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Para sa Bayan

Today is Labor Day. It is a day to celebrate the contributions of workers not only to the Philippine economy but the global economy as well given the millions of overseas Filipino workers scattered all around the globe. It is also a day to recommit ourselves to the vision of promoting decent employment opportunities and improving working conditions.


Historically, the first ever Labor Day was held in 1890 right after the International Congress of Socialist Parties in Europe. Vowing to promote the rights of workers, they appropriated May 1 as the “Workers Day of International Unity and Solidarity.”


In the Philippines, it was organized by the first labor union in the country, the Union Obrero Democratia de Filipinas (UODF). It was said that the UODF was able to muster more than a hundred thousand workers in May 1, 1903, who then marched from Tondo to Malacañang Palace, demanding better working conditions from the American-led government. The labor movement, in effect, has historical roots in the anti-colonial aspirations of our nation. Then in 1908 the Philippine Assembly passed a bill recognizing the first day of May as a national holiday.


When I was still in Congress, one of the issues I really promoted was that of workers’ rights and welfare. I remember during the campaign of 2007, I was pushing for the passage of tax break legislation to increase the take-home pay of our minimum-wage earners and enable them to cope with difficult times. Specifically, I was proposing a one peso for income tax as a symbolic gesture of their contributions and so we can still include them in the list of taxpayers.


Aside from the issue of decent wages, I also fought for the occupational safety and health of workers in the workplace. It is the responsibility of employers to provide their employees with safe and healthful workplace and environment. I thought the issue of occupational safety has a significant role in our economic development considering that personal injuries, illnesses and death arising out of workplaces result in reduced production, wage loss, medical expenses and disability compensation payments.


Unfortunately, there are still employers who subject their employees to physical danger and health hazards. We should protect workers from such situations, and this should include OFWs who may be maltreated, abused or made to work in accident-prone areas.


More importantly, Labor Day should give us the opportunity to show our gratitude and admiration to the millions of Filipino workers who exemplify the Filipino values of hard work, perseverance, and dedication. Our workers are admired all over the world because of their professionalism, industry and commitment to their craft. Many Filipino workers start working young with the aim of providing for their family and helping their parents put food on the table. I experienced this at an early age, waking up very early in the morning to help my mother sell shrimp and fish. It was from my mother and this particular experience that I learned the values of sipag at tiyaga. My mother also taught me how to value work and not to be ashamed of what we do. “Basta malinis ang puso mo, wala kang niloloko, at masipag ka, wala ka dapat ikahiya.” 


This is the reason why to this day, I remain extremely proud of my humble beginnings. Many workers are proud of what they do — professionals, construction worker, bank employee, restaurant server — it does not matter what you do. The important thing is that you do it with the best effort and the best intentions.


In my life as an entrepreneur and as a public servant, I have met a lot of Filipino workers, some work here, some work abroad. There is only one thing that I could see in their eyes, they do the work not for themselves but for others — for their family at para sa bayan.




Manila Bulletin/Views/MannyVillar