Renato Reyes, Bagong Alyansa Makabayan

By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

MEMBERS of Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), one of the largest and oldest militant labor groups in the Philippines, marched on major streets in the capital region on Sunday to protest President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s failed promise to end short-term employment contracts.

This was the first time KMU held a pink-themed march on Labor Day, which has been traditionally commemorated with large protests in front of the Philippine presidential palace.

KMU and other labor groups later gathered at an indoor arena near the capital Manila to express their support for the presidential run of Vice- President Maria Leonor “Leni”G. Robredo.

“Duterte promised to end contractualization but nothing happened,” said Jan Robert R. Go, an assistant political science professor at the University of the Philippines (UP), adding that politicians have exploited labor reform promises.

“This is something we should look out for,” he said in a Facebook Messenger chat. “Politicians are still trapped within the donor-centered campaign. They need to ensure they balance their support for labor with their support for large industries and big corporations.”

KMU earlier lauded Ms. Robredo’s commitment to review minimum wages nationwide and end labor contractualization.

“Labor leaders and groups, especially the progressive ones, tend to support or work with candidates who are sympathetic to their cause,” said Arjan P. Aguirre, a political science instructor at the Ateneo De Manila University.

“They know how to spot a candidate who is merely campaigning, and a candidate who is willing to work with them.”

Mr. Go said some politicians have been giving generic promises such as higher wages and livelihood for all without saying how they plan to do these.

“Experience is important in dealing with labor,” he said. “How can a person detached from the realities of the working class consider their welfare?”

Maria Ela L. Atienza, who also teaches political science at UP, said the next government should include concerns about short-term employment, labor rights and welfare, and pandemic recovery in the government’s agenda for workers.

She added that among presidential candidates, only Ms. Robredo and labor leader Leodegario “Ka Leody” de Guzman have laid out clear programs for the labor sector, which has been severely affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Ms. Robredo has vowed to pursue a P192-billion plan to strengthen local industries, generate jobs for Filipinos, and support businesses if elected on May 9.

Her job recovery plan involves strengthening local industries, ending discrimination at work, supporting small businesses and providing safety nets for those who lose their jobs.

Ms. Atienza said Mr. de Guzman, who has a rich experience in labor organizing, and Ms. Robredo are the only candidates who “have a better grasp of workers’ issues and needs.”

She cited Ms. Robredo’s immersion with various sectors before becoming an elected official and poverty alleviation program during her vice-presidency, which allowed her to work with more sectors, including workers.

The pandemic wiped out 1.7 million wage and salary jobs in the 12 months to Jan. 2021, according to a report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

“The pandemic could create long-lasting effects on employment,” ADB said, noting that there would be more jobseekers, including people who lost their jobs, school dropouts and new labor market entrants. “This temporary large shock to the economy might produce a persistently lower employment rate even after the economy has started to grow again.”

Sonny A. Africa, executive director of think tank Ibon Foundation, said Mr. Duterte had “given the least wage hikes” among presidents after the ouster of the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos.

“Without a large wage hike in his twilight weeks, his administration will be the only one in the post-Marcos era which will see the value of the real wage decline — for instance, by nearly 10% in the case of Metro Manila,” he said in a Messenger chat.

Mr. Africa noted that Senator and boxing champ Emmanuel “Manny” D. Pacquiao, another presidential candidate, had consulted with labor groups to improve his labor agenda. “But he’s still developing the ideological framework to put this in a coherent platform.”

The analysts said the late dictator’s son Ferdinand “Bongbong”R. Marcos, Jr. might not inspire confidence in the pandemic-hit sector.

“If he wins, he’s unlikely to consider labor rights, welfare and issues as important,” Ms. Atienza said. “Labor will not be a priority.”

Mr. Marcos’s spokesman, Victor D. Rodriguez, did not immediately reply to a text message seeking comment.

“Marcos, Jr.’s lack of experience and familiarity toward labor might spell trouble to the kind of response and attention that his likely presidency would give to the labor sector,” Mr. Aguirre said.

“In fact, his current labor agenda that promises security of tenure lacks depth and details,” he said. “These promises seem to embody the same messaging and framing that has been used in the past.”

Anthony Lawrence A. Borja, a member of De La Salle University’s Department of Political Science and Development Studies, said the former senator’s lack of on-the-ground experience “would make him less sensitive to the everyday struggles of workers.”

“However, his ties to labor unions might compensate for this if he is capable of listening and responding to the representatives of these unions,” he said.

The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines is backing the candidacy of Mr. Marcos.

Mr. Africa said that Mr. Marcos’ political career is “remarkably devoid of any concern for labor.”

“Only Robredo and de Guzman have taken real efforts to consult organized constituencies for labor and social reforms,” he said. “This is reflected in their platforms which are the only ones that give more than token mention and lip service.”