Friday, December 26, 2014

Subsidy is a good social policy; corruption and fraud are privileges of the rich and powerful

News Release
December 26, 2014

The labor group Partido Manggagawa (PM) supported the view of Senator Allan Peter Cayetano that unless trillions of pesos of lost revenue due to smuggling, tax evasion and official corruption is plugged, the removal of MRT/LRT subsidy is painfully and socially unjust. 
“Subsidy is a good social policy.  It is a right, an entitlement of poor people while corruption and fraud are privileges enjoyed by the rich and powerful.  By removing the subsidy, the government is renouncing  a good policy,” said PM spokesman Wilson Fortaleza.
Quoting the World Bank, Cayetano said in every P1 collected by the government, P2 remain uncollected. This is estimated to be between P2 to P4 trillion of lost revenue or bigger than the recently approved budget of P2.6 trillion.
The Senator said he will take up this issue next year amid the plan by the government to remove government subsidy to the metro rail system. The plan will double the MRT and LRT fares beginning January 4. 
The labor coalition Nagkaisa in which PM is a member will be meeting next week to draw up plans against the impending fare hike.
Fortaleza said removing the P7-P10 billion annual train subsidy to free up money for other social services is a fallacious argument, saying the poor, who are entitled to government subsidy in varying degrees, should not, by class or geographical locations, be pitted against each other.
“This is comparable to the fact that businesses across all industries also enjoy billions of pesos of subsidy in the forms of tax holidays, financial assistance, free repatriation as well as import and export privileges.  For instance the power industry, the most lucrative business in the country today, received a total of P5.2 billion of subsidy in 2012, according to the 2012 Census of Philippine Business and Industry,” said Fortaleza.
Fortaleza reiterated his group’s position that it is more productive to provide annual subsidy to the estimated 500 million rides of blue collar workers and students who utilize the trains regularly than the luxurious lifestyles of 500 public officials.
Revenue and job loss
The labor group likewise bewailed the huge revenue losses coming from tax evasion and smuggling, saying the failure to address this age-old problem created a ‘pass-on’ culture in public policy. 
“This is the reason why the burden shifted heavily to indirect taxes like VAT and taxes withheld from wage earners.  At the same time smuggling creates abundance of cheap imported goods at the detriment of local producers.  And now the removal of subsidies,” lamented Fortaleza.

Fortaleza added that smuggled goods have no local labor component, which is both a revenue and job loss to Filipinos. ###

Monday, December 22, 2014

MRT/LRT fare hike adds violence to crumbling mass transport system

22 December 2014
Increasing the fares in the metro railway system more than half from current rates is totally unjust and the most insensitive year-ender policy declaration by the Aquino administration, the labor group Partido Manggagawa (PM) said in a statement.
“Most of train riders are ordinary workers who pay P15 or P20 for every violent ride in our present railway system. A fare increase will add more to this violence,” said PM spokesman Wilson Fortaleza.
Fortaleza explained that a fare increase, particularly in MRT3, would neither mean comfort nor improvement in services as more than 70% of its finances goes to equity rental to MRTC, its original private concessionaire.
As per announcement made by the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), the fare matrix in the three systems shall be adjusted beginning January 4, 2015.  These will include 87% hike (from P15-P28) for MRT 3; 67% (from P15-P24) for LRT 2; and 50% (from P29-P30) for LRT 1.
PM together with other groups under the labor coalition Nagkaisa will be planning mass actions to oppose the scheduled fare hikes.
Fortaleza said based on a previous study[1], 67.7% of regular train commuters earned monthly income of less than P10,000 or less than the minimum wage; some 15% are without income (probably students); while only 1.4% are with income of P30,000.
PM is opposing the impending fare hike based on the following grounds:
§  The fare hike is due to the removal of subsidy and not for the comfort of the riding public.
§  It is a huge burden to commuters, most of whom are ordinary workers who receive starvation wages.
§  The increase is for rental payments to an onerous original contract and an incentive to prospective private concessionaires under the public-private partnership or PPP program.
§  That less subsidy means funds for other services is a pale, fallacious argument.
The group argued that in  most countries worldwide the railway system, which is the most efficient mass transport system, is heavily subsidized.
In its position paper submitted to the DOTC during its previous consultations, PM believes that subsidy is not a bad thing if it is in pursuit of social objective.  The government should even invest more money to save and develop the country’s crumbling mass transport system.
“To us, subsidizing at least 500 million rides of workers a year is more productive than subsidizing the comfortable travel of 500 VIPs in government,” said Fortaleza, adding that all taxpayers pay for at least P8-billion a year of travel subsidy for our public officials.
The group, which opposes the privatization of the railway system, likewise believe that the fare adjustments were meant as a major  incentive for private players who demand highly competitive pricing to be  in place before they actually enter a PPP project.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

DFA request for Pemberton custody is pabalat-bunga, lacks weight of a sovereign state

Press Release
December 18, 2014

The Partido Manggagawa (PM) viewed the effort of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to request custody of Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton, prime suspect in the killing of transgender woman Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude, as insincere or “pabalat-bunga” since pleading for it through a ceremonial letter lacks the weight of a sovereign state.

“The DFA was basically pleading to get back the sovereignty we lost under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). And the most stupid thing is to do it now is through a formal request,” said PM spokesman Wilson Fortaleza.

In the first place, Fortaleza argued, the DFA was not expecting US approval of its request because prior to commission of any crime by American soldiers, the government has already agreed to the provision that gave US the right to retain custody of its personnel involved in crimes in Philippine soil. 

According to PM, the request was rather intended to pacify growing criticisms over a kind of foreign policy blunder that borders on outright surrender if not patent subservience to a colonial master. 

Until said provision is deleted from the VFA, including other devious provisions in favor of US interest, Filipinos cannot expect justice for the likes of Jennifer, and would-be victims of American soldiers in Philippine soil. 

PM added that the Philippines can effectively get hold of Pemberton only if it acts like a free nation and its foreign policy presided not by a certified Amboy. PM, together with other militant groups, is calling for the scrapping of the VFA and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the Philippines and the United States.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Group asks UN Special Rapporteur to query Negros labor activist killings

Press Release
December 10, 2014
On the occasion of International Human Rights Day, the Partido Manggagawa asked UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders Michel Forst to inquire on the killings of labor activists in Negros Occidental. “The culture of impunity and extra-judicial killings of labor activists persists under the administration of Benigno Aquino III. In the last two years, two farm worker leaders have been killed while another survived an assassination attempt, all in Negros where agrarian and labor disputes simmer,” stated Renato Magtubo, PM national chair.

Forst is in the Philippines and has expressed interest in requesting the government for an official visit and investigation after meeting with human rights groups over the past several days. Two predecessors of Forst were unable to obtain invitations from the government to inquire into reports of attacks against human rights defenders in the country.

The spate of killings against worker and land rights defenders in Negros happened amidst agrarian and labor disputes between farm workers and sugar planters. Last November 29, Rolando Pango, a PM member, labor leader in Binalbagan town and an organizer in neighboring Isabela town died after being shot in the head by two men. Pango had previously received death threats while he was assisting workers of Hacienda Salud in Isabela town in processing for coverage under land reform and in filing illegal dismissal charges against landlord Manuel “Manolet” Lamata. Lamata heads the powerful Negros sugar planters association.

PM also called on the Department of Labor and Employment, the National Tripartite Industrial Peace Council and the Department of Justice to take cognizance of Pango’s case as they have a mandate to act on labor-related extra-judicial killings.

Since 2011, the labor coalition Nagkaisa!, of which PM is an affiliate, has been engaged in dialogue with the Aquino administration on key labor issues, including some 62 unsolved cases of labor-related extra-judicial killings.

Magtubo added that in December 29, 2012, Victoriano Embang, president of the Maria Cecilia Farm Workers Association (MACFAWA) in Moises Padilla town, was killed amidst another agrarian and labor dispute with the influential Montillano clan. His brother, Anterio, also a leader of MACFAWA, later survived an ambush in February 28, 2013.

Still PM insisted that the most widespread infringement of human rights in the labor front is the violation of workers’ right to freedom of association and collective bargaining.

“The onslaught of state-sanctioned contractualization schemes have effectively disarmed workers of their ability to defend themselves, through their unions, against many forms of abuse and exploitation” concluded Magtubo.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Extra-judicial killings, other human rights violations persist under ‘tuwid na daan’ – Nagkaisa!

09 December 2014

A culture of impunity translated into extra-judicial killings (EJK) and other forms of human rights violations against leaders and labor organizers continue under the ‘tuwid na daan’, a coalition of major trade unions and labor organizations in the country, Nagkaisa!, said in a statement on the eve of the celebration of International Human Rights Day.

Since 2011, Nagkaisa! is engaged in dialogues with the Aquino administration on several labor issues, including some 62 unsolved cases of EJKs involving labor.

Nagkaisa! said the most recent in the cases of unsolved EJKs was the  murder of a labor organizer in Negros Occidental.  Rolando Pango, a full time organizer of Partido Manggagawa (PM) was gunned down in Binalbagan town in Negros Occidental on Novermber 29, 2014.

“Prior to his death, Pango was deeply involved in both the agrarian and labor disputes in Hacienda Salud, a 135-hectare sugar plantation in Barangay Rumirang, Isabela leased and managed by Manuel Lamata,”said PM Chair Renato Magtubo.

Aside from EJKs, Nagkaisa! is also alarmed at the resurgence of other forms of human rights violations. 
Last October,  Antonio Cuizon, president of the Panaghiusa sa Mamumuo sa Carmen Copper, was arrested on trumped up charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives.  The union and the management were then in the thick of labor dispute when the case was filed against Quizon.

 Pango was instrumental in organizing the plantation workers in Hacienda Salud who in June applied the land under CARPER coverage.  Salud workers has also filed of a case of illegal dismissal before the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) against Lamata for unlawful termination 41 workers.

PM and Nagkaisa is calling on both the national and local governments to render immediate justice to this case. 

Josua Mata, Secretary General of Alliance of Progressive Labor–Sentro, said Nagkaisa will be raising this issue before the Tripartite Industrial Council (TIPC) and the DOJ panel investigating the EJKs.

“Like Ruby, solving cases of EJKs in the country is a slow-grind,” said Mata.

Before Pango, another PM organizer, Victoriano Embang, leader of Maria Cecilia Farm Workers Association (MACFAWA) in Moises Padilla, Negros Occidental was also killed on December 29, 2012.  A failed assassination attempt against his brother, Anterio Embang, followed  few months later, February 28, 2013.
A Negrense himself, Magtubo said Negros remains a ‘labor hotspot’ because of strong resistance by landlords to agrarian reform and their outmoded serf-type treatment of their laborers. 

“Perhaps this regional feudal context has escaped the eyes of the labor department and the national government.  Or they simply don’t care” added Magtubo.

But the most widespread of human rights violations, Nagkaisa! said, is the violation of labor’s right to freedom of association and collective bargaining.

“The onslaught of state-sanctioned contractualization schemes have effectively disarmed workers of their ability to defend themselves, through their unions, against many forms of abuse and exploitation” concluded Magtubo.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Group condemns killing of labor leader in Negros

Press Release
December 3, 2014

A week to go before the observance of international human rights day, the Partido Manggagawa (PM) condemned the assassination of a labor leader and organizer in Negros Occidental last November 29.

“The culture of impunity thrives in our country and the extra-judicial killings of labor activists continue unabated. We ask the state—the provincial government of Negros Occidental and the national agencies Department of Justice and the Commission on Human Rights—to act with dispatch on the case and make a thorough investigation,” asserted Wilson Fortaleza, PM spokesperson.

Rolando Pango, a farm worker leader in his hometown of Binalbagan and an organizer in the neighboring town of Isabela, was shot dead in the head by two men late in the evening of November 29. Pango on his way home after meeting farm workers who were to attend the Bonifacio Day rally when the motorcycle he was riding was blocked by a black sedan and another motorcycle in the crossing of Hacienda Garrason in Binalbagan.

“For the commemoration of human rights day, we want action not words, reform not speeches from the Aquino administration. The mastermind and perpetrators of the murder of Pango and other labor activists must be brought to justice,” insisted Renato Magtubo, PM chair and a Negrense from Bacolod. A 300-strong workers assembly in Bacolod resolved a day after Pango’s death to seek justice and campaign for a resolution to the killing.

PM believes that Pango’s killing arose from a labor and agrarian dispute that he was engaged in. Pango had received a death threat from an ex-NPA rebel with an alias “Mike” who now serves an armed bodyguard of Manuel “Manolet” Lamata, a landlord who had leased and manages Hacienda Salud, a 135-hectare sugar plantation in Barangay Rumirang, Isabela.

Magtubo called on the Department of Labor and Employment and the National Tripartite Industrial Peace Council to table the case of Pango.

Pango was assisting farm workers in seeking coverage of Hacienda Salud under land reform and also in illegal dismissal cases against Lamata. Since last year, the farm workers had endured successive violent harassment and bribery attempts at the hands of Lamata, who heads the powerful Negros sugar planters group, as the agrarian and labor disputes festered.

Pango’s murder follows the assassination of another farm worker leader in Isabela in December 2012. Victoriano Embang, head of the sugar workers association of Hacienda Maria Cecilia, was ambushed by two men riding in tandem in a motorcycle. Embang’s workers association was also embroiled in agrarian and labor disputes with their capitalist landlord, the Montillanos.