EDSA 1: What really failed?

First published in Blogwatch.ph

There should be no debate on whether the EDSA 1 uprisingsucceeded or failed. Obviously enough, it succeeded insofar as bringing millions of Filipinos into one defining moment and toppling the Marcos dictatorship. The more significant question that must be asked is whether post-EDSA regimes succeeded or failed in living up to the hopes of the throngs who trooped to the streets in 1986.

By looking at the current predicamentof overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the Middle East, one gets a simple answer: post-EDSA regimes miserably failed.

The irony of the EDSA 1 celebrations stares us point-blank: Are we really free when we are forced to serve foreign masters just to earn a living? Are we really free when we have no option but to work at the remotest desert just to support our families? Are we really better off when more and more Filipinos are desperately leaving the country each day?

What kind of nation-building do we have when we Filipinos, the building blocks of the economy, are aggressively peddled by all post-EDSA administrations? Not surprisingly, we have a jobless economic growth as consequence. The government merely ships labor out of the country in exchange for overseas remittances, skirting its constitutional responsibility to create decent jobs locally.

It is not EDSA 1 which is the Filipinos’ offering to the world, as what the celebration’s official song “Handog ng Pilipino sa Mundo” suggests. Narrow nationalism should not blind us to miss similar people’s uprisings which recently unfolded in Tunisia and Egypt and which continue to flare up in Libya and other Middle East countries.

Rather, we are actually the sacrificial lambs to the market demands of the world. And this shouldn’t be surprising, considering the fact that all post-EDSA regimes, including the current Aquino administration, all subscribed to the Marcos dictatorship’s Labor Export Program (LEP). And so while throwing diatribes against the dictatorship, all presidents after Marcos retained the labor export policy at the core of their administrations.

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Before EDSA 1 was the 1975 La Tondeña strike

Before the historic EDSA 1 uprising took form in 1986, there were already democratic protests which resembled People Power even a decade earlier.  One of these crucial pre-EDSA 1 demonstrations of solidarity is the La Tondeña strike of 1975, which significantly broke the deafening silence of the metro under the dictatorship.

Defying the protest ban during the Marcos dictatorship, around 800 workers of then Palanca-owned La Tondeña distillery in Tondo, Manila launched a paralyzing strike on Oct. 24, 1975 as they called for an end to contractualization. In particular, they demanded the regularization of contractual workers, as well as the reinstatement  and regularization of all fired contractual workers. Amid the overwhelming presence of the military and goons, the workers stood their ground for at least 44 hours to assert their demands.

The workers deplored in their strike manifesto how they were being hired for eight weeks, only to be terminated from their jobs and rehired again as contractuals.  They also decried the inaction of the Department of Labor (DOL) over their case.

(to see the full manifesto, click here)

May 30 beses kaming nagpupunta-punta sa NLRC [National Labor Relations Commission] at daan-daan sa amin, kahit mga buntis, ay naglalakad buhat sa Velasquez hanggang Intramuros dahil sa kawalan ng pera,” the La Tondeña workers said in their manifesto.

In the course of the three-day strike, nuns, priests and seminarians stood guard and held a vigil, supplying food for workers and distributing manifestos to passers-by.  Student leader Edgar Jopson, former president of the National Union of Students of the Philippines, also supported the workers’ strike.

Such demonstration of courage and solidarity inspired other workers in other factories to launch protest actions. Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) chairperson Elmer Labog said that the work stoppage in La Tondeña opened the floodgates for similar protest actions that covered not just individual factories but entire zones. The strikes during that time, according to him, numbered about 700 and crippled the dictatorship.

Hundreds were arrested in La Tondeña alone. Their strike proved to be successful nevertheless as the management gave in to some of their demands, including the regularization of around 300 workers. On a larger context, the strike tore down Marcos’ autocratic ban on protest actions and signaled the outburst of more daring protests, culminating in general strikes up to the People Power uprising in 1986.

As they proclaimed in their October 28, 1975 manifesto:

“Subalit hindi nagtatapos dito ang aming pakikipaglaban. Ang mga problema naming manggagawa ay higit na mas marami pa kaysa problema lang ng pagiging regular. Ang totoo’y nagsisimula pa lang kaming lumaban.”

Nursing nightmare

First published on Blogwatch.ph

Signboards of nursing schools and review centers across the metro tell the same tale: enroll in a nursing school, pass the licensure examination, and you’re off to a high-paying work abroad.

Behind this induced fantasy, jobless Filipino nurses continue to swell year-on-year while those less unfortunate find work not in hospitals but somewhere else.

The Philippine Nurses Association (PNA) reported that there are around 200,000 licensed nurses who are jobless as of last year. This represents 7 percent of the total 2.86 million unemployed in 2010. Alarmingly, this also reflects 75 percent of the 261,247 licensed nurses produced by the country from 2005 to 2009.

Last Saturday, the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) announced that 29,711 new nurses will join the labor force as it released the results of the December 2010 Nurse Licensure Examinations. This is lower compared to the 37,679 examinees who passed the July licensure examinations last year.

Combining the July and December 2010 figures, the country produced 67,390 new licensed nursing graduates in five months alone. Expectedly, this surge of new licensed nurses will increase the ranks of the unemployed.

On an average, 10,000 Filipino nurses leave the country every year. But due to the economic slump and stricter migration rules in some countries, overseas deployment of nurses has dropped.

Shortage amid oversupply

Undeniably, we have an oversupply of nurses in the country. Despite this, nursing schools of fancy names continue to mushroom, nursing false hopes about the career. From about 170 in 2003, the number of nursing schools leaped to 472 in 2010 according to the Philippine Nurses Association (PNA). And yet the passing rate in the nursing licensure examinations since 2003 has remained below 50 percent.

The situation doesn’t become less worrisome with the Aquino administration’s hefty cuts for public hospitals and indigents in the 2011 national budget, further limiting local opportunities for nursing graduates.

The government approved only P30 billion for health services, or only a third of P90 billion that is realistically required for the public health sector.

Quite alarmingly, the plantilla positions for nurses have remained the same despite the increase in the population and the oversupply of nurses in the country. Not surprisingly, our healthcare system is in a state of decay through the years.

Last year, 200 hospitals shut down while another 800 became partially operational due to the lack of nurses and doctors. Worse, most of these hospitals are concentrated in the remote countryside where health care is sorely needed.

But why then is local employment unattractive for nursing graduates? Some would say nursing graduates are too picky. Why wouldn’t they when they are taught to “invest” in their career, shelling out thousands for four years, paying exorbitant fees, and yet nursing jobs at home would render them worse than a minimum wage earner? Continue reading

Widowed by the Eton accident

First published in Blogwatch

Young sweethearts Lorraine and Benbon Cristobal were thinking of having a second child four years after the birth of their first. They dreamed of building a bigger family, optimistic that they would be able to survive despite meager wages and rising prices.

But last January 27, their dreams were cut when the cable of the gondola carrying Benbon and 10 others at the Eton Residences construction site in Makati Citysnapped. Benbon and nine other construction workers died in thedeadly plunge from the condominium’s 28th floor. The other one miraculously survived, though with broken shoulders and pelvis.

Eton Residences is a condominium project by Eton Properties Philippines, Inc., the real estate arm of the Lucio Tan Group of Companies. Ironically, the condo tower is described in the company’s website as a “luxury oasis in the heart of Makati.”

Lorraine shared how her husband’s death affected their son. “After the accident, our son often mutters ‘Tatalon ako sa gondola, tatalon ako sa gondola’ (I will jump from the gondola, I will jump from the gondola,” she said. “Perhaps he absorbed the news.”

In a snap, ten families were broken in what appears to be company violations of occupational health and safety standards in favor of higher profits. And apparently, the government would not know the violations had it not been for the tragic news.

The labor department’s Department Order No. 13-2008, or the occupational health and safety guidelines in the construction industry, requires construction projects to have safety personnel.

The lone survivor, however, said there were no safety personnel in the construction site ensuring the normal load of the gondola, which can carry only two to three persons.

Another worker in the same project admitted that it has been normal for them to ride the gondola as a group since the company does not care about it. “We are often joking that the gondola will plunge every time we are riding it.”

“Before the gondola plunged, they were all cheerfully singing,” the worker who requested anonymity said.

It was also learned that the gondolas being used in the Eton Residences construction site have no permits.

‘2nd most hazardous’

The Institute for Occupational Health and Safety for Development (IOHSAD) noted that construction is the second most hazardous sector. In 2009, the group recorded 26 deaths and 116 injuries in the sector, while 84 deaths were counted in the mining sector.

The government recorded in 2010 around 2 million workers in the male-dominated construction industry, or 5 percent of the total 36 million employed. Continue reading

US plays with fire in Egypt, Aquino blinks (Part 2)

First published on thepoc.net

| Continued from Part 1 |

On the break of dawn on February 25, 1986, a United States senator and confidante of former US President Ronald Reagan phoned former dictator Ferdinand Marcos and asked him to “cut and cut cleanly.” Hours later, Marcos left the Palace amid the people’s uprising. The four-day People Power ended successfully.

A quarter century later, another US-backed dictator, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, is facing an outpouring of people’s anger. Yet recent developments indicate that it would not be a “cut and cut cleanly” story. The revolution wouldn’t be peaceful either.

On the tenth day of protests since January 25, violence escalated as Mubarak thugs attacked peaceful anti-Mubarak protesters gathered in Tahrir Square and other centers of protest in Egypt.

Several tweets on Egypt mentioned of “heavy gunfire” around Tahrir. The Denver Post reported “sustained bursts of automatic weapons fire and powerful single shots rattled into the square starting at around 4 a.m. and continued for more than two hours.” Dozens of journalists were also beaten and arrested.

Youtube video even showed a police car ramming through a stream of marching protesters as bodies tumbled away.

Around Tahrir Square, some of Mubarak’s thugs riding on camels with Arab-looking headscarfs stormed the anti-Mubarak assembly and whipped protesters. Why would the dictator use camel-riding thugs? Washington’s blogexplained that it was a attempt to make it appear that the violence in Egypt is all about “dusky Arabs fighting other dusky Arabs,” noting that camel is a uniquely Arab symbol.

Mubarak clearly wants to render the widespread protests against him bloody and ugly. He wants to make it appear that there is a clash between “pro-Mubarak and anti-Mubarak protesters” even if his thugs were the ones wielding terror and violence. Not surprisingly, the Western media, is biting the pharaoh’s bait. TIME magazineand The Guardian both described the revolution as “turning ugly.”

In an ironic twist, Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman appeared yesterday on television and promised to penalize those behind the violence. He also mouthed a menu of liberal democratic processes – from constitutional amendment to elections – in a vain attempt to appease the people’s wrath. Clearly, Suleiman, just like Mubarak, is playing blind and deaf to the revolution.

And so is President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, who ironically benefitted from the symbolisms and associations of a similar uprising 25 years ago which catapulted her mother to the presidency. As the title of a Bulatlat article says it, Aquino is the “Son of People Power and Nothing to Show for It – Not Even Solidarity with Egyptian People.” At any rate, it would be interesting how will Aquino address the 25th anniversary of the 1986 EDSA uprising this month.

In the meantime, the Mubarak regime, in complicity with the US, wants to play fire with the revolt. It is bent on whittling down the protests by using the standard formula of promising reforms and waging state terror. It appears that it wants to exhaust the protests until the September elections at the most. After all, Mubarak wouldn’t care if the Egyptian people and the world hate him at point. He is more focused on containing the revolt in the name of US imperialism’s interest. But can he? The fire keeps burning brighter at the moment, and there is no indication that it will die down in the coming days. Continue reading

Lessons from Egypt and Edsa

First published on thepoc.net

While Egypt and the Philippines have no defined diplomatic or historical connections, one may be surprised that the United States ally in the Middle East, now entrenched in mass uprisings, may learn a lesson or two from the Pinoy experience of EDSA “revolutions.”

In fact, the lesson which Egypt can draw can shed light on its future beyond the Mubarak regime.

For the first time in three decades, a huge anti-government protest broke out on the streets of Egypt on January 25. The protests were preceded only by a Facebook and Twitter campaign calling for protests on the said date against torture, corruption, poverty and unemployment. A New York Times contributor called it a “Date with a Revolution.”

Coincidentally, January 25 is also the birthday of late former president and democracy icon Corazon Aquino. But Cory Aquino, neither her memory nor the uprising in which she figured, has nothing to do with the protests hundreds of miles away.

Egypt’s protests were clearly inspired by what happened in Tunisia, wherein massive protests successfully toppled the dictatorship of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and sent shockwaves to Arab nations. Yet it must also be pointed out that the political, social and economic conditions necessary for a revolt were already ripe in Egypt: high food prices, widespread joblessness and brutal repression.

As Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak clings to power despite widespread calls for him to step down, the political situation in the Middle East country becomes even more combustible. Continue reading