Forging the future of the country

FROM A DISTANCE - Carmen N. Pedrosa - The Philippine Star

There is a saying that it is always darkest before dawn. That is true with what is happening to the Philippines today. It was darkest with the brutal killing of 44 SAF in Mamasapano. But it also promises a bright morning with more Filipinos becoming politically aware. They now know that they have to be involved. They cannot leave the work of building a good and stable country to a few.

With the breaking of the dawn comes a happy statement from former senator and labor leader Ernesto Herrera, president of the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines. The TUCP is the largest labor group in the Philippines.

“The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines and its affiliated groups stand fully behind Bayanko in its crusade for constitutional reform towards a parliamentary federal form of government to include the marginalized sectors of society especially the workers and the youth in the decision-making process and nation-building.

We urge President Benigno Aquino III and Congress to heed our request for changes. Only by working together towards a common goal can we bring unity and progress to our country,” Herrera said.

This brief statement which I have been asked by former Senator Herrera to make public in my column sums up discussions between Bayanko as a non-partisan, crowdsourcing movement and the labor movement of the Philippines in their common desire for good government that will address the political and economic problems of the country.

A recent analysis of the Philippine economy said “the merits of the invisible hand of the market – first asserted more than two centuries ago by Adam Smith, the father of modern economics, in his classic tome “The Wealth of Nations”– must be balanced by the virtues of good governance.”

Herrera was especially concerned about the growing poverty.

“Labor unionism is not just about bargaining and wages. It is also concerned with training skills and creating jobs,” Herrera added.

At the recently concluded 23rd World Economic Forum on East Asia it was stressed that, “a major key to inclusive development is higher agricultural productivity. Two-thirds of poor Filipinos reside in rural areas and depend predominantly on agricultural employment and incomes (Diagnosing the Philippine Economy).

According to a report by the National Economic and Development Authority poverty has worsened in the country during the first half of 2014. Galloping food prices and a series of typhoons were partly to blame for the rise of poverty to 25.8 percent or 1.2 percent year on year. But unfavorable economic policies to labor in the political and economic system are equally to blame.

 Although we hear plenty of news about “the fastest growing economy of the Philippines, we hear little, if at all, from mainstream media of the growing poverty of Filipinos which is described as also among the highest in the region.”

This growing poverty moves alongside reports of grand corruption in all sections of government that keeps power and wealth in the hands of a few. Labor and marginal sectors have been severely affected by the political structure embedded in the presidential system in which only the wealthy and dynasts can win in elections. Consequently, the marginalized have been shut out from government.  Add to that the Smartmatic-PCOS, the automated electoral system that have made winning elections a commodity to buy and sell.

The trouble begins with a weak labor movement with no power in the making of economic policies of government. It is lopsided political structure that will continue to hurt the poor and as statistics have shown, also a diminishing middle class.

Bayanko, as a crowdsourcing movement has focused on this development. It has received comments and proposals seeking greater participation in government from the most affected sectors of Filipinos – the marginalized – farmers, women, the informal sector, especially labor and youth. The government agency deems a person living off $1.33 or less per day as poor in the Philippines.

Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said the average income of Filipinos rose by 6.4 percent in the first six months of 2014, but noted that “the very high prices of food wiped out the gains in per capita income.”

Balisacan said the best example of the poor’s hardship is the price of rice. Twenty percent of the budget of low-income families, also rose “11.9 percent due to lean harvests and less imports.”

Up to late last night, the TUCP were in discussions on how best to address labor problems especially with low wages unable to meet costs of basic need of their members. But the issue of growing unemployment was equally worrying. 

The upshot of the discussions was how to secure greater participation for workers in the making of government policies. Since money and showbiz popularity are what elect government officials in the presidential system, the marginalized sectors have been shut out of government. The rich and family dynasties appropriate government and its resources for themselves.

In a telephone interview with Herrera he said that the labor group would appoint select leaders of federations for the working partnership with Bayanko.

With a stronger trade union movement, the TUCP hopes to be able to secure better conditions for workers. It is not difficult to envision a labor party growing out of a strengthened trade union movement.

This happened in the UK. The Labor Party was formed out of a trade union movement in the late 19th century. With its numbers, it overwhelmed the Liberal Party as the main opposition to the Conservatives in the early 1920s. It later evolved from a working class movement to include the professionals and the middle class. Although it advocated national planning it did not favor worker control of industry. Labor and business were able to work out their differences peacefully. Business groups are also expected to work with Bayanko.

“ With business and labor working with Bayanko’s objective for a new constitution, TUCP seeks more humanistic values as points for cooperation and coordination for a strong and unified country. This, I believe is the step forward despite present difficulties. There will be no future for the country unless this cooperation for a new system of politics and government is forged between the different sectors of business and labor,“ Herrera said.

Filipinos must be educated to believe in themselves — they can overcome the country’s problems if they get together. The TUCP and its federations pledge their partnership to the cause of a new Constitution for a new country. The members of the Ex-Comm will be announced soon both in the social and mainstream media.












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