Senatorial aspirants from labor pitch ‘truly independent’ foreign policy, more help for workers

Senatorial aspirant Luke Espiritu (Photo courtesy of CNN Philippines)

THREE labor leaders who are senatorial aspirants urged the Philippine government not to be subservient to any foreign superpower to maintain an independent foreign policy for the country.  

In a recent breakfast forum in Quezon City, Makabayan Coalition Chairman Neri Colmenares, Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP) President Luke Espiritu and Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) National Chairman Elmer Labog deplored what they deemed the weakness of President Duterte’s independent foreign policy by not asserting Philippine sovereignty more strongly; by pivoting to China and by the “mistake” of allowing the recent biggest Balikatan Philippines-US joint military exercises. They all said that a genuinely independent foreign policy is pro-Philippines, should uphold demilitarization of the Asean region and the disputed seas, and should not make the Philippines a puppet or pawn of any superpower.

Moreover, Espiritu stressed that it is also wrong for the Philippines to allow American military presence here, which would then provoke China to increase their defense posture in the disputed seas due to their perception of American military encirclement of China with so many US military bases in the Philippines, Japan, South Korea and Washington’s  QUAD alliance with India, Japan and Australia.  Espiritu described Duterte’s diplomacy as “trapo foreign policy”, not a true independent foreign policy.  

Contrary to some analyses by supposed experts on geopolitics and foreign policy,  Colmenares, Espiritu and Labog pointed out that Beijing would not launch aggressive moves toward the country as seen by the past events in Indonesia and Vietnam. “When the Indonesian and Vietnamese authorities apprehended Chinese fishermen for illegal poaching in their respective waters, China did not attack these countries,” Colmenares said.

“After seizing the Chinese boats, Indonesia destroyed them and no conflict followed,” Espiritu said.

Colmenares said the Philippines can join Vietnam, Indonesia and other ASEAN claimants to assert their sovereign rights and form a united stand. If the South China Sea is completely demilitarized, Colmenares pointed out that the Philippines and other ASEAN claimants can now talk with Beijing regarding the proper code of conduct in the disputed area. 

Help for workers

They also appealed for reforms and immediate assistance to millions of workers and the unemployed who are reeling from high inflation and the lingering effects of the two-year global pandemic. Espiritu added that the government should take the lead to generate more jobs in this time of crisis.

Colmenares, Espiritu and Labog also proposed giving immediate tax breaks, subsidies for workers’ salaries and other additional support for micro, small and medium-scale enterprises (MSMEs) which provide the bulk of employment in the Philippine economy. They lament the fact that government loans and “ayuda” or help for MSMEs “are not enough”.

In the recent debate organized by the Commission on Elections, Espiritu said he will propose the establishment of a P125-billion fund for the country’s micro small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) to revitalize the sector which was severely hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Our party is running under a pro-labor and pro-MSME platform as it’s high time to give voice to the working class,” Espiritu told the media in a forum held in Quezon City. 

Espiritu will also push for the implementation of a P750 minimum daily wage nationwide to help the workers cope with the fast-rising cost of goods and services. Although it would not really provide a genuine comfortable living standard for the workers, Espiritu said the P750 minimum daily wage proposal would be needed to give the workers a small breather from the challenges brought by the current economic malaise. “I want to implement it on a nationwide level because the cost of living in the province is not different from Metro Manila. In fact, the cost of gasoline is more expensive in the provinces,” Espiritu pointed out.

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