Philippines: Protests over energy costs, workers' rights

A picket by Philippine Airline workers.

The Philippines, one of the poorest Asian nations with a huge foreign debt ― caused by successive corrupt governments ― remains a place of simmering class tension.

In the past six weeks, there have been mobilisations around a range of issues.

On October 11, there was a national day of action against rising energy costs. There were protests right across the archiapelago.

Residents turned off their power for half-an-hour and created a “noise barrage” with whistles and horns.

The protests were organised by the broad-based mass organisation Sanlakas, the Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) and other progressive organisations.

The Philippines has among the highest electricity prices in the world, despite most of the population being poor.

The previous government privatised electricity and introduced the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA), which allows private owners to raise power prices when they see fit. They are seeking to raise prices again.

Sanlakas activist Flora Santos told Green Left Weekly: “Marganalised poor people cannot afford these increases. We are telling them to stop and demanding the EPIRA law be repealed.”

Sanlakas youth activist Carl Reyes told GLW: “[Sanlakas youth] will be seeking to inform and educate young people about why the electricity price issue is important and encourage them to join our campaign to oppose the price increases.”

There were also several protests in September and October against spiralling fuel costs around the capital Manila and other major centres.

The privately owned oil industry is accused of price gouging.

Drivers of Jeepneys (distinctively painted mini-trucks that provide transport) held a strike on September 18 to protest the rising price of fuel. Jeepneys are a major form of transport in Manila and other major centres.

The average Jeepney drivers' income is typically a few US dollars a day. Rising oil prices are eating into these already low wages.

There have also been protests against road toll rises, which will further affect transport workers as well as other road users.

There have also been protests calling for public housing and defending urban poor communities from home demolitions.

The Philippines Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ) and the FDC held an action on October 12. A contingent of more than 100 protesters travelled through the financial District of Makati in Manila and rallied at the Norwegian, Mexican and South African embassies.

The protesters were demanding the World Bank keep its “hands off” the United Nations Green Climate Fund, which is intended to administer and disburse climate finance for the global South.

The Philippines is in the firing line of climate change. Already this year, major flooding has again swamped substantial parts of the country.

At the same time, US$8.5 billion, or about 40% of government revenue, is spent servicing debts to international bodies such as the World Bank. This is far more than the combined amount spent each year by the government on education, health and housing.

Another ongoing struggle is over Philippines Air Lines (PAL) plans to outsource thousands of jobs.

A protest camp established at the PAL catering terminal by members of the airlines’ employees association (PALEA) has been in place since the end of September and is still going strong.

On October 19, a gang of about 100 strikebreaker thugs were escorted to the gates of the picket by police and a court officer. A contingent of more than 500 riot police with shields, helmets and batons watched from the other side of the road.

The thugs violently tore down a couple of tents at the entry to the camp and announced their intention to tear down the rest.

The camp was well attended at the time by more 1000 of the illegally locked out PAL workers, leading to a tense standoff that the mainstream media broke their black-out of the PAL dispute to cover.

Union officials successfully argued that they had the right to remain and negotiated for the thugs to be called off. The workers sang “solidarity forever” as the hired goons retreated in front of the cameras.

On October 24, PALEA organised a “run for justice against corporate greed”, which PALEA president Gerry Rivera said was “inspired by the movement against corporate greed and capitalist globalisation that is sweeping the world”.

A major cross-sector rally bringing together labour, urban poor and farmers groups is being organised for November 30.

Rivera said: “Just like PAL, corporate interests have tried to suppress the global protests and disperse the occupations. But the rising of the 99% cannot be stopped by the 1%.”


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