Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Filipino Worker is Worth Fighting For---Ople

For the first time, thousands of labor groups, federations, people's organizations and even military reformist groups converged to support the candidacy of one labor advocate.Susan "Toots" Ople for the Senate in the May 2010 elections.

Maka-Manggagawa Movement (MMM), an umbrella organization of major labor groups, also launched their movement before thousands of labor leaders at the UP Solair auditorium today. I was fortunate to be invited for the event.

Former labor undersecretary and well-known OFW advocate Susan “Toots” Ople formally accepted the endorsement of hundreds of workers and dependents of overseas Filipino workers during the launch of the “Maka-Manggagawa Movement” this morning at the Isabelo delos Reyes Auditorium in UP Diliman in Quezon City.

Ople, youngest daughter of the late Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas F. Ople, said that it was difficult for her to have grown up with her father and not speak out when the rights and welfare of Filipinos overseas are at stake. Toots, as she is more known to friends and media, served as her father's media relations officer and chief of staff at the Department of Foreign Affairs. She worked for 16 years in the Senate as staff of then Senator Ernesto "Boy" Herrera until her father's time. A columnist of Panorama and Tempo, Ople also wrote two books, one on illegal drugs and the other on tips for first-time OFWs.

Before joining the political fray, Susan Ople was known as head of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center, a non-government organization that is actively involved in helping distressed OFWs. The Center also provides free computer classes for OFWs and their dependents in partnership with OWWA and Microsoft.

“Kung may mensahe ang buhay ng tatay ko, eto ‘yon: The Filipino worker is worth fighting for,” Ople said.

The Harvard graduate and former presidential speechwriter revealed her five-point labor agenda:

1. Develop a long-term strategic employment plan with clear targets and complemented by a labor and skills map to address the mismatch between available jobs and available skills. “Dahil wala tayong pangmatagalang employment strategies, maski musmos, paga-abroad na ang iniisip.”

2. Structural reforms in OWWA, POEA, NLRC and DoLE to include more OFW seats in OWWA’s Governing Board, professional standards and higher pay to discourage corruption among labor arbiters and hearing officers at NLRC and POEA, and greater focus on local employment and social protection within DoLE.

3. A strong stance against the unethical and exploitative outsourcing of core and essential jobs, which hinders the growth of unions, and the right to collective bargaining agreements.

4. To make it a national inspiration and aspiration that by the end of six years, whoever sits as president, shall endeavor to cut by half the number of Filipino women leaving the country to work as domestic helpers abroad.

5. Empowerment of trade unions and workers’ associations including cooperatives . “Ang manggagawa na kabilang ng union ay naiimbita sa dayalogo, nakakapasok sa loob ng board room, kinakausap ng gobyerno, lumalakas ang loob sa piling ng mga kasama. Ang manggagawang nag-iisa ay medaling paghintayin sa labas ng HR hanggang magsawa sa kahihintay. There is strength in numbers, especially in tripartite negotiations.”

Ople lamented that some people are quick to label those espousing pro-worker sentiments as “too radical” or “communists”.

“Yet an economy cannot prosper if its people are perennially broke. A country can never hope to advance if the quality of life of every worker remains poor. Paano tayo magkakaroon ng matibay at masiglang middle class kung ang isang breadwinner ay pa-five months, five-months lang ang kontrata?” Ople asked.

Hundreds of workers and families of overseas Filipino workers came together to launch the Maka-Manggagawa Movement, a national grassroots organization to boost the chances of senatorial candidate Susan “Toots” Ople in the forthcoming elections.

Led by former OFW-turned- businessman Jun Aguilar and former UP dean Prof. Rene Ofreneo, the movement intends to campaign for Ople in all barangays, schools, and workplaces all over the country.

“We will work hard for the victory of Susan Ople because it is about time that labor has a seat in the Senate,” Aguilar said.

The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines also endorsed Ople’s bid through a letter sent by TUCP Secretary-General Ernesto “Boy” Herrera, himself a former senator and good friend of the late Blas Ople. Herrera’s message of support was read by TUCP Spokesman Alex Aguilar.

Also expressing his full support to Ople’s bid was detained military officer and senator Antonio Trillanes through a written message read by his chief of staff, Atty. Reynaldo Robles. “I have long been hearing about the work of Susan “Toots” Ople in helping our OFWs. I encourage our workers, and our members in Samahang Magdalo to support her bid,” Trillanes said.

His call was echoed by the Young Officers’ Union which designated Ricky Rivera as its representative to the event. Rivera, who serves as the Secretary General of the organization, said the YOU stands squarely behind Ople’s bid for the Senate.

Government employees who belong to PSLINK also expressed support to Ople’s bid in a message read by Annie Geron, a former TESDA employee.

Present during the launch were members of the Philippine Transport and General Workers Organization, Manila Water Employees’ Union, PSLink, NCR Federation of OFW Families, Partido ng Pandaigdigang Pilipino, YOU, Bulacan Youth for Ople 2010, Indo-Phil Textile Employees’ Union, 137 Dubai Bus Drivers, Alliance of Independent Hotel and Restaurant Workers, Alliance of Construction and Informal Workers, Nueva Ecija Federation of OFW Families, etc.