Speech of President Ramos at the Labor Day Celebration with the Labor Groups, May 1, 1998

His Excellency Fidel V. Ramos
President of the Philippines
At the Labor Day Celebration with the Labor Groups

[Delivered at the Ang Bahay ng Alumni, U. P. Diliman, Quezon City, May 1, 1998]

Homage to the
Filipino worker

WHILE WE have been preparing to celebrate the centennial of our nationhood, we also have just recently graduated from the country’s 22nd economic program under the International Monetary Fund (IMF). For the first time in 35 years, we are celebrating Labor Day and Independence Day free from IMF tutelage.

Ten days from now, Filipinos will take part in the country’s last general election to be held in this century. Our electorate will exercise its sovereign will in accordance with the democratic ideals and traditions we have sought to preserve in the last one hundred years.

On June 30 a new president, a new Congress and a new set of local officials will take over the reins of government throughout the archipelago. They will assume the awesome responsibility of leading the Filipino nation into the next millennium.

What will happen at the end of my term is one of the true and enduring gifts of democracy—the peaceful turnover of power between duly elected leaders and representatives of our people, the concrete expression of our political renewal. The real meaning of independence is not realized without political and economic empowerment. This is the vision of our heroes such as Dr. Jose Rizal, Gat Andres Bonifacio and General Emilio Aguinaldo one hundred years ago, and those who carried their ideals thereafter.

During this centennial year, we pay homage to the Filipinos of earlier generations whose labors and sacrifices brought us to where we are now. Today, we pay homage to the free Filipino worker.

The twin threats to our gains

The six years of the Ramos Administration have brought our people to the threshold of the next millennium—not only in terms of calendar time but also in terms of a genuine opportunity to realize within their lifetimes the benefits of being part of a truly modernized nation. Yet, in these closing years of this century, we find ourselves facing challenges that threaten to erode the gains we have made.

The financial storm sweeping across Asia for the last ten months has resulted in an economic downspin for some of our neighbors and slowed down our growth. An important backbone of the economy, the agricultural sector, has started to suffer from the consequences of the El Niño phenomenon. This will adversely affect not only our macro-economic targets and the livelihood of our fellow Filipinos dependent on agriculture but, more important, the food security and social cohesion of our nation.

Like the proverbial bamboo, however, that bends with the wind, we are once again proving our resilience in times of adversity.

Investments into the country remain robust. The economy continues to generate jobs, particularly in the manufacturing sector. In spite of the projected negative growth rates for some of our neighbors in 1998 and 1999, our economy is still expected to grow by at least 3 percent for this year.

The estimated 60,000 jobs lost in 1997 were offset by the 300,000 jobs generated during the year. In spite of the job losses in the first quarter of 1998, there has been no net loss in employment generation during the past 10-month period since July 1997. In January and February alone, 32,000 jobs were created in the 80 economic zones across the country.

Today, I will be inaugurating the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) II, the Philippines’ new window to the world. In its full operation, the new terminal is expected to generate 10,000 jobs.

Neither have we wasted any effort in confronting the El Niño situation. We have rechanneled resources to the most affected sectors, particularly in Mindanao, to ensure their food security.

Mitigating the consequences of displacement

We are also acting swiftly to set in place mechanisms that will mitigate the social consequences of displacement.

We are launching today the exchange network of the Department of Labor and Employment, an important part of die support system to correct fluctuations in the labor market, particularly during volatile periods.

On the recommendations of the Social Security System (SSS) as confirmed by the Employees’ Compensation Commission, I have just approved a P200-million, low-interest emergency loan program to assist workers in the private sector who were separated from their employment as a result of the currency crisis.

I am also approving today, as proposed by SSS Resolution 266-S 98, the increase in the minimum monthly pension of retirement, death and disability pensioners as of May 23, 1997, from P1,500 to P2,400 for those with at least 20 credited years of service.

I have also been informed that the labor department is now implementing a comprehensive assistance package for the training and retraining of displaced workers.

The many things we have done together in the last six years give me reason to believe in the Filipinos’ capacity to overcome the odds. I am confident, therefore, that we will weather these threats to our gains with the same pride, dignity and courage that are part of our heroic legacy.

Empowering the labor sector

I started my term in 1992 advocating people empowerment and global competitiveness to realize our vision of “Philippines 2000.”

A nation may be independent but if its diverse sectors have no unity and social cohesion, it cannot become fully empowered. Through our Social Reform Agenda (SRA), we have struck hard at the roots of our economic decline and social conflict. We made the eradication of poverty and the narrowing of the gap between the haves and the have-nots the centerpiece of our development efforts.

We have, in fact, institutionalized the SRA with the recent passage of the Social Reform and Poverty Alleviation Act, which also created the National Antipoverty Commission. This ensures that all sectors, including the workers, will equally enjoy the legal protection and support appropriate to their status.

We have reached out to the poorest of our people—and brought them into the widening circle of development.

At no time in our history had the private sector, particularly labor, been given as much participation in policy- and decision-making processes. Labor representatives are everywhere in democratic public government, from the halls of Congress to the boards of Government corporations to the less formal mechanisms of tripartite and multisectoral consultations.

We now see labor and other non-Government organizations seeking to institutionalize their participation in the political mainstream by running for representation under the party-list system.

Legislative reforms in labor relations

In our partnership with Congress, we have progressively sought to create—through the formulation or passage of critical policies, programs and laws—an enabling environment which optimizes not only workers’ protection but also employment opportunities and access to social benefits.

We formulated in 1995 a Comprehensive Employment Strategy Program (CESP) which aims to provide support and encouragement not only to formal employment but also to informal, livelihood and entrepreneurship arrangements. The CESP is the most important blueprint for employment planning since the Ranis Report of 1974 .

We have enacted a Migrant Workers Law which not only protects overseas Filipino workers but also provides for the management of migration flows, considering that human resources have become an internationally shared resource under a global economy.

The resilience of the Filipino is best exemplified today by our almost four million overseas Filipino workers, whose labors and savings have helped sustain our economic growth, as well as our international good will.

We have restructured the human resource development institutions as part of our country’s continuing drive for a globally competitive work force.

We have created the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) to provide industry with technical and vocational skills appropriate to the demands of industrialization. The TESDA’s institutional linkage with industry has in fact been strengthened through the passage of the Dual Training System Law.

The labor department, through its regional tripartite wage and productivity boards, has mandated 64 rounds of wage increases, covering all 16 administrative regions across the country in the last six years. This has led to an average increase of 47 percent of workers’ wages since 1992.

Supplementing the wage increases is the passage of the Comprehensive Tax Reform Law raising the deductions for lower-income groups. This has resulted in a more friendly tax regime for workers, effectively increasing workers’ take-home pay.

An amended Labor Code

We have amended the Labor Code to strengthen the visitorial and enforcement powers of the Secretary of Labor and Employment and the department’s regional directors. The bottom line is that violations must be corrected swiftly. We have also passed a double indemnity law against violators of minimum-wage adjustments.

To promote the speedy resolution of labor disputes, we have also amended the Labor Code in respect to the jurisdictional boundaries of the divisions of the National Labor Relations Commission. This is intended to maximize the resources of the commission toward a more expeditious disposition of cases.

Supplementing the legislative changes in labor relations is a more effective management of disputes, particularly in strike-prone industries. In the last six years the number of strikes and lockouts has consistently declined. It now stands at less than 100 strikes a year, compared with more than 500 in 1986. This situation has enhanced the attractiveness of the country as an investment destination.

In the area of workers’ protection and welfare, we have passed the Antisexual Harassment Law, the first law of its kind in Southeast Asia. We have strengthened the prohibitions and penalties against child labor, particularly the employment of children below 18 years of age.

In the area of social legislation, we have passed a Retirement Law applicable to all workers in the private sector without retirement plans. We have also reduced the retirement age for underground mine workers, taking into account the peculiar hazards to which they are exposed.

We have also been moving toward a truly universal coverage of social security with amendments to the SSS law and the GSIS law, the creation of the Philippine Health Insurance Commission, and the passage of a Paternity Leave Law.

Social programs for workers

Throughout the six years of the Ramos Administration, we have ensured funding through the General Appropriations Act of various social programs implemented by the labor department in partnership with its various publics.

We set up programs for unions and other workers’ organizations; for entrepreneurship and capability building; for the youth, students and the differently abled; for the informal sector; for training and retraining; and for cooperative development, among others.

All in all, from a modest appropriation of P2.1 million in 1992, a total of P3.6 billion was allocated to the labor department to support social programs over the last six years. In this respect, empowerment programs were not directed at unions alone but also at other forms of organization, including cooperatives. Many of the unions represented here have benefited from the Workers’ Organization and Development Program, which provides capability-building grants and entrepreneurship loans. The first beneficiaries of the program are the Pambansang Tagapag-ugnay ng mga Manggagawa sa Bahay and the Kaunlaran ng Manggagawang Pilipino, Inc., which today has just launched its fifth workers’ village, with one more in the pipeline this year.

The centennial of the labor movement

Today is unlike the previous Labor Day celebrations we had. Under the overarching theme of the centennial of independence, the Philippine Labor Movement is nearing its own centennial, counting from the time Isabelo de los Reyes established the first formally organized union, Union Obrero Democratico, in 1902.

By now, the labor movement should be making its countdown toward its own centennial. But we do not need to wait for the year 2002 to bestow on the leaders of the labor movement their well-deserved recognition.

And so, today, we honor both the living and the dead, showing them the appreciation of a nation for their pioneering and sustaining efforts as vanguards of the working class.

We are also launching today a Hall of Fame for labor leaders, which shall be housed in the appropriate agency within the labor department, and the Gawad Awards for outstanding workers and outstanding collective-bargaining agreements.

I also note that, unlike previous Labor Day celebrations, we have with us today a wide cross-section of our work force, including the farmer’s groups, homeowners, women’s groups, overseas workers, public sector, and workers in the services and industry sectors.

To give more meaning to this occasion, I have just signed Proclamation 1215 declaring the first week of May of every year as “Linggo ng Paggawa,” with each sectoral grouping being accorded a day of recognition. I hope this will inspire our diverse sectors to look at their contributions, then come together with the single purpose of promoting economic and social development toward a stronger nation.

50th anniversary of membership in the ILO

This year, we also take pride in commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Philippine membership in the International Labor Organization (ILO). For the past 50 years, the Philippines has remained a staunch partner and active supporter of the ILO in its quest for peace and social justice in the world of work.

I have signed Proclamation 1211 declaring 1998 as the Golden Year Anniversary of Philippine membership in the International Labor Organization to commemorate this historic milestone in our partnership.

In reaffirming our commitment to the ideals and principles of the ILO, this year we ratified ILO Convention 138, which seeks to eliminate child labor; Convention 176 on the safety and health of mine workers; and Convention 179 on the recruitment and placement of seafarers.

To further strengthen support and protection for our indigenous peoples, we have submitted for ratification by the Senate ILO Convention 169 on the protection of the rights of indigenous peoples to coincide with the start of the United Nations Decade for Indigenous Peoples.

One hundred years ago, our heroes called on their comrades in arms to fight their battles of liberation from colonial rule. In the last six years, we have relived the ideals of our heroes, fighting our own battles on different fields—against poverty, unemployment, social division and our own complacency.

In the incoming administration, Filipino workers must continue to seek reforms appropriate to tine changing world of work. A new set of reforms is in fact needed to fortify and advance the gains we have made in the last six years.

We must continue to enhance the competitiveness of the work force. We must, at all costs, continue protecting our main competitive advantage, our human resources, through responsive and rational human resource programs. We must manage our growing labor force more efficiently. Information technology presents to us an opportunity to minimize job mismatches and labor-market inefficiencies. One of the major strategic directions of reform in labor administration should be in the area of managing labor-market information.

Restructuring employee-employer relations

We must move to redefine and restructure employee-employer relations, as well as remove the rigidities in the industrial relations environment, but always bearing in mind the need to balance management prerogatives with the protection of workers.

We must give life to the principle of industrial democracy and shared responsibility, recognizing that labor is a primary social and economic force. We must move to strengthen the social partnership between labor and management by setting up the legal and administrative mechanisms that will promote dialogue, negotiation and cooperation rather than conflict and confrontation.

We must continually work for universal social protection.

Lastly, we must redefine the concept of labor and ensure that the concerns of every worker in every sector are attended to.

Source: Presidential Museum and Library