Obama’s non-visit to PH win-win for PNoy

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The honeymoon of President Aquino with the Filipino people is apparently coming to an end. And he has nobody to blame but his instinct and his sub-alterns.

 

Mr. Aquino might claim to have anti-corruption crusade up his sleeve. But ask him about his labor and human rights records.

In 2010, members of the Philippine Airlines Employees’ Association (Palea) saw a silver lining when the thieving Renato Corona, who was in the pocket of PAL officials for accepting Platinum card perk that entitled him and his wife to travel in style (business class) anywhere in the world for free, was also on his way out for accepting his position as Chief Justice as a midnight appointee of outgoing President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

After Palea lost their appeal to the Arroyo Supreme Court (who were also Platinum card holders), Palea members were looking forward to new President Aquino to rescue them.

But the 2,600 Paleans were blown away when PAL officials were able to wean Mr. Aquino over to their side, telling the new President that PAL would lose big if PAL came to a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with Palea union. In hindsight, the Palea case fared better than the Flight Attendants Stewards Association of the Philippines, whose case against PAL is still languishing at the Supreme Court after 15 years!

Instead of verifying the wrong information fed to him by PAL officials that PAL was losing, for instance, by talking to Palea officials, himself, before coming to an informed opinion, Mr. Aquino took matters into his own hands by trampling on Palea’s workers’ rights – right to security, right to self-organization and right to collective bargaining – all violations of International Labor Organization’s Conventions 87 and 98 of which the Philippines is signatory.

After a crippling pilots’ strike in 1998, the ground personnel were asked by PAL management to sacrifice by putting their CBA rights on ice. After nearly 10 years of CBA moratorium, Palea led by Gerardo F. Rivera asked the Supreme Court to lift the CBA moratorium. As expected Palea lost. Thanks to Mr. Corona and company.

 

Lost seniority, became casual employees 

Undeterred, Palea informed PAL management that they want to open the CBA negotiation. PAL management countered that it would terminate Palea members employment. They would be transferred (“outsourced”) to service providers, losing their seniority, becoming casual or contractual employees under short term contracts, no security of tenure, no CBA, lesser benefits and with longer work  hours. All clear violations of CBA, which Palea still considers valid to this day.

PAL said the “outsourcing” would cut its losses. But Palea claims PAL was awash with cash to the tune of US$72.5-M for fiscal year 2010-2011. PAL never shared its profits to Palea members.

PAL’s clout was in display when Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Sec. Rosalinda Dimapilis-Baldos upheld PAL’s outsourcing plan. When Palea protested DOLE’s "assumption of jurisdiction" on PAL’s case to President Aquino, Palea lost again. Mr. Aquino was never informed that PAL was making money -- $72.5-M – nor was told to get his hands off the PAL’s case because there is a pending case before the Court of Appeals.

Using the police, private security personnel and Regional Trial Courts Sheriffs, PAL violently evicted Palea members, who were peacefully protesting PAL President Jaime J. Bautista’s order terminating their PAL employment.

Palea said if PAL could bust Palea, one of the country’s oldest and biggest unions, to pieces, it asked, “What will happen to the other smaller and younger unions or the workers if they don’t organize”?

 

“Assuming jurisdiction” on strikes by Labor questionable

This questionable practice of the Philippine Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) called “intervention” or “assuming jurisdiction” on strikes against companies dealing in “essential services” was severely criticized in the two days –Jan. 24, 2012 and March 28, 2013 – of public hearing for U.S. Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) Review of Country Practices at the office of the U.S. Trade Representative in Washington, D.C.

DOLE Undersecretary Rebecca Chato of the Philippine panel on March 28 said DOLE had intervened from 2001 to 2007 in 51 strikes “in the transport, storage and communication industry, which included telephone, radio, television, air traffic and transportation services (including stevedoring).”

Lawyer Brian Campbell, director of policy and legal programs of the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) based in Washington, D.C., speaking for petitioners Palea and other Philippine labor groups, put Undersecretary Chato on the defensive.

Campbell spoke at the March 28 hearing presided over by Bill Jackson, USTR Deputy Assistant for GSP and Chair of the GSP Subcommittee Hearing that also heard testimonies from other countries, examining different aspects of the statutory GSP eligibility criteria for specific beneficiary countries.

The hearing should have a chilling effect on the Aquino government because one of the countries during the hearing, Bangladesh, had its U.S. Trade privileges suspended over concerns on labor rights and worker safety that intensified after hundreds died in a fire.  President Obama’s U.S. Trade Representative Mike Froman suspended the GSP duty-free import privileges of Bangladesh covering 5,000 products, which cost the South Asian country $34.7-M in 2012, until it improves workers’ conditions.

The U. S. and the Philippines have had a very close trade relationship for more than a hundred years. They meet regularly under the auspices of a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) signed in November 1989.

 

PH could lose big due to labor, human rights violations 

U.S. exports to the Philippines totaled $9.9 billion; imports totaled $12.1 billion in 2011.

If the U.S. suspends Philippines’ trade privileges, like it did to Bangladesh, if the former cannot improve its workers’ and human rights records, the Philippines stands to lose $12.1-billion in one year.

Listen to the excerpt of the testimony of Mr. Campbell:

“The Philippines hasn’t “actually taken steps to resolve the violations that we are here to talk about today in a meaningful way. We continue to see killings under the Aquino administration, eight in the past since he took office. Killings impacted three union workers from the transport sector, one in the public sector, including two teachers, as well, mining, and manufacturing sector as nonacademic personnel in schools are eight that have been documented by our partners.

“We have not seen these cases get resolved in court yet. There has not been a concerted action, I would say, on the part of the Department of Justice to take this systematically and implement all of the recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur and the ILO High Level Mission.”

Because the Philippines promised to ask its Congress to improve workers’ rights, USTR rated the Philippines’ status as “continued” until passage of the workers’ right bills.

Have you ever wondered why the Save Act to resuscitate the Philippine garment industry  that Pres. Aquino pushed for Filipino Americans to lobby for its passage in the U.S. Congress in 2010 never got of the ground? Pres. Aquino’s labor and human rights’ records should provide a muted answer.

During Aquino’s inauguration, President Obama sent Ambassador Ron Kirk, then US Trade Representative, as his representative in Manila. If Mr. Aquino did not initiate small talk with Ambassador Kirk, it was a missed opportunity for Mr. Aquino if he did not.

For me, it was a blessing in disguise that Pres. Obama called off his visit this week to the Philippines. Mr. Obama might have heard a different answer from Mr. Aquino if Obama were to ask him about the labor and human rights situations in the Philippines.

But if Mr. Obama finally makes good his trip to the Philippines, I am sure Mr. Aquino is going to seek out first Ambassador Froman for a heart-to-heart talk. ( This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. )