CONTRIBUTIONS

Beyond the Walls

Reflections on our fieldwork on workers conditions in Valenzuela

by Dayana de Guzman and Tanya Mindo (interns from UP Manila) 11 September 2016 Walls. As soon as we had a glimpse of the place where we were about to conduct our research on labor conditions, the high walls of the city had caught our attention. The gates of the factories were closed and smoke filled the air. The walls seemed to represent an immediate irony - a barrier representing the differences between those found inside, and those who were not. Home. Most of the respondents of the survey who dreamt of new lives moved to the country’s capital city in search of new homes, and probably new selves. It may be because waiting for nothing in the countryside burdened them and their families. Then there is the idea of a wondrous city, possibly the local version of the popularized ‘American dream’. Stories about the Metro had always sounded appealing. In a fragment of reality, people wore suits and carried briefcases. They paraded their cars, ate food in the best restaurants, shopped, and most importantly, jobs were guaranteed. They thought they just needed to settle down and wait. There is hope. “Aasenso rin kami,” they said. With the help of corporations and the government, they can get employments with decent wages. The environment will be good, they will work on humane conditions, and there is job security. The picture in the minds of the hopefuls enticed them to seek a better future. Little did they know that this city was merely a part of the whole-- a complete deviation from their fantasies. Our adventure only spanned six days. The trip to the location was strenuous as it was far away from the office. The inefficiency of the public transportation and the arrival of thunderstorms during the fieldwork added to this difficulty. Nevertheless, the truth about what lies beyond those tall edifices and structures was brought to light.

An artist paints a mural on the wall of Kentex Factory in Valenzuela (from Tudla Productions)

Mixed reactions welcomed us as we knocked and entered each doorstep. Restless bodies and drowsy eyes became so common to our eyesight. How we entered their rooms and asked an explicit “Magandang hapon po, may manggagawa po ba dito?” is beyond us. Each of us had our own questions and we wanted answers. Inevitably,, our first inquiries made the respondents’ brows raised, with some frowns and grimaces. Occasionally, they threw questions that depicted suspicions. They were skeptical, and sometimes, frightened. What could we possibly want from them? In the end as we clarified our intentions as researchers, they would let us in. The thought of improving their conditions was enough reason to participate in our endeavor. Their stories tugged strings and flashed in front of us what lies beyond the walls of Valenzuela City. Suppose it's quarter to six o'clock in the evening, and you are walking towards a green gate leading to where you work. All of a sudden, you remember you need to buy a viand for later's 10-minute break in the factory. You go and buy menudo in the carinderia nearby and walk again. Heaving a sigh, you brace yourself for tonight's activities, and look forward to the rising of the sun which means you finally get to go home again. Suppose it's a Sunday, and you hope to spend time with your children who for the past 16 years have gone schooling to reach greater heights. But you remember that you work for seven days straight now, with day offs numbering at most, two times a month in days the factory needs to be cleaned. When will you be able to share a meal with them? Suppose you're running late and it is only halfway through your walk to work that you realize you're wearing the wrong shirt. When you arrive at the plant, you get fired. Blowing smoke to the humid air, you buy another stick of Marlboro and decide either to give up or find a new job, probably one with the same description. You walk away and choose the path less taken. Suppose you found a magic lamp and a genie comes out, what would you want to change? Twelve  hours of work; absence of maternity and paternity leave; absence of labor unions; wages below minimum; contractual instead of regular -- we were confronted by these facts relayed from the respondents’ mouths. “5-5-5” and “endo” were terms so popularly used to illustrate the lack of job security. Some were unaware of how much the minimum wage in the region is, while some settle for what they ‘can’ get despite knowing how much they ‘should’ receive. Most are informed of the capability of labor unions to alleviate their sufferings, but are also indifferent about creating their own. The passivity emanating from the respondents perfectly showed their lack of interest on striving for the better. One participant, without hesitation, indicated his intention of returning abroad to work for nothing awaits him here-- a familiar mindset that is disturbingly real. But how could you blame a person for giving up? Suppose all the hopes and dreams you brought along with you as you traveled away from home came crumbling down in front of you, how do you get back on your feet? The research therefore has been conducted in order to encourage the legislators to revisit the existing labor laws. The labor code which was intended to protect the rights of the workers was obviously twisted to favor the wealthy. Exploitation of the laborers, not to mention, deprivation of their basic rights, have been apparent. Unfortunately, the past administrations allowed to further the abuses committed by the large corporations in contrast to their mandate to protect the people. This is only a fraction of what needs to be changed and fixed. The prospects for the next administration have put hope in the faces of the workers in Valenzuela, well at least those whom we had the chance to talk to. Many desire for positive changes in the present administration. However, these wishes must be translated into action-- into active participation. The walled city will stand still until Filipinos realize that we should break the walls that hamper our potentials and instead, build roads together.###