United States. Is there much opposition to this in the 
Philippines?

EL: I would say that there is a lot of opposition. But at the same 
time there are quarters that are also pushing for US troops to stay because 
there are areas where people are really very poor and they need the money 
to go on with their lives.

This is understandable especially if the areas that are depressed and the 
knowledge of the people and their political consciousness is not that high.

Opposition to US troops

But there is a growing opposition to the presence of US troops in the 
Philippines not only among mass organisations but among parliamentarians as 
well.

Lately Howard has dipped his finger into this anti-terrorism fight by 
visiting Mrs Arroyo and pledging Australian money as a contribution to this 
fight against terrorism.

Islamic Liberation Front

But it is the state terrorism of the Arroyo Government that is killing 
people especially in areas where the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) 
and the revolutionary New Peoples Army are operating. Civilians are being 
killed in the desperate attempt of the Arroyo military to flush out 
dissident elements.

PS: What is the attitude of the left towards the Islamic movement, 
the Moro Islamic Liberation Front for example?

EL: The left, particularly the National Democratic Front, consider 
them as a revolutionary force in the Philippines fighting for a free Muslim 
Mindinao.

PS: Do you mean free in terms of establishing their own nation of 
Mindinao or just in terms of being free from the Arroyo Government with 
some sort of autonomy?

EL: It is both. Free as a nation from the clutches of the Arroyo 
Government. This is very clear in the pronouncement of the National 
Democratic Front. Free as a nation and free from the clutches of Mrs 
Arroyo.

PS: What would you say about the strength and the struggles of the 
New People's Army? They have been struggling for many years. Is that 
progressing?

EL: I think the fact that they have been existing for over 30 years 
now is a demonstration that the people are supportive of this army. The 
Filipino people cannot depend on the present Filipino army of Mrs Arroyo's. 
This is very much controlled by the US.

Army officer mutiny

The recent mutiny, or demonstration as we call it, by some junior officers 
of the Filipino military demonstrates the depth of the crisis besetting 
Philippine society. One of the major issues was the corruption in the 
military establishment. But corruption is not only within the military 
establishment but by people at the very heart of the Arroyo regime. This 
shows how big the crisis is in the Philippines.

PS: Was there much support for the officers?

EL: No. Unfortunately I would say there were three parts of the 
officers that launched this demonstration. One is those that are directed 
by the US, one is those that were pawns of the politicians, the other third 
are ones that are well meaning and do have legitimate grievances such as 
those that were pointed out against the Chief of the National Defence who 
they charge with selling weapons to the rebels, the revolutionary forces as 
well as conniving with the kidnappers [of Abu Sayef] in order to earn more 
money. This supports the fact that up to now the military does not want to 
fight the terrorist Abu Sayef.

PS: What about Abu Sayef? Is it a genuine movement or not?

EL: No. They are a creation of the CIA and the US military. They 
were created for the purpose of going against the MILF in the old days. 
Then they turned into bandits and kidnappers and that's why they have a 
close relationship with the hierarchy of the Philippine military. Up to now 
the Philippine military could not defeat them because of their connections 
with the hierarchy of the Philippine military.

PS: Perhaps they don't want to defeat them!

EL: They don't want to defeat them. This is a good source of big 
money for the hierarchy of the Philippine military. So they just play games 
with the Abu Sayef. This is one of the major issues raised by the 
demonstration of the junior officers of the Philippine military.

Solidarity

PS: Finally what do you think the Australian trade union movement 
can do? What do you think our Party can do to assist your struggle in the 
Philippines?

EL: I think we are in the same struggle. We are against US 
imperialism, especially the imposition of the neo-liberal globalisation 
policies of both the governments of the Philippines and Australia and in 
many other parts of the world. It is very important that workers in each 
country struggle on the basis of the specific conditions and the specific 
issues that we are fighting against.

Like in Australia the Howard Government is bent on pushing the US-Australia 
free trade law. I know for a fact that this would be one of the very 
important issues where Australian unions could rally the Australian people 
to fight against this anti-people provision.

The struggle in each country would be its contribution to our struggle 
against the domination of policies of the military, of the WTO and the 
World Bank as well as US imperialism.

So, we really have to fight on different fronts in our own backyards but, 
at the same time, we could form alliances, especially in our region.

There are existing union to union links, bilateral links. We could picket 
the respective Embassies of each country. This was demonstrated when we 
picketed the Australian Embassy in the Philippines during your great MUA 
strike. In the future we could hold similar activities simultaneously and 
in a co-ordinated fashion.

So as we say, the East is red, the East is bright. As long as we are 
inspired by our past victories and even our past downfalls we learn from 
both experiences and this will further strengthen our organisations 
ideologically, politically, and organisationally.

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