No endorsement of Marcos in 2016, Matula-led Federation of Free Workers says

No endorsement of Marcos in 2016, Matula-led Federation of Free Workers says
File photo of Federation of Free Workers president Sonny Matula
Sonny Matula / Release

MANILA, Philippines (Update 2, 01:16 p.m., October 23) — Labor lawyer Sonny Matula is joining Vice President Leni Robredo’s senatorial slate for the coming polls five years after he reportedly endorsed Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. in the 2016 polls.

Matula is the 12th person on the slate of Robredo, whom he believes represents the hope for the change the country needs.

"Our democratic space is being constricted, trade union and human rights are under attack, the pandemic responses are inadequate and corroded by corruption. We need change and remedy the present situation," he told Philstar.com  in a message.

FFW: No endorsement made

In a message to Philstar.com, the Federation of Free Workers said that it "never issued such statement" endorsing Marcos, saying also that the senator was invited to an election forum and not a political rally in support of any candidate. 

"We gave Marcos the courtesy of a guest and as an elected senator of the republic. The same courtesy we extended to the other candidates who attended our 2016 election forum," the workers' group said.

Matula, on Friday, said that FFW did not have a united stand on who to support.

"There were a number of FFW members who supported Bongbong and there were substantial local union leaders and members who supported Leni. With other candidates, Marcos Jr. attended our electoral forum," he said, adding that Robredo was also invited to the same forum but was not able to attend due to a conflict in schedule.

During this electoral forum, Matula said, one of the topics discussed was the security of tenure.

In a May 1, 2016 press release by the Marcos campaign, Matula was quoted as saying of the then candidate for vice president:"Unang una, ipinaglalaban niya ang seguridad sa trabaho ng mga manggagawa sa Pilipinas (First of all, he fights for the security in tenure of workers in the Philippines)."

In its release, the Marcos campaign said the senator had received the endorsement of FFW and the Philippine Trade Group Workers Organization.

"In a separate gathering at the Lyceum of the Philippines in Manila, leaders of the Federation of Free Workers Philippines, which boasts of over 200 thousand members, also endorsed the candidacy of Marcos to representatives of their member organizations," the Marcos campaign said in its release.

In an online exchange, FFW vice president Julius Cainglet stressed that the "press statement was issued by the Marcos camp, not by the FFW." He added that "Matula and FFW did not endorse Mr. Bong Bong Marcos Jr."

He said the FFW endorsed Vice President Jejomar Binay and that labor lawyer Allan Montaño, president emeritus of the labor coalition, ran under the Binay-led United Nationalist Alliance. There were no other endorsements by the FFW, Cainglet said. 

Marcos lost to Robredo in the 2016 vice presidential polls. The two found themselves facing each other again in the presidential race for 2022.

Robredo cites track record in labor movement

Robredo, de facto opposition leader, introduced Matula as the 12th senatorial candidate on her slate on Friday. In a video, she praised his track record as a labor lawyer who stood up to big corporations and defended the rights of Filipino workers.

File photo of Sonny Matula, president of the Federation of Free Workers
Sonny Matula/Released

FFW is also now part of the Alliance of Labor Leaders for Leni (ALL4Leni).

For the 2019 polls, the historic Labor Win coalition fielded five candidates in a bid to win a seat at the Senate.

FFW's Matula and Allan Montaño, Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino chairman Leody de Guzman, ex-Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares and National Confederation of Labor president Ernesto Arellano however, all sat far outside the winner's circle, which was dominated by administration-backed candidates.

Matula placed 50th of 62 candidates and garnered only 400,339 votes.

For the 2022 elections, where stakes are high as the country recovers from the debilitating COVID-19 pandemic and in light of grave human rights violations, Matula chose to back Robredo.

"Workers and farmers can identify with Robredo because she immersed herself with them when she was still a practicing lawyer. [I] am honored and humbled to be part of her team," he added.  — with reports from Xave Gregorio

[Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect the position of the Federation of Free Workers that neither they nor Matula endorsed Marcos when he was a candidate for vice president in 2016.]

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