DURING THE MARCOS dictatorship, labor unions faced a grave and intolerable threat from state forces. They were forewarned that their continued operation, and even their mere existence, would warrant their immediate seizure and closure by the government. This was a stark reversal of fortunes for a country once hailed to be a beacon of democracy in Asia, where safe spaces for activism were ample and ever-present.
In subsequent years, the fall of Ferdinand Marcos Sr. heralded the slow return of labor unions and civil society organizations (CSOs) into the fray, following years of sustained opposition underground. Their reemergence, although still marred by constant state surveillance, showed that there was still an appetite among Filipinos, particularly its labor force, to see organized movements as a means to advance its agenda come what may.
However, the recent brouhaha involving the Department of Education (DepEd) and the profiling of teachers affiliated with the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) threatens to undermine the progress we have made in restoring the rights and autonomy of labor unions and CSOs. It sets a dangerous precedent that harkens back to the dark days of Martial Law, where state forces purposefully targeted and suppressed dissenting voices.
The role of labor unions and CSOs in a democratic society cannot be understated. They serve as a vital check and balance against potential abuses of power by those in a position to do so, ensuring that the rights and welfare of workers are protected and upheld. These organizations provide a platform for workers to voice their concerns, advocate for better working conditions, and push for policy changes that benefit the broader labor force, powers that they may not otherwise have if they act as individuals.
The profiling of ACT members by the DepEd not only infringes upon the teachers’ right to freedom of association but also sends a chilling message to other unions and CSOs that their existence and conduct of activities are not welcome in a democratic society such as ours. It instills a great sense of fear and undermines the crucial role these organizations play in our nation.
Moreover, the government’s labeling of ACT and other organizations as “communist fronts” without credible evidence further erodes confidence among all sectors of society to speak up against brazen acts of government failure. Such unfounded accusations not only stigmatize and undermine the legitimacy of these organizations but also create an environment of suspicion and hostility towards those engaged in legitimate activism and advocacy work.
It is therefore imperative for the government to recognize the importance of a vibrant civil society and labor movement in a democracy. Instead of stifling their voices, clear efforts should be directed towards fostering an environment that promotes dialogue, inclusivity, and the protection of fundamental rights. The government should work hand-in-hand with labor unions and CSOs to address the concerns and to secure the aspirations of the Filipino people, rather than resorting to crass tactics that breed divisiveness and undermine our cherished democratic traditions. Moreover, it is doubly crucial that we remain vigilant and steadfast in defending the gains made in this post-Marcos era, even with another Marcos at the helm, ensuring that history does not repeat itself. Our collective voice and solidarity can prevent the erosion of democratic values and protect the essential role of labor unions and CSOs in shaping a just and equitable society. Only through the recognition and respect of labor unions and CSOs can we truly build a nation that values the contributions and aspirations of its citizens.