The crucifixion of the working class

DIRECT FROM THE LABOR FRONT - Atty Josephus B. Jimenez - The Freeman

This week, the entire Christendom reflects deeply on the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. The Lord's experience, from the Last Supper to the  Seven Last Words, from Gethsemane to Calvary, do present to us many nuggets of insights that can deepen our faith and strengthen our lives, as a community of believers, and as a nation of predominantly Catholic people. There is no doubt that all the sermons, the preaching and the readings this week would instill in us one important message  - that there is a resurrection after every crucifixion  that we experience on earth.

But coming down to the day-to-day struggles of the working class, we wonder how can a poor worker assure himself  of a resurrection from poverty, social injustice, and all forms of challenges in a very, very difficult world. Just imagine the daily crucifixion of a wage earner, getting a gross monthly salary of fifteen thousand pesos, with two children going to school, with a house to pay rental for, with mounting electric and water bills, and with transport costs driven ceaselessly by a never-ending hikes in the cost of gas. The cost of living is beyond the reach of a minimum wage-earner. The poor workers' wages are pegged at minimum levels. The expenses are out of their control.

The monthly gross salary of a minimum wage-earner is subject to many mandatory deductions. First is the indispensable withholding tax scheme. Second is the SSS contribution. Third is the Philhealth premium, and fourth is the PAG-IBIG contribution. Roughly, the total statutory contributions may exceed twenty per cent of the wage-earners' gross compensation. The workers' penitential burden is how to make both ends meet, with the value of his income shrinking, and the amount of his needs increasing without limits. The wage-earner faces a more formidable challenge compared to a non-working family man who receives regularly a cash transfer from DSWD, without the need of working.

The minimum wage-earners carry the heaviest burdens among the different sectors in Philippine society. They are the ones who have no ways to avoid, much less evade taxation. The taipans and the businessmen have many ways at tax avoidance. Their tax lawyers and accountants have the expertise on how to maximize tax deductions and tax exemptions. They can charge many of their expenses to some tax-exempt foundations, which were precisely organized to shield these rich people from taxation. Big-time lawyers and physicians do not issue receipts and the revenue officials will find it difficult to go after them.

When the poor workers go to the malls and supermarkets to buy goods and commodities, they are taxed. When they take public transport, the amount they pay as fares are burdened with taxation, which tax burdens, the transport companies do shift to the consumers. When they eat in restaurants, if they can ever afford eating out, they pay service charges. Every time the poor move around, taxation hounds them like the fire of St Elmo. The politicians, the entrepreneurs, and businessmen always have a way to be exempt. In our country, taxation is regressive. The middle class bears most of the burden. The elite avoids. The non-working social parasites do not pay any tax at all, and yet, they get all social services for free.

And so, on this Black Saturday, we commiserate with our working class. Their Calvary never ends. They experience crucifixion every day. And they cannot even look forward to any resurrection at all. They feel that their God might have already abandoned them. They do thirst for deliverance. And they just want to commend their spirit to the salvation of the Lord. We just hope and pray that their Easter is not very far behind.

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