Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004


@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

Here are the highlights of the people’s struggles in Metro Manila in 2018.

Labor Unrest

The labor sector initiated breakthrough actions in 2018. Taking cue from government pronouncements rejecting contractualization, labor groups stepped up its organizing among contractuals. It led to workers asserting their right to unionize in response to the duplicitous move of capitalists to outsource their responsibility to regularize the workforce in their companies. Instead of recognizing the legitimate demand of their own workers, multibillion enterprises such as PLDT, Jollibee, Slord, and NutriAsia chose to deploy legal and extralegal machinations just to avoid incurring additional expenses for complying with labor regulations.

Hundreds of PLDT employees, some of them had been with the company for several years already, set up camp outside their offices after receiving termination notices. Workers at Jollibee’s commissary and warehouse in Paranaque also established a protest camp demanding their regularization. Meanwhile, workers have successfully maintained a camp outside the factory gate of the Manila-Navotas port area where they highlight the numerous labor violations committed by Slord, the maker of UniPak sardines.

The strike of NutriAsia workers in Bulacan drew popular support from labor groups and other sectors in Metro Manila. In particular, students organized solidarity visits and indignation rallies after the violent dispersal of the strike.

Another major labor action involved the lakbayan and setting up of a protest camp in Mendiola and subsequently at the Liwasang Bonifacio by Sumifru banana workers from the Davao region. This camp also sustained support from various sectors in the capital region.

Labor groups have been consistent in exposing Duterte’s claim that he is advocating the rights of workers or that he is doing something to end contractualization. Failing to appease and convince the labor sector, Duterte turned to red baiting and threatened to attack unions under the banner of the militant Kilusang Mayo Uno.

United Labor

Duterte‘s tirades against labor were clearly meant to obfuscate his failure to fulfill his 2016 election campaign pledges, specifically his commitment to end the practice of endo. He also wanted to preempt consumer dissatisfaction over higher taxes by attacking organized labor, the unemployed (through Oplan Galugad), and Leftist critics.

But his intransigence and arrogance only succeeded in fomenting unity among erstwhile rival labor groups. Setting aside their political differences, the country’s largest labor centers made a united stand against contractualization by marching together during the May 1 Labor Day celebration.

It was an impressive display of labor unity which only became possible because of Duterte’s flip-flopping attitude towards the demand of workers. Duterte’s anti-oligarchy rhetoric was also exposed as populist posturing which is not backed by a concrete program on how to dismantle cartels and other monopoly industries.

Duterte signed an Executive Order prohibiting contractualization but labor groups were quick to point out that it is a redundant and impotent measure. The wage boards also approved a minimal increase for workers but again labor groups condemned this as insulting and inadequate to cope with rising cost of living caused by the regressive TRAIN law.

In 2018, the labor sector demonstrated the importance of solid organizing to assert the rights of workers. It also proved why alliance-building is crucial in directly engaging a government which has no plan to betray its loyalty to big business so that it can empower workers.

United People’s Sona

Inspired by the Labor Day unity march, various people’s organizations worked hard to make this happen again in time for the State of the Nation Address. They succeeded and the result is the historic United People’s Sona where groups from all sides of the political spectrum joined forces and marched as one against the creeping return of authoritarianism amid plans to change the constitution and adopt a federal system of government.

Gloria Arroyo’s election as House Speaker was highlighted that day but what was not given prominent attention was the biggest ever anti-Duterte protest representing a wide array of forces.

The Sona protest gathered groups and individuals who agreed to unite in order to block the rise of another dictatorship. It initially seemed impossible to bridge the gap between rival political blocs but Duterte’s bloody rule and gangster-type of leadership made it necessary for all democracy-loving citizens to link arms with other concerned Filipinos and defend our rights and liberties.

Fearing the repeat of a similar protest, the government concocted a so-called Red October plot to break the ranks of the opposition. This exposed not just Duterte’s paranoia but also the weakness of a government sensing its isolation from broad segments of the population.

Defiant Critics

Duterte’s deterioration into a monstrous icon only made him more rabid against critics. Political discourse is at the lowest with Duterte preferring to badmouth enemies and slander critics instead of pursuing a healthy debate based on a rational exchange of views. Duterte’s tactic is to use his authority to demonize groups and individuals who are perceived to be a threat to his government. He has his ‘usual suspects’ which include the media, church leaders, some members of the opposition, human rights groups, and the organized Left.

But Duterte and his subordinates wrongly assumed that they can silence dissenting voices. Because nstead of being intimidated, critics chose to fight back. The labor sector assembled as one on Labor Day. Women groups banded together and proclaimed #BabaeAko against Duterte’s misogyny. Media refused the sterile comfort of self-censorship to assert free speech. The church is standing its ground against Duterte’s relentless verbal attacks. Lawyers condemned the killings of their colleagues by speaking out against impunity. Despite the filing of trumped up cases against Leftist leaders, activists continue to organize and mobilize in the grassroots versus state terror, corruption in the bureaucracy, and foreign meddling. Even university officials risked courting a Palace reprisal by shooting down the military conspiracy about the alleged plot of communists to spark destabilization in Metro Manila campuses.

Duterte is desperate to project an image of invincibility, a strongman who is feared by many, and a popular leader who is beloved by the poor. All these fentanyl-driven fantasies failed in 2018. The key to disrupting this evil Palace agenda is the stubborn resistance of groups which rejected compromise and cooptation.

The cumulative effect of small and big protests against state persecution is the undermining of Duterte’s appeal and influence. Protests were able to expose ‘Tatay Digong’ as a laughable madman, a leader with no heart for the struggling poor, a power-obsessed maniac intolerant of criticism, a sexist and misogynist, and a sick man addicted to painkillers.

Resistance against ‘Build, Build, Build’

After the unmentionable failure of the anti-drug campaign and the hilarious anti-corruption drive, Duterte is catching at straws for credibility. How can he identify himself as a leader of the masses if his priority legislation meant lower taxes for the rich and higher consumer taxes for the working poor? Perhaps in a bid to offer some visible achievement to the public, Duterte has expedited the unveiling of his Manila-centric infrastructure projects.

But since his so-called ‘build, build, build’ program is anchored on foreign debt meant to serve foreign interests, it is only a matter of time that groups will start to oppose this massive spending program. And who better to lead the opposition than the residents, villagers, and indigenous peoples who are threatened with displacement by these projects?

We heard and saw them in 2018. They articulated the anti-poor and anti-people features of Duterte’s ‘build, build, build’ program.

They organized protests and went around Metro Manila exposing the destruction to be caused by dams in Rizal, an Olympic village in Tarlac, and the continuing expansion of the extractive industry in Lumad areas in Mindanao.

In Manila and Quezon City, residents affected by the NLEX-SLEX connector and PNR ‘modernization’ have launched a movement to stop the eviction of their homes. Fisherfolk and environment groups have reaffirmed their opposition to the approval of new reclamation projects in Manila Bay covering the cities of Pasay and Manila.

These are new and bold initiatives and they are expected to mobilize stronger opposition and inspire residents in other Metro Manila communities to oppose Duterte’s ‘build, build, build’ projects.

Confronting the bully in Malacanang

There was widespread outrage after a video of a student bullying his classmates went viral. Many saw the similarity between the bully student and the shameful behavior of the country’s president. Duterte was called the country’s ‘baddest bully’ for his wild antics, divisive remarks, and policies that led to human rights abuses. But like the student in the viral video, this Palace bully is already being made to account for his actions.

2018 will be remembered as the year when many citizens from all ranks of life stood up to defy Duterte. This citizen-driven movement is gaining momentum across the country and is expected to deliver more powerful blows against the bully-in-chief and tyrant in Malacanang.

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