By Mae Valdez
“Do we really know what struggle is and know what a fight’s like? Is life really as hard as we make it on some nights?” –Rhema Soul
A dictionary passage on struggle reads that it is “to contend with an adversary or opposing force”. This characterizes the current situation of the Philippine Airlines Employees Association (PALEA) as they spend their sixth month still camping outside of PAL’s service center in protest of the company’s outsourcing of its ground and catering services, once held by PALEA members. I was able to visit and talk to them about their “struggle”, something I can easily relate to after being immersed with theirs.
The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) approved of PAL’s outsourcing due to “intended closure” with the assurance that its regular employees would be automatically re-hired. Once employed again, they would not receive the benefits such as health care insurance and other bonuses that they used to have. Their salaries would also be much lower and they would not have the security of tenure.
As I entered their camp, I wondered what was behind the messages they put on their tarpaulins. What was all the fuss about? Why not just be grateful for the offer? Why all the angst? “Eh ano ba’ng pakialam ko dito?” I thought.
We interviewed Mr. Bong Palad, PALEA’s secretary-general. A deep conviction reflected in his eyes as he justified the cause for the struggle that they were going through. As I listened, I got to have a broader perspective on the PAL-PALEA issue. Putting myself in their shoes, they really have no other option but to fight for their jobs, the only source of living for themselves and their families.
In my Tourism 121 (Human Resource Management) class under Atty. Kapunan, I’ve learned that our government should protect the welfare of laborers. But the Office of the President affirmed the DOLE ruling in favor of PAL. I know that the government is concerned with the bigger picture—the economy—but it seems to take for granted why it exists at all. I am not anti-capitalist; I believe in capitalism’s capability to improve the living standards of people, but is it really?
If the country achieves economic growth because of contractualization and similar “trends” with the cost of laborers losing their health benefits and security of tenure, can we say that there is really development? I believe in capitalism if and only if it becomes a means to improve the people’s quality of life. Screw that so-called economic growth.
As I boarded the bus going home, I wondered if PALEA’s protest would make any difference. I wondered if their voices would still be heard despite of the media turning sour on them. I asked myself where they get the courage to stand firm amid the powers-that-be they are contending with.
That instance I realized how powerful hope can be.
After the PALEA immersion, I began to see them in a different light. A struggle is not a sort of agony; it is “to contend” or “to fight”. They may seem to be the underdogs now but the fight is not yet over. Despite of PAL being a Goliath, they are contenders of its ruling, like David. I pray they’d hit the right mark.