The hands of Roberto Sumania were evidently rough, covered with veins and scars that he had acquired as a mining foreman. Unfortunately, this set of hardworking hands received nothing in return for the 10 years he has served his company, Greenstone Resources Corporation (GRC).
A few months ago, GRC terminated Sumania and several other regular workers to make way for the hiring of contractual workers.
Laid-off mining workers from the region of Caraga were among those who joined a recent workers’ camp-out in front of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and Mendiola Brigde in Malacañang to demand an end to labor contractualization and to raise wages to a national minimum level of P750 per day.
In letter of Kilusang Mayo Uno-Caraga addressed to DOLE Sec. Silvestre Bello III, 471 workers from GRC; 57 workers from Marcventures Mining Development Corporation (MMDC); and 1,200 workers from Clarence T. Pimentel Construction Mining Corporation (CTPCMC) lost their jobs due to contractualization.
Workers said that mining companies in Caraga used the order of former Environment Sec. Gina Lopez to close down 21 mining firms in the country—14 of which were in the Caraga Region—to terminate them. However, the mining firms remain in operation.
“Sinabayan nila (mining firms) yung verbal order ni Secretary Lopez. Kaya nag-umpisa ‘yung suspension. Ang sabi lang may suspension ng 6 months…para mabawasan yung gastos, ’yung cost cutting,” Sumania explained.
Eventually, most of the workers were terminated.
Jacinto Tanduyan, regional coordinator of National Federation of Labor Unions and secretary general of KMU-Caraga, said that the company justified its massive termination using the DENR’s order, which has now been suspended.
“Kahit walang pormal na order, ginamit na ‘yun ng company para tanggalin lahat ng regular na manggagawa…Ang ironic kasi ginagawa silang alibi ng mga kumpanya para hindi ipasara ang mining companies. Ginagawa silang parang shield kasi daw nagbibigay sila ng employment sa komunidad sa Caraga, pero ang nangyayari naman eh walang awa na tinatanggal ang mga manggagawang ito,” Tanduyan said.
Contractualization doubtlessly benefits the self-interest of companies more than its workers. In their small tent, worn out clothes hanged in wires above carton beds and make-shift chairs. These workers had to endure living within the small space without bathrooms or enough food to get them by, in hopes of being heard by the government.
Although DOLE Secretary Bello issued a department order on contracting and subcontracting, also known as D.O.174, which imposes stricter guidelines for contractualization, labor groups were disappointed that the new order did not ban all forms of contractualization.
Bembel Conjurado, was terminated last October 31, 2016 from CTPCMC after his contract ended.
“‘Yang D.O. 174 dapat ibasura na iyan kasi hindi naman para sa manggagawa iyan. Ginawa ‘yan para sa kapitalista, pabor siya sa kapitalista hindi para sa manggagawa…Ire-regular ka, oo, doon sa agency, eh paano naman kapag tinanggal ang agency, naasan ka na? Kanino pabor ‘yun? Kaya nga mag-regular ng agency eh, bakit ang kumpanya mismo hindi?” Conjurado furiously expressed.
He revealed, with despair in his eyes, the difficulties his family had to endure while living off a minimum wage of 280 pesos per day.
There is a large difference in the minimum wage of the workers from the National Capital Region (NCR) and the Caraga region. The minimum wage in NCR is P491 per day, while in the region of Caraga it is P280 per day, or a P211 difference.
The workers first sought DOLE-Caraga’s support with regard to their labor issues, but it was to no avail.
Sherwin Tolentino II, a local purchaser at MMDC that was terminated last Febuary 9, recalled his co-workers’ efforts to seek help from DOLE-Caraga. They were hopeful that the government would aid them. But unfortunately, they were left disappointed and still unemployed.
“Humingi kami ng tulong kaso nga lang wala silang naibigay na solusyon sa mga problema namin. Bagkus, sila’y nagpapagamit sa mayamang kapitalista,” Tolentino claimed.
With the mine workers from Caraga were approximately 60 other workers from Southern Mindanao. Other workers who came to Manila for their protest campout, “KamPOBREro,” were from Cagdinao Mining Corporation, Hinatuan Mining Corporation, Adnama Mining Resources Inc., Platinum Group Metals Corporation, Mindanao Agri-Traders, Inc, and Filipinas Palmoil Plantation, Inc.
It is calvary for these workers to travel miles away from their families, carrying nothing but banners bearing their calls that for many years have been left buried under unfulfilled promises of the government. However, such sacrifices were made by these workers in order to fight for their rights and for a better life for their families.
“Masakit para sa amin kasi ‘yung pamilya namin grabeng hirap. Tinanggal kami sa trabaho, sobrang sakit. Hindi nila alam na para sa lahat itong laban namin na ito pero sinasabi nila na nag-iingay lang kami. Samantalang ito ay para sa lahat,” Conjurado said, as tears streamed down his face.
Lito Ustarez, KMU vice-president, in a tone overflowing with courage and perseverance, told the workers in the camp-out: “Tuluy-tuloy ang laban. Magpapalakas tayo at magpaparami, para makamit ang ating mga mithiin.” He added that only the national democratic struggle with a socialist perspective can uplift the plight of workers in the long-term.
As the program ended, the workers went back inside their camp—banners in hand and the ceaseless working class struggle in their minds. Their burning devotion to resist modern-day slavery and determination to achieve justice left us in awe and admiration. Breaking the chains that bound them to companies that relentlessly abused their labor for their own profitable gains, these workers stood their ground without fear. They are not solely fighting for themselves—but for all contractual workers who are experiencing this kind of cruelty and neglect of their basic rights.
Feature by Ricmae Arellano and Raye Peralta, student interns from University of Sto. Tomas