Avelino S. Caraan, Jr., Milagros C. Ogalinda and Ailene O. Montalban, NATOW

The unionism in the Philippine private sector has its roots as early as 1892 when a worker from Fressel and Co, Gat Andres Bonifacio, established the KATIPUNAN. It became the core of the first nationalist and workers’ revolution in Asia when it was under the regime of Western imperialism.

Since then, a series of expressions of disgust and dismay were registered by a number of workers in the private sector. Most of them were workers from printing industry, lithographers, professionals, clerical workers, cigarette workers and even barbers.

In August 2, 1902, Union Obrera Democratica (UOD) launched the Filipino workers’ first general strike. Thousands of workers in Manila joined the mass action which the American military government considered “seditious.” Isabelo Delos Reyes, a patriot and recognized as the father of Philippine unionism, was arrested and imprisoned for charges of sedition and rebellion.

In May 1, 1903 the Philippines celebrated its first International Labor Day where thousands of workers including teachers marched from Plaza Moriones in Tondo to Malacañan, demanded complete independence from American regime. Since then up to 1942, prominent labor leaders emerged – Dominador Gomez, Lope K. Santos, Herminigildo Cruz, Crisanto Evangelista, Antonio Paguia, and Ruperto Cristobal who risked their lives in advancing nationalism, labor movement and progressivism who also openly discussed their market-labor ideas borrowed from Russia, China, and United States.

During Japanese occupation, several labor leaders joined the HUKBALAHAP as repression in the labor front started.

It was Ka Cipriano Cid, the first President of Congress of Labor Organizations (CLO) who led the new quest for labor unification. He later became the founder and president of Philippine Association of Free Labor Unions (PAFLU), and started structuring of its member affiliates along industry lines. In 1970, Ka Cipriano Cid organized the country’s pioneer teachers’ organization, the General Union of Teachers (GUT) and registered with the Ministry of Labor and Employment. GUT underwent several changes in name and organization: National Alliance of Workers (NAW), National Alliance of Teachers and Allied Workers (NATAW), National Alliance of Teachers and Office Workers (NATOW) which adopted also a local name Samahang Manggagawang Pilipino (SMP). During the primary years of SMP-NATOW, Ka Cipriano had represented teachers and education workers in their labor cases before the management and courts of industrial relations until his death.

The trade union movement in the academe did not end with the untimely demise of SMP-NATOW founder. Thus, in 1978, it successfully lobbied for the inclusion of teachers and allied workers in the coverage of the 1975 Labor Code of the Philippines granting them the right to self-organization. Private school teachers again stood its ground when the said right was threatened by the Private Education Code which became the Education Act of 1982. Education sector was put under industries affecting the “national interest,” which could be invoked anytime in restricting trade union rights and freedom. This prompted to galvanize the ranks of teachers and other school personnel and led massive street protests in 1982.

The promotion and protection of unionism in the academe, especially in the private schools, is enshrined in the 1987 Philippine Constitution. Teacher unions in the private sector enjoy full collective and bargaining rights. It only shows that the teaching profession needs to be organized too in order to promote and protect their basic trade union and human rights.

In 1989, private school teachers and workers celebrated the success of SMP-NATOW lobbying to include them in the coverage of RA 6727 or the Wage Rationalization Act, which was by that time a hotly debated bill in the Philippine Congress. In the same year, SMP-NATOW became affiliated as independent federation with the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, which is now the largest labor center in the country.

A union leader from the academe, Ka Israel Bocobo, and first General Secretary of SMP-NATOW, became the Undersecretary of Labor. Other union leaders from private schools like Ms. Purificacion Quisumbing and Adelisa Raymundo professionalized and advanced trade unionism thru restructuring of organizational setup, advocating for labor and education issues, and participating in the government-led, industry-wide consultations.

In 1993, teachers and other workers in the private schools were represented by SMP-NATOW as a member of World Confederation of the Teaching Profession (WCOTP) merged with the International Federation of Free Trade Unions (IFFTU) to breathe life for Education International (EI), the global union federation of teachers and a reckoning force in the education sector.

Presently, unionism in the private school is guaranteed and governed primarily by the 1987 Philippine Constitution, generally by the PD 442 or the Labor Code of the Philippines, and specifically by the RA 6728 or the Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in the Private Education or the GASTPE Law as amended and the Manual of Regulations in the Private Higher Education (MORPHE). Time to time, the Department of Education (DepEd) and Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) issue letters of instructions and memoranda, which cover and include the private schools and its operations. Such orders have the effect of law.

By and large, private schools unions resort to collective bargaining and negotiation as platforms to pursue and uplift labor standards and relations affecting their sector.

Sources and References:

1987 Philippine Constitution (Article 3, Article 8, and Article 9)

Education International Trade Union Rights Manual: A Practical Guide for Unions defending their rights in South East Asia © 2013

Filipino Workers Dictionary, FES publication

RA 6728, Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education Act

SMP-NATOW Brochure © 2014