by Raymund B. Villanueva
DAVAO CITY MAYOR Rodrigo Duterte launched his bid for the presidency last Tuesday in Tondo with a threat against militant labor. Singling Kilusang Mayo Uno out, he said he will kill all those who would organize labor unions in economic enclaves he plans on putting up. There should be no labor unions in these enclaves for 10 years or there would be a decade of carnage, he said.
He was obviously referring to something similar to Davao City’s bloodbath against perceived criminals, mostly petty offenders. Laughter could be heard in the videos when Duterte uttered his threat. There was nothing funny in it at all. It was beyond outrageous; it was ominous.
What gall the mayor has to think he shares militant labor’s ideology when he asks them to stop defending workers’ rights. Labor unions protect workers from low wages, unpaid benefits, unjust working conditions and other forms of exploitation. Only an unthinking and unfeeling person could dismiss unionism’s contributions to humanity by threatening them with bloody death, even jestingly (which the video proves was not).
Capitalism, proletarian ideology’s antithesis, is, above all else, exploitation of workers. Special economic zones were invented to worsen this exploitation.
According to the Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research, the Philippines has 326 special economic zones as of May 2015, 68 of which are manufacturing enclaves. While these numbers look impressive Duterte should know that these only employed 735,000 in 2010, or a mere two percent of the country’s employed labor. Current SEZ employment figures remain essentially unchanged.
At the Subic SEZ, Korean giant Hanjin has more than 20,000 workers building giant ships. All of them are contractual employees engaged through a number of contractors. EILER reports that Filipino workers are verbally and physically abused by their Korean bosses on a daily basis and are often served with stale meals. Many accidents occur in this enclave, often deadly, without making the news. Media and even local government officials are barred from entering the shipyard. Shouldn’t Duterte promise to look into such reports first before foisting the specter of more special economic zones at Filipino laborers?
Duterte may be charming to some, but I seriously doubt his brand of charm would be able to reverse the general decline of direct foreign investments into Philippine manufacturing. There is no need for more SEZs when the government is still desperate to fill up those already existing. What few foreign investments that trickle into the local economy go to the stock market and real estate industry, which are part of the speculative market. The doddering global capitalism rolls this way nowadays. It is absolutely unnecessary to threaten militant labor with mayhem when his SEZs are still figments of his bloody imagination.
Moreover, Duterte is being redundant when he threatens militant labor with bloodshed. Economic zones have an unwritten “no union, no strike” policy. SEZ security forces are especially trained to quell any union activity. There is very little government oversight in these special zones, except when there is labor unrest. In such cases, the government always sides with the capitalists anyway. All too often, labor leaders and union members end up killed. Is this what Duterteconomics wants continued?
KMU was quick to criticize Duterte’s statement, as it should. KMU asked if Duterte was joking. The labor center said Duterte made a big joke of himself and should take back his words. It also asked the candidate to stand with labor unions and not with greedy capitalists. I share KMU’s wonder what kind of “respectful” labor unions Duterte wants.
Duterte must think that KMU will not dare criticize his statement because he helped in some labor disputes in Davao City in the past. He clearly showed his capacity to violate labor and other human rights when he could utter threats just like that. Such statements and his kind must never be tolerated, alliances notwithstanding.
Lastly, Duterte’s supporters should know it was the dictator Marcos who first put up SEZs in this country via the Bataan Special Economic Zone in 1969. Ominous, isn’t it? #