HomeEquality & JusticeManila's hostage drama a 'wake-up call' for Philippines' poor labor practices

Manila’s hostage drama a ‘wake-up call’ for Philippines’ poor labor practices

The hostage drama came on the first working day of the month. While people in the Philippine capital were rushing to work, legislators were preparing for another corruption probe, and health officials were looking into ways of preventing the spread of the new coronavirus disease, a tense standoff would soon grip the city.

Former security guard Archie Paray shot and wounded a guard, entered a shopping complex in the city of San Juan, and took more than 30 people hostage on March 2 in yet another frantic day in the Philippines. Paray was demanding an apology from his former employers for the “corrupt system in the company.”

The gunman was earlier dismissed for allegedly missing weeks of work without taking official leave. Paray, however, claimed he was the victim of a corrupt, abusive, and unjust system that many lowly workers like him suffer in the daily grind for survival.

He decried how the company “looks down on us security guards,” even as he claimed that his superiors and company security officials would take bribes from tenants at the shopping center.

He further alleged his fellow security guards had been let go without cause.

To appease him, six company officials resigned from their posts and apologized for their “shortcomings.” 

A policeman stands guard at a mall entrance in the city of San Juan in the Philippine capital as a lone gunman took at least 30 people hostage on March 2. (Photo by Jire Carreon)

“Before I did this, I know what will happen to me. Even as I planned this, I know that I am dead,” he said in what was supposed to be an audience with the media that lasted about 20 minutes in front of a crowd of journalists, police officers, and onlookers.

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Later in the evening, after Paray was tackled by the police and taken in after about ten hours of negotiations, the management of the shopping complex issued a statement, saying that it will “look into allegations made by the hostage taker.”

Before he was overpowered by the police, Paray asked in his angry, impassioned plea: “After this, where will I end up, in prison or in the cemetery?”

On March 3, San Juan police chief Jaime Santos announced that the former security guard was being “detained in our police station and awaiting inquest proceedings.”

He will be facing charges of frustrated murder, illegal possession of a firearm and ammunition, and serious illegal detention.

The fight to be heard

Hours after the drama unfolded, and despite the panic that Paray caused, some people actually seemed to be sympathizing with the hostage-taker. 

They said his actions might be “downright wrong,” but could also be “a testament to the lengths the poor have to go through just to be heard.”

Labor group Defend Jobs Philippines called on the government to look into the issues raised by Paray and shed light on his grievances. 

Gunman Archie Paray is taken in by police after about ten hours of negotiations in a hostage drama in the suburb of San Juan in the Philippine capital of Manila on March 2. (Photo by Jire Carreon)

The group said it does not condone the gunman’s act of hostage taking, but called for an investigation into alleged inhumane working conditions.

“We stand firm that a fair trial must be done for him and proper psycho-social and post-traumatic interventions must be conducted for both the hostage-taker and his hostages in the soonest possible time,” said Thadeus Ifurung, the spokesman for the labor group.

In an interview, Francis Zamora, mayor of the city of San Juan, said Paray was “upset after he was fired from his job.” 

The mayor said the gunman “wanted to get the other guards to join him for some sort of coup against the mall management.”

Social media, unsurprisingly, was awash with its own takes on the hostage drama. 

“The greenhills hostage taking incident is a perfect reflection on how bad the labor conditions in our country truly are,” read a post from Inigo Abellar on Twitter.

“(Not defending what he did) but if he didn’t do what he did, nobody would know or listen to how bad agencies treat their workers,” he added.

“The #Greenhills hostage situation was not about an evil man who wanted to hurt people. It was about a working man pushed to the brink because of inhumane labor practices such as s*** wages & contractualization,” read another.

“What the Greenhills hostage-taker did was wrong but this shows the struggle against capitalism and corruption especially for those lower in the hierarchy. It’s really sad that people have to resort to this just to have a voice and be heard 😞,” posted a Twitter user named Marika.

Alarmed over mass layoffs

Without referencing the hostage drama which unfolded the day before, two Catholic bishops expressed alarm over a recent spate of dismissals in recent weeks, reportedly triggered by fears over the possible fallout from coronavirus.

On March 3, Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo called on the country’s labor department to investigate the “real reason” for the retrenchment of workers.

“If the companies are having a hard time with the coronavirus disease, the workers too will have a hard time without work,” said the bishop.

He said the government should create more jobs for the people, which “has always been the demand of workers.”

The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines has earlier reported that a minimum of 7,000 workers in airlines, cruise ships, travel agencies, and hotel and restaurants are about to be laid off within the next six months.

The labor group said more enterprises are forced to implement rentrenchment programs to cope with business losses caused by fears over the spread of the new coronavirus disease.

Last week, Philippine Airlines was forced to lay off 300 administrative and management employees in a business restructuring program, caused by flight cancellations and travel bans in the airline’s key market.

Onlookers gather outside a shopping mall in the city of San Juan in the Philippine capital of Manila after a lone gunman took at least 30 people hostage on March 2. (Photo by Jire Carreon)

Raymond Mendoza, the trade union president, warned that the retrenchment at Philippine Airlines “is just the beginning of the bigger adverse economic effect of the escalating outbreak.”

Filipino workers on passenger cruises and cargo ships will also be affected by a slump in sales as fallout from the outbreak and the grounding of the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan, which caused 500 Filipino crew members to lose their jobs. 

More land-based overseas Filipino workers working as teachers, drivers, entertainers, cooks, waiters, receptionists, and household service workers will be hit by the economic slump, forcing them to return home. 

Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of the San Carlos Diocese, meanwhile, called on companies to make an honest examination of their motives for dismissing workers. 

“It becomes unethical and a violation of workers’ rights if [the retrenchment of workers] was intended to increase profits by reducing the work force and thereby adding more to the ranks of the excluded,” he said.

The prelate said the economy “must serve the people, not the other way around.”

“If the dignity of work has to be protected, the workers’ right must be protected as well, including their right to productive work, just remuneration, decent working conditions, and to form associations for their mutual benefits,” added Bishop Alminaza.

He said company owners and management should also involve workers in the decision-making process. 

“Great care should be done to minimize the adverse impact of such decisions through sincere dialogue and unflinching commitment for the common good,” said the bishop.

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