Filipino workers rally to seek wage hike
AP & AGENCIES
MANILA AT LEAST 8,000 workers have marched in the Philippine capital to demand an increase in the country’s minimum daily wage.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III rejected the May Day pleas for a $3 daily pay hike, saying it would worsen inflation, spark layoffs and turn away foreign investors.
Members of a huge labour alliance, many clad in red shirts and waving red streamers, marched under a brutal sun for 4 kilometres (2.5 miles) on Tuesday to a heavily barricaded bridge near the Malacanang presidential palace, which teemed with thousands of riot police, Manila police chief Alex Gutierrez said.
Another group of left-wing workers later burned a huge effigy of President Benigno Aquino III, depicting him as a lackey of the United States and big business. A few hundred workers marched to the US Embassy, but were stopped by riot police about a block away. The protesters burned a mock US flag and went away.
Even vendors, drivers, and construction workers participated in the labour Day rally.
Their clamour: a moratorium on demolitions.
Lolita Barrera, 65, a fish vendor for almost half her life, said that it was her first time to participate in a mass demonstration.
But apart from supporting the labourers’ cause, she said she was there to push for socialism, which could put a stop to the demolition of a squatter colony in Malabon, where she lives.
Katherine Loh, the subregional secretary for Southeast Asia of the Public Services International, led a contingent of some 70 foreign labour leaders from India, Singapore, Malaysia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Tonga, Japan and Cambodia to ask for the Asian Development Bank to take full responsibility for the energy crisis in the Visayas and Mindanao.
Loh claimed that it was the ADB that provided technical assistance and funding for the implementation of the Epira Law for the privatisation of the energy sector. The privatisation, she maintained, is to blame for the power crisis and the high cost of electricity experienced in the two regions.
She said that they decided to join the Philippine labour organisations in the celebration of labour Day to highlight their unity with the clamour for reasonable cost of electricity, which eat up a huge chunk of a worker’s earnings.
Many protesters rushed for cover when the strong rains fell just several minutes after they burned an effigy of President Benigno Aquino III at just past 3 PM.
But the militants went on with their programme despite the downpour. “Takot ba kayo sa ulan? (Are you afraid of the rain?)” a speaker called to the people over the sound system. To which the protesters shouted “Hindi! (no!).” Gutierrez said in an interview that he thought the rain was a factor why the ranks of the protesters thinned by late afternoon. “Due to the rains, many might have gotten wet and had gone home,” he said.
At 6 PM, only about 100 protesters were left, according to police.