HUMAN BARRICADE. A phalanx of police officers blocks one of the eastbound lanes of Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City on Monday (July 25, 2022). The Philippine National Police has deployed close to 22,000 personnel to secure the first State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. at the Batasang Pambansa Complex. (MNS photo)

MANILA, July 26 (Mabuhay) — Militant groups lamented that vital issues of wages and lack of security of tenure were not given attention in President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.’s first State of the Nation Address (SONA).

“Napaka-basic po ng aming mga demands. Dapat itaas ang sahod at yung contractualization na talagang bumabagabag sa maraming mga manggagawa ay hindi man lang na-address. Yung labor export policy ay magpapatuloy,” Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) chairperson Elmer Labog said in a press briefing.

Labog also said Marcos failed to address the problems of Rice Tariffication Law.

“Hanggat nanatili itong Rice Tariffication Law, importation of basic commodity ang magaganap,” he stressed. “At paano mabubuhay ang ating mga magsasaka kung tuloy-tuloy ang Rice Tariffication Law.”

Then President Rodrigo Duterte in February 2019 signed the law which removed the quantitative restrictions on rice and imposed a 35-percent tariff on imports from the country’s neighbors in Southeast Asia.

The law earmarks P10 billion for the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund, of which P5 billion will be allotted to farm mechanization and P3 billion to seedlings.

The fund intends to ensure that rice imports won’t drown out the agriculture sector and rob farmers of their livelihood. However, farmers said the unbridled imports are slowly killing their sector.

Health, education

The group, however, praised Marcos for his plans for health services and education.

“Yung pagpapatayo ng mga health hospitals sa mga probinsya at yung pag-amin na hindi siya magsasalita hinggil sa kasaysayan ng edukasyon ay na-appreciate namin,” Labog said.

Marcos finished his SONA without mentioning the daily commuting woes in Metro Manila, continued rising prices of oil products, human rights violations, and investigation of the International Criminal Court over alleged extra judicial killings of the Duterte administration’s campaign against illegal drugs.

Marcos fell short

Although Marcos enumerated a list of macro-economic targets, the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) said he fell short in mentioning how growth targets and government projects will benefit the poor.

“He mentions that food prices may continue to go up, inflation may continue to rise, but offers no real relief in the form of lower taxes and a substantial wage and salary increase,” Bayan said in a statement.

“How will the poor benefit from these targets? How will regular jobs be created and how will wages increase? There is also the possibility of new taxes on digital services which may again impact the poor negatively,” it added.

The group also questioned Marcos’ commitment to expand Build Build Build projects instead of focusing on important social services such as hospitals and schools.

“How will he rationalize fiscal policy when the government is poised to continue spending for infrastructure over social services and economic development? Will he build more airports and bridges or more hospitals and schools?” Bayan said.

“His speech reflects the orientation of his economic team and the class interests his administration represents. His program is not a program for change but a continuation of the same elite-led, pro-business economic set-up which will marginalize working people even more,” it continued.

Living wage

The Federation of Free Workers (FFW), for its part, criticized Marcos’ failure to address various issues concerning workers including contractualization.

“President Marcos was generally silent on the demand of workers for a living wage and the end of contractualization,” FFW National President Sonny Matula said in a statement.

“He was also silent on solving the cases of extrajudicial killings, especially of workers and trade union leaders and organizers; and the sorry state of human and trade union rights in the country,” he added.

During the campaign period, Marcos vowed to prioritize a solution to the unfair labor practice to ensure the protection of workers’ rights. He did not detail, however, which version of the Anti-Endo bill he would support.

“We need to thoroughly study how to amend it so that it will really give protection to our workers, and it passes into law,” said Marcos.

While the President’s support for ecozones (economic zones) “qualified to its extent”, Matula said authorities and establishments in the said areas should “fully recognize workers’ rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining”.

Further, the labor leader reiterated the call for a legislation imposing wealth tax and said the planned value-added tax on digital service providers should not become an additional financial burden to the digital economy and to the workers in the gig economy.

“Their rights at work together with riders should be respected and their social protection ensured,” he added.

Safe School Reopening bill

The Kabataan party-list challenged Marcos to certify as urgent a House bill it revived to prove his sincerity in his push for the full resumption of face-to-face classes in the country.

In his SONA, Marcos said “it is time” for the Philippines to fully shift to in-person classes —over two years since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Finally after two years of school closures, the Philippine government has finally recognized the need for full and safe face-to-face classes. If what Marcos Jr. says is sincere, he should certify as urgent and pass our House Bill (HB) 251 or the Safe School Reopening Bill,” the youth party-list said on Twitter.

The bill seeks to  “ensure the safety and health of education stakeholders” participating in the resumption of physical classes by outlining measures supporting the program.

It likewise proposes an allocation of P122.40-billion for the retrofitting of classrooms and other facilities in order to prevent the spread of the dreaded coronavirus.

“Hindi ‘about time’ nang makapagligtas na balik-eskwela ang mga estudyante ngayong taon ayon sa SONA. Long overdue na ito. Many students have already been left behind, and Marcos Jr. should not forget this truth just to pretend that it’s their original idea,” Kabataan Representative Raoul Manuel said.

(The safe return of students in the classrooms this year was not a scenario of ‘about time’ but long overdue.)

“Dahil ba lumabas na sa bibig ni Marcos Jr. na magface-to-face na raw lahat magkakatotoo na siya?… I-chill natin ang celebration,” it added.

(Just because Marcos said it, will it happen? We should chill the celebration).

The Philippines is currently preparing for the incoming school year with the Department of Education (DepEd) kicking off enrollment starting today, July 25 until August 22, 2022.

Vice President and concurrent DepEd Secretary Sara Duterte said the combined in-person classes and distance learning would be implemented from August to October, while the five-day face-to-face classes would start in November. (MNS)

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