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The Greenhills hostage-taking’s real villain is poor labor conditions

Yesterday, dozens were taken hostage by a former security guard at Greenhills Shopping Center. The hostage-taker held 30 people captive at the mall’s administration office. The former guard, identified as Archie Paray, shot his former co-worker Ronald Velita. Apart from Velita, the captives remained unharmed until the hostage-taker was caught. 

What pushed Paray to do this? Money? Attention? No. It’s to prove a point on how bad labor conditions are in this country. And he was armed with grenades and a gun to get everyone to listen. 

His demands were the following: to speak with fellow mall guards and the media, for six security authorities from his former company to resign, and for his two bosses to literally eat P2,500 in front of the media. 

According to Inquirer, SASCOR General Manager Oscar Hernandez claimed Paray probably felt bad about their company’s rotation scheme. Officials from Paray’s former security company also claimed that he went AWOL for several weeks. “Masama ang kanyang loob sapagkat siya’y tinanggal bilang guwardiya at nagdesisyon siyang magpunta rito sa shopping center,” says San Juan Mayor Francis Zamora.

But to Paray, this isn’t just because he lost his job. It’s something much bigger than that. 

“’Wag na tayo mismo ang hahamak sa mga kasama natin, tayo mismo ang ga-gago sa kasama natin diyan lalo na kung kapalit dahil lang sa pera.”

“The suspect claimed he initiated the hostage-taking because he was sacked from his post due to the ‘corruption’ of his superiors,” writes Inquirer. After setting his hostages free, the 40-year-old former security guard went on a 20-minute monologue explaining his actions. He told everyone that before he planned the hostage-taking, he knew he was going to die. 

“Hopefully maging aral sana ito. Hindi lang dito sa commercial establishment na ’to, kahit saan. Kahit saan sana na may nagtratrabaho, lahat po tayo importante kaya tayo nandiyan. Dahil ba tayo ang mga boss diyan, hahamakin na lang natin ang mga mas mababa sa atin?” asks Paray in his monologue. “Sa lahat ng management, commercial man ’yan o high-rise building ’yan o ano, magrespetuhan po tayo. ’Wag na tayo mismo ang hahamak sa mga kasama natin, tayo mismo ang ga-gago sa kasama natin diyan lalo na kung kapalit dahil lang sa pera.”

Now, I don’t condone extremism as a means to an end, regardless of its [the end’s] necessity. Violence isn’t exactly the best way to get a message across. But we can’t deny that this incident made a lot of people start paying attention to what our workers go through every day. What we can all learn from this unfortunate incident is how it reflects our country’s poor labor conditions. When Paray asked for his superiors to literally eat P2,500 in front of everyone, it’s not to make fun of them. It’s to make a point: “This is what you’ve driven me to do.” 

There are ways to improve labor conditions without turning to violence. Sure, anyone can say that. But if you were treated like Paray, who felt he was unfairly dismissed from his only source of income, what are your choices then? Apparently, he asked his fellow guards to join him in exposing their employers’ corruption. But no one did.

After his speech, Paray was tackled by police officers after spotting a pistol on his waist. It’s easy to villainize him. But if there’s any lesson out of this, this is a wake-up call for every company to remember the value of your workers and treat them with respect. 

Last 2017, Kilusang Mayo Uno Secretary General Jerome Adonis stated, “24.4 million Filipinos or about 64 percent of the labor force were hired under various contractual employment schemes, as national wages ‘remain below living standards.’” They continue to lament that endo practices (end-of-contract scheme) have not been terminated yet.

Until now, there are a lot of unaddressed issues regarding labor conditions. Paray’s story isn’t the first incident of employers silencing employees who have spoken up. 

“But if there’s any lesson out of this, this is a wake-up call for every company to remember the value of your workers and treat them with respect.” 

Take the Regent 23 incident last November. Here are employees who unionized against poor labor conditions in their workplace. They did everything by the book, but what did they get in return? They were arrested during their strike. As Pasig Mayor Vico Sotto said to the public, “To the management of Regent Foods Corporation: These people are not criminals; they do not have the goal of hurting you. They are fighting for what they believe to be just.”

Read more: Just a reminder: give a damn about workers’ rights

There were other recent incidents where workers had to stand up for their rights. Remember #BoycottPEPMACO, #StandwithZaguWorkers or #FreeNutriasia17? These workers were paid less than P400 a day, were prevented from wearing protective gear and remained contractual even though they’ve been in the company for almost a decade. Instead of their employers hearing their side, they were met with violence.

Read more: Calling all animators, this seminar wants you to know your rights

If this isn’t a wake-up call to change working conditions, or at least a means to start a conversation to improve the lives of the working class, what will people in power wait for? Another hostage-taking? Or another employee driven to their wits’ end? 

Art by Rogin Losa

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