The Philippines Daily Express Employees Union Experience
You fight hard for what is right, and you will get what is rightfully yours.
By MARC GUERRERO
Second in a series on Unionism in the Media
CNN Philippines unionizing” was the first in CPM News Asia Media Unionism series by this author.
The series was conceived of to take a harder look-see, upclose and personal, of media practitioners and media organizations in The Philippines and elsewhere in the world where we have whatever connections, as to why media as an empowering collective are not that powerful and influential as people thought.
Publishers, network owners, producers and people who matter in the newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and internet seemed to wield all that powers and influence on social, political, economic, cultural and spiritual leaders and the general public… but not yet the workers in media.
“Why and how come?” is my perennial question to those who can respond with all fairness, justice and reason.
Before this series carries on to Bloomberg in The Philippines, BBC London in The Philippines and so on, I enjoin you to journey back in time when the Philippines Daily Express Employees Union Inc (PDEEUI) of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Philippine Star and Manila Bulletin (combined) back then, circa-1970s, was the “best-practice model for a media union.
THE PHILIPPINES was the most free press in the world in the Sixties and Seventies. Forty years after, it had retrogressed into the most dangerous place on Earth (second to Afghanistan and such league of terror-saturated enclaves where the G-powers had fully trained their jihadist terrorists) to practice journalism.
When Ferdinand Marcos Sr wanted to stay on (forever was the ultimate goal) in Malakanyang after his reelection in 1969, he padlocked Chino Roces’ Manila Times and other fighting press, took over TV and radio stations, and allowed three broadsheets to operate. Ironically, it was also the ignorable “mosquito press” (We Forum, Malaya, Mr & Ms and a few others) who bit (aptly, “dengued”) Marcos to lupus and, eventually, into his historical death.
Presidents do not learn from the hard lessons of history.
Gloria Arroyo tried to gag the press during her reign. Rodrigo Duterte began into his first 100 days in power by making war with the media a la Donald Trump, and they both won.
Committed media and free, responsible and responsive media practice can make or break any presidency in the world.
It can help make great or horrible changes in society. But it cannot seem to help the simple workers in media (media labor) sustain a good quality of life for themselves and for their loved ones.
In NewsTV, you cannot expect newsreaders, hosts, anchors, news directors, and program managers to organize, lead or join media unions.
The same is true with editors in the print media.
The Philippines Daily Express experience (from the Seventies to the Eighties), however, was unique.
Proactive mass actions
IT FOUGHT the fiercest labor battles during the most interestingly dangerous times (Marcos’ Martial Law).
Mass meetings were not allowed by the regime. Curfew hours were in effect. Pamphlets and flyers were confiscated. Getting organized was like a guerrilla hide-and-seek game. In the end, the Daily Express Union for an average 300 workers was able to incorporate. It elected as first union president an advertising account executive (Juan “Johnny Gat” Gatbonton) who was described by a few of his equals or subordinates as “not necessarily incorruptible.”
He mustered the support of majority of union membership, allegedly, by lavishing them with “priority salary loans” for the rank-and-file. If you were not one of the boys, Johnny Gat’s leadership just sit on your applications. The taints on his administration of the union were varied.
He was reportedly mocked as “president of a company union,” translated as a newspaper union run by management via a figurehead who got staff-pay from working as AE for the company and, on the side, got lots of perks from management who dictated upon him how he ought to run the union of ordinary media working men and women.
Thus, the Gatbonton collective bargaining agreement (CBA) was piecemeal.
So the “real union within” Johnny Gat’s company union got their acts together, linked up with newspaper unions of two other papers into a federated media union of sorts (led by the late journalist Antonio Nieva), and fought harder than before.
There were lots of work slow downs, sit ins, noise barrages and other mass actions against the management of Express, Journal and Bulletin.
During those times, you can be killed (assassinated was for the likes of Ninoy Aquino) by being sympathetic with the union. You will be branded a communist and may get lost into your historical obscurity and oblivion (become deparecidos).
Change did come
‘TAMA NA, sobra na, palitan na!,” was the war cry of a Daily Express proofreader, Guillermo ‘Guil’ Franco, who studied in UP Diliman, against Johnny Gatbonton in the next elections of the Philippines Daily Express Employees Union Inc (PDEEUI).
President Franco admitted that he, too, was offered by the Express management with “inspirational, motivational and persuasive” perks upon his assumption into office.
The fightingest inspirit in him, Guil confided in this author, prevailed.
He declined the very attractive offers by management in a series of meetings in five-star hotels and other posh venues.
Real collective bargaining work begun under Franco’s leadership.
Institutional harassment of Franco’s union was here, there and everywhere the Express (and also within and without). This happened while the Express Editorial’s stories, photos, illustrations and cartoons were censored from Marcos’ Malakanyang.
To Guil Franco’s and the Express Management’s credit (after many sessions-ful of so-called “hot and cold treatment of each other,” mental anguish, sleepless nights, bruised egos, brickbats and more forceful threats against each other, like firing of anger and hatred, on the bargaining table), PDEEU’s general membership won for themselves material and financial benefits.
Six thousand pesos (PhP6,000.00) a month was the mandated minimum wage back then. Express people got PhP12,000.00 plus, plus, plus. You automatically leveled up to permanent status of your employment when you were able to render three to six months of good service to the company.
Express people also got two months of midyear bonus and three months of Christmas bonus, sometimes not including the 13th month pay.
Sacks of rice, sacks of sugar, groceries and gift certificates were aplenty. There were educational plans, car plans, health plans, housing plans for the more blessed.
If you were a working student, your class schedules were top priority. They adjusted to your work schedules in the company, not the other way around.
Express people had the right to sick leaves, vacation leaves and emergency leaves. They were cashable if not used. Overtime pays were given abundantly, and promptly.
There were maternity leaves, paternity leaves, birthday incentives, and so on. Penalties were charged for the simplest of mistakes in KRA (key responsibility areas, say, glaring errors in headlines or bank financial statements, for proofreaders). High performance incentives outdid the penalties. Night differentials were given. Death and burial benefits were automatic.
Together, the Philippines Daily Express Union and Management (all in the afterlife: Roberto S Benedicto, DH Soriano, Juan “Johnny” Perez, two living testaments to everything that was Mary Jane Ortega and Enrique ‘Pocholo’ Romualdez, et al) also won for themselves and their families most valuable “psychic income:” triumphs of spirit by real people that unionizing was worth all their while, after all.