Filipinos Celebrate Four Labor Days But Still Live in “Economic Purgatory”

by Bobby Reyes

| Photo by Annette Bernhardt via Creative Commons

Part XX of the “ReVOTElution of H.O.P.E.” Series

Filipinos actually commemorate three Labor Days, and the nearly 5-million strong Filipino-American communities celebrate a fourth one — the American Labor Day on the first Monday of September.

The Filipinos’ first Labor Day is celebrated on the First of May, which many countries observe as their “May Day” tribute to organized labor.

The second Filipino Labor Day is held on February 2nd, as it was on the said day in 1902 when Isabelo (Don Belong) de los Reyes founded the first labor union in the Philippines, called the Union Obrera Democratica Filipina (Philippine Democratic Labor Union), with himself as president and Hermenegildo Cruz as secretary.

The third Labor Day is celebrated along with the anniversary of the Philippine Independent Church on August 3rd. Utilizing his labor leadership, Don Belong, in a meeting of about 42 members of his labor organization at the Centro de Bellas Artes in Quiapo on August 3, 1902, launched the Philippine Independent Church. They proclaimed Father Gregorio Aglipay, a proactive Catholic priest, as its first Supreme bishop. Shortly after this, he led a general strike of factory laborers and farm tenants against the American business firms and friar-owned haciendas. It was a first in the history of Philippine labor. Then American Civil Governor William Howard Taft ordered the arrest of Don Belong and his fellow labor leaders. Eventually, the Taft Administration exiled Don Belong to Barcelona, Spain. (At least Mr. Taft let him chose his place of banishment. It was his second exile to Barcelona, the first being done by the then-Spanish colonizers.)

Readers may like to read the details of the twin Labor Day historical events — as led by Isabelo de los Reyes and company — in this link, which is reproduced, as corrected and annotated, from the archives of the Philippine Senate.

But despite their four Filipino Labor Day celebrations, workers in the Philippines continue to exist in an “Economic Purgatory.”

Mar G. de Vera, my editor-in-chief and boss in the late 1980s in the Filipino newspaper mini-industry in Los Angeles, CA, recently told me that a New York-based prestigious magazine “borrowed” my “EP” term some 32-years after I first used it. In 1988, this columnist amended the phrase, “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows,” as found in The Tempest (Act 2, Scene 2) by William Shakespeare. I replaced it with “Economic purgatory acquaints man with strange bedfellows.” Yes, the “EP” or Filipino Purgatory (from the economic viewpoint) acquaints the homeless with strange “bedfellows” in the urban streets, or with communist or Muslim rebels in the mountains and hills, aside from fellow diggers in the “Smokey Mountain” of the City of Manila, which is actually a giant garbage dump; etcetera, ., ad infinitum.

“But despite their four Filipino Labor Day celebrations, workers in the Philippines continue to exist in an “Economic Purgatory.””

Numeriano Bouffard forwarded to this column a link about the Philippine economy. He is a “Renaissance Man” and Pueblo Filipino founder and prime mover. Public knowledge is that a U.S. greenback is worth Philippine pesos (Php) 48-to-50 (or even higher in the black market). According to the Asian Development Bank, “In the Philippines, 16.7% of the population lived below the national poverty line in 2018. In the Philippines, the proportion of employed population below U.S.$1.90 purchasing power parity a day in 2019 is 2.2%.” More sad data on this link.

But they had issued the ADB report in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic made “marginalized Filipinos” jump figuratively from the frying pan of poverty to the fire of hunger and destitution. Here is another headline (as posted last Thursday) reads, “From PHp10,000 to PHp6,000 a month: How PH poor are sinking deeper.” And the lead paragraph reads: “The numbers that emerged in a survey on poverty during the pandemic by a United Nations agency and a Philippine non-government organization are showing what people on the ground may already know—people are sinking deeper in poverty.” And the cited figures were for 2019 — before the pandemic wrecked more havoc on the Philippine health system and gutted the national economy. And turned the alleged “Tiger of a Filipino Economy” into an “Economic Kitten,” as my childhood friend in Sorsogon, Augusto Surtida, coined.

Reports about poverty and economic misery (aka “EP,” that is, the Philippines) have been reported frequently in the Philippines and abroad by OFW-journalists. This columnist was one of the few Filipino writers that also wrote about the solutions that could end the “EP” and turn it into an “economic version of the Promised Land.

Last July 28, 2021, this columnist discussed how “An ‘EDSA Evolution’ Can Curtail Many Socioeconomic Problems” at this link: Yes, EDSA, as in “Economic Development and Social Advancement” of an evolution.

But no matter what we submitted, the Filipino national (even the provincial) policy and decision makers refused to acknowledge receiving our proposals for almost four decades.”

But then-Philippine President Fidel V. Ramos and his successors refused even to acknowledge receiving my written proposals about economic development sent in 3-ring binders. Our Los Angeles (CA)-based group of writers and I have always stated that we do not have any monopoly of bright ideas, especially on economic development. But no matter what we submitted, the Filipino national (even the provincial) policy and decision makers refused to acknowledge receiving our proposals for almost four decades. There was only one instance of an official acknowledgment: a letter from the Philippine Department of Health forwarded by the Office of the President Gloria M. Arroyo to the Philippine Consulate General in Los Angeles, CA, and mailed to my West Covina City address. I reproduced it as the cover photo of the Project Facebook Group at this link.

Finally, on June 30, 2021, this columnist discussed how “The ‘ReVOTElution’ Is Being Done in Leyte” at this link. In the article, I said: “But Dr. Balderian (a ‘ReVOTElution’ supporter in Leyte) cast doubt whether Corporate Philippines and the present political leaders would support our idea of raising the minimum wage to PHpesos 1,000 (approximately $20.62) per day. Or $2.58 per hour. The current minimum wage in the provinces is PHpesos 350 (equivalent to $7.22) per day. Or $0.90 per hour. I explained to Dr. Balderin that a living wage of a thousand pesos per day would enable the minimum-wage earner at least PHpesos 100 each for healthcare premium, social security contributions, and a retirement fund. And double the worker’s take-home pay, actually.”

To cast modesty aside for the nth time, this columnist possesses historical links to the Philippine Labor Movement and the Philippine Independent Church (a Christian denomination with more than 8-million members). He is a grandson-in-law of Don Belong de los Reyes, the main founder of both nationalistic organizations. The next 2-to-3 years will probably see a Renaissance (the rebirth and reinvention) in both pro-worker organizations.

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Roberto M Reyes /AKA Bobby M. Reyes September 5, 2021 - 1:45 pm

@ Richie Rillera and Webmaster Jay Domingo. The Facebook Bots suspended me again last night — after I shared the link of this article to 10 Facebook Groups and one Page that I administer. And more importantly, I e-mailed this morning the link to the Diocesan Bishop of the Philippine Independent Church for the Western U.S.A., Western Canada and the Islands of the Pacific (Hawaii). The bishop said that he would forward to his priests, church online sites not only in North America and the Pacific Islands but also in the Philippines. I could generate such a response, as after all, I am a grandson-in-law of the PIC founder, Don Belong de los Reyes. Happy Labor Day to all of my fellow columnists, PDM staff and our dear readers. (P.S. I have to post this here, as I am banned for the next three days from commenting the PDM Community Facebook and PDM Groups.)

Roberto M Reyes /AKA Bobby M. Reyes September 6, 2021 - 1:43 am

Hello again, Dear Readers. If you found my coinage in 1988 of “Economic Purgatory,” then you may be pleasantry surprised also by an idea that I told (in the early 1970s) to one of my religious mentors about doing an “Abraham Square” in a mountainous venue in Bulan town in Sorsogon Province. The idea never took off, as it never got the support of the Philippine Catholic Church, beginning with the Diocese of Sorsogon. Now, my column this coming Wednesday, Sept. 8th, will discuss how the “Abraham Square” may be built in the “Pueblo Filipino” project in Colima Province of Mexico. And, probably, at the same time, do an identical project in the original project site located in Barrio Monte Calvario of Bulan town. It will be capped what I dubbed now an “EPIC Cathedral” in both suggested locations. “EPIC” is the acronym of the “Episcopal-Philippine Independent Church.” It will also be the site of what I dubbed “The Parish of the Future,” which I submitted to the Parish Council of Bacon town (now a district of Sorsogon City) during the Holy Week of 2016, as part of my socioeconomic platform for my gubernatorial run that year. Yes, “a prophet is never believed in his own hometown,” as the Bible goes. BTW the “Abraham Square” is one of my more-than 4,000 articles that have been published online and occasionally in hard copy.


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