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Heaven for plutocrats, hell for proles

July 14, 2019


From time immemorial, Philippine society has been structured like the fictional Oceania. After the economic elite (whose list ends after two minutes of finger-counting) and a thin middle class, the third tier in that structure is made up of the proles, the workers, at the massive bottom. Like the arrangement in Oceania, the proles do all the hard physical work. In our own particular context, the workers have their rural brothers, the farmers who do the backbreaking work to produce food. The proletariat and the agrarian workers are of one and the same class, united by hard toil; only the work setting differs.

One who bags groceries at the supermarkets whole day long at starvation wages cannot be much different from one who plows the fields to produce food only to suffer from grave malnutrition.

Like the proles in the fictional Oceania, the Filipino worker is mostly left to his own devices. He has the liberty to drink to death, get hooked on shabu and other deadly vices and essentially waste his inconsequential life, with the State as an uninterested spectator. The proles are considered a passive element of society.

The worker only gets into the attention of the State, very much like Oceania, when that passivity ceases and that worker starts to assert his right to join organized unions and engage in protest actions.

Filipino proles, in their state of passivity and indifference, are probably unaware of the 2019 Global Rights Index from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), which, sadly, is about the state of Filipino workers.

The sum of this report was this — the Philippines is one of the 10 worst countries for workers.

While the Filipino workers have certain rights under the Philippine legal system and labor rules, “workers have effectively no access to these rights.”

Workers suffer from intimidation and acts of violence, including murders. The freedom to organize into trade unions and express their basic rights to organize, strike and protests are limited.

The 2019 report is not much different from the ITUC’s Global Rights Index for 2018, which also took note of the sad fact that the Philippines was also one of worst countries for workers. Same old, same old story.

Two realities were notably missing from the 2019 ITUC Rights Index. First, the Philippine Labor Code is so obsolete and workers in the BPO sector, which, with the OFW sector, are the anchors of the Philippine economy, are yet to be covered by the code.

Contractualization is still rampant and pervasive, despite the promise of the Duterte administration to end the practice. Before six months is over, the job lifeline of the Filipino prole is severed. But he is free, of course, to pound the streets anew to look for another contractual job.

The proles’ brothers in hard toil, the farmers, as just as squeezed and marginalized.

A death sentence was recently imposed on the country’s 3 million small rice farmers with the passage of the law on unlimited rice importation. The death spiral is backed by data. Farm gate prices of palay have been on a downward movement and this month is the sixth month of that price drop. Soon, scores of farmers, like the frustrated Hong Kong protesters, would just commit suicide to get over that unbearable hardship. And no post-tarrification policy would be adequate to stench the bleeding.

The specter of unlimited importation now hangs over the sugar industry, another dying but very important sub-sector of agriculture. As if we are not importing massively of what the local farmers and animal raisers produce.

Who are on a state of forever heaven? The plutocrats, with their never-ending pitch and assist from the State.

The P8-trillion or so “Build, Build, Build” is billed as a massive infrastructure modernization program and is so far the most ambitious of all state-sponsored programs. And under the public-private partnership or PPP scheme, under which most of the projects will be pursued, most of the finished projects will be operated on a toll basis by the plutocrats that pursued the projects.

The plutocrats will massively profit from the contracts, but that is just the tip of the profiteering iceberg.

They will own the franchises to operate these finished projects, along the standard agreement of 25 years, renewable for another 25. More, the fees and charges that will be imposed on the public users will be to the plutocrats’ satisfaction. More (there is and endless more), the contracts provide for escalation clauses, regular adjustment in tolls, even if the franchisees operate with ineptness and incompetence.

A toll road operator like the NLEx ramps up its fee charges as it turns the toll road into a longer EDSA, chocked by traffic most of the time. The performances of the water franchisees in Metro Manila over the summer months and up to now are a microcosm of state-sanctioned utility operators at their worst — and at their greediest.

But with their huge megaphones and their oversized influence over government and over policies, they can run amuck with their corporate recklessness, with hardly a slap on the wrist from the helpless official State.

What recently happened to Clint Aranas is a cautionary tale. Do not displease the corporate gods or else you will be at the receiving end of harsh and unforgiving corporate whimsy.

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