Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts
Volume 3, Number 13 May 4 - 10, 2003 Quezon City, Philippines
Lives, One Cause
a special tribute to workers in celebration of Labor Day, Bulatlat.com features
the story of two labor leaders in Negros – one of a “peti-burgis” who
transcends his class origin to become a true proletarian leader, the other of a
peasant who evolved into an icon of labor militancy. The two serve as a beacon
to the labor movement in Negros and elsewhere.
Karl G. Ombion
a petty bourgeois origin
Barreta, known as Junjun to militant workers in Negros, was born into a working
class family. His father was a long-time worker of the Victorias Milling Company
and was even once the president of its union, the Victorias Industrial Workers
described his youth as “colorful, enriching, entertaining and full of
was a hard worker and risk-taker like my father. But I also liked to socialize
and make friends, play football (the top sport in Don Bosco where he studied
high school), and join drama and oratorical contests. Those were happy years for
me and the kind of environment I dream for all youth,” Junjun mused.
his college years at the University of Negros Occidental-Recoletos (UNOR),
Junjun joined the local chapter of Kabataan para sa Demokrasya at Nasyunalismo
(Youth for Nationalism and Democracy) or Kadena because it was “closer to the
life and involvement of my father and family, and showed genuine concern for
youth and student interests, and the problems of the masses.”
was then that Junjun became politicized, joining protests against the Marcos
dictatorship and participating in immersion programs with the basic sectors.
after he graduated and earned his degree on BS Economics, Junjun continued to
work as a Kadena organizer, visiting various schools and communities to recruit
and educate the youth, often without a centavo in his pocket.
Junjun had, at one point, thought of joining the military.
wanted to become a professional military man because I felt that military
discipline and courage suited my personality,” he says. “In fact, I enrolled
at the Philippine Merchant Marine Academy in 1981 and underwent training at Fort
Bonifacio. I quit later because I realized its orientation was the complete
opposite of what my vision of a true military man was.”
1988, he decided to work in the Victoria Milling Company. He was a clerk at the
office of the Factory Repair, Lubrication and Maintenance department. His income
was just enough to start a family life. He recalled that when he and his wife
transferred to VMC, “we had practically nothing – no cooking utensils, no
sala set and just a few clothes. It was a new challenge for me.”
problems in the VIWA, Junjun joined VIWA and volunteered in undertaking
education and organizing work among his fellow workers. He also joined the VIWA
Unified Party (VUP), an informal formation of several VIWA worker-organizers who
wanted to rebuild VIWA into a genuine, militant and nationalist workers union.
He led several dialogues and education activities and convinced several key
officers of VIWA to uphold the principles and orientation of VUP.
the management carried out a vicious retrenchment program in late 1992, several
VIWA members were affected, including VUP’s key leaders and organizers. Though
Junjun was among the lucky ones spared from the retrenchment, he joined the
weeklong picket protesting of the retrenchment.
to work several days later, Junjun was made to explain why he joined the
“illegal” picket and barricade. Grievance hearings on his case, along with
retrenched workers, ensued. He was surprised to be given preventive suspension
on New Year’s day in 1993. But the case against him was dismissed nine months
later and Junjun finally returned to
work. Junjun wasted no time in resuming his education and organizing
work. He led several other local mass struggles, including the campaign for job
re-evaluation in different departments to ensure proper placement and security
of tenure of workers.
dedication and leadership earned him the respect of union leaders and mass
members. When he ran for a seat in the VIWA Board of directors in 1995, he won
landslide. He took charge of the union’s education committee. Junjun proudly
describes how during his days in VIWA, the harassment of workers by the
management was significantly minimized.
in late 1996, while negotiation for the first three-years of CBA was in process,
the management suddenly declared irreversible financial losses. This was
followed by massive retrenchments that laid off hundreds of workers, including
Junjun, in almost all vital production departments of VMC. “Although we had
hints of the management moves, we were caught by surprise. It was a blitzkrieg
and sweeping,” Junjun narrated.
union waged legal battles and local mass struggles against the retrenchment but
the union only succeeded in winning the recall of 19 union members.
for Junjun it was not the end of his work, much less his political commitment.
“I did not feel helpless. We were taught with an important lesson (by
the incident) – that capitalists are the most vicious of classes and want only
their own progress and comforts. That is why workers must not retreat but take
this as a challenge
and continue fighting until they are free and able to chart their own
Junjun, with the support of his wife, immediately volunteered as a fulltime
organizer of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), an affiliate of
the militant Kilusang Mayo Uno (May First Movement).
His exemplary discipline, courage and commitment to working class
interests led his comrades in NFSW-KMU to make him their chief spokesperson in
February 1999. The following year, he was elected regional chairman of the
multi-sectoral alliance Bayan-Negros and regional chairman of NFSW. He is also a
member of the national council of KMU.
reflects, “I have no regrets about my life now. In fact I have so much to
thank my co-workers for. They have broadened my world views and strengthened my
political standpoint. I have now fully accepted the challenges and risks of a
proletarian leader in the workers movement.”
challenge to the workers is full of encouragement and hope, “The workers must
never get tired of studying the situation, never allow themselves to be
persuaded by the sweet words and promises of the capitalists, and must always
persevere in expanding their ranks, strengthening their organizations, and
waging fierce ideological and political battles against the ruling class.”
is now 40 years old, average in height, slim in built and bears marks from the
heat of the mills and sugarfields.
His ever-smiling face and fondness for cracking jokes even in the face of
problems however make them almost unnoticeable.
to his co-workers, Rodolfo Nales’ story is that of a traditional poor peasant
turned proletarian leader in the course of his involvement in the fierce
contradiction between workers and capitalists.
came from a family of poor fishers in south Negros. Family survival forced all
of them to work early. Butchoy quit high school and became a “sakada”
(seasonal sugar worker).
He received a measly P2 for at least 10 hours of backbreaking work every
day under the scorching heat of the sun.
off season, Butchoy engaged in fishing, farming, carpentry, vending of food
stuffs and whatever jobs he could get. “I could not imagine now how I survived
it,” he said.
kids of his background, Butchoy did not have a joyful youth life. “I lived my
youth the way of an adult and a family man,” he said.
no hope in farm work, Butchoy ventured to Manila to look for a better job, just
shortly after martial law was declared. But in the big city, life was no
different and was even harder. Butchoy recalled, “I had to accept whatever
jobs came my way – delivery boy, office supplier, and more.
(It was) primarily because I wanted to escape hunger, and save whatever
amount I could save.”
got a break when a businessman who owned a printing press, noting his dedication
and creativity, invited him to work for him. Butchoy studied the principles and
practical side of operating a printing press, consulting other printing press
was in Manila that Butchoy got married and had two children later. He took them
with him when he returned to Negros in 1979. With his background, he was able to
land a job in Nalco Press, one of the biggest printing presses in Negros. It was
Butchoy’s interaction with other workers in Negros that opened his eyes to the
intense cases of exploitation of workers. In his own work place, he witnessed
and experienced the greed and brutality of capitalists.
led in organizing of Nalco’s union which led to his first direct political
confrontation with big businessmen.
was one of the significant decisions I made in my life. I was aware of the great
tasks and heavy risks involved. But I saw no other choice but to defend
ourselves,” he said.
they formed the Negros Printing Employees Association to include other rank and
file workers in the printing press companies. The establishment of the Machine
Shop Employees Association soon followed. These groups worked closely with the
National Federation of Labor Unions (NAFLU) on several concerns, particularly
political education of workers and handling of local struggles.
involvements tempered and strengthened Butchoy, both as a worker and
organizer-leader in the trade union movement. But they lost him his work and
source of living when Nalco management fired him in 1986.
in his resolve to persevere in the political path he took, Butchoy became a
fulltime NAFLU organizer and concentrated on educating workers, organizing
unions and assisting in unions’ legal battles. He also took part in several
initiatives to organize various semi-proletarian associations.
after he left Nalco, the workers union he helped organize had already learned to
fight off attempts by company owners to further exploit their workers and
repress the union. It successfully staged a long and crippling strike in 1992.
he volunteered to help in organizing sugar workers under NFSW. It was here that
Butchoy’s understanding of the task of forging
unity between the farmworkers, peasants and industrial and service
workers as the backbone of the democratic mass movement, further deepened.
encountered near-death risks, from death threats to confrontations with
paramilitary and military elements.
admits experiencing moments of intense pressure to withdraw from his political
work, seeing the poverty that his family has to bear. But Butchoy never wavered
from his commitment.
moments come to all of us,” reflected Butchoy. “And not a few has succumbed.
But the most important thing is we are prepared to undertake criticism and
self-criticism, rectification of our errors and weaknesses in practice, and give
trust to our organizations and collectives who serve as our check and guide.”
at the age of 50, Butchoy pursues his most loved trade, the printing press,
while undertaking direct organizing work among industrial and service workers as
NAFLU-KMU regional organizer and spokesperson.
In the trade union movement in Negros, the name Butchoy is a byword that connotes dedication and hard work. Workers know it refers to “a man who gave up a lot of opportunities to possess material things but who gained so much adherents in a noble cause of emancipating workers from age-old enslavement.” Bulatlat.com