Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Volume 3,  Number 23              July 13 - 19, 2003            Quezon City, Philippines


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Special Report

Contractualization Shatters Hopes for a Better Life in Baguio

Rural poverty in northern Philippines drives people to search for a better life by working in Baguio. The upland city has a place for these job-seekers: the Baguio City Economic Zone (BCEZ), a Marcos creation. To workers interviewed, however, the zone is no paradise.

By Audrey Mary Beltran

BAGUIO CITY – Near Camp John Hay, the former U.S. military rest and recreation facility, lies the Baguio City Economic Zone (BCEZ).  BCEZ was opened in February 1979 under Presidential Decrees 1825 and 1875 issued by then President Ferdinand E. Marcos. 

Since it opened, this 113-hectare zone has been the center of production in the city for 20 factories and companies – mostly foreign-owned – that employ about 4,000 workers. Of these, 2,800 are contractual workers – or roughly 60 percent of those employed in the industrial zone. Most of the contractual workers are women.

Companies inside the zone enjoy many “juicy incentives.” These include tax holidays; corporate income tax exemption on imported capital equipment, spare parts, materials and supplies; full repatriation of profits; free infrastructure, free housing for the foreign investor and their families; lower electricity rates and low rental fees for the use of the plant, which is about P2 per sq.m.

What makes the zone more attractive to foreign companies, however, is the fact that unions are banned. BCEZ is considered a strike-free zone.

Inside a garments factory

One of the women workers inside the zone is Corazon Magbanua (not her real name). In her late 40s, Manang (or sister) Corazon used to be a weaver in her village before she and her husband decided to live in Baguio. Like other typical migrants, the couple had high hopes of a better life in the city.  

Manang Corazon’s husband, who used to work in a farm, is now a construction worker – “makiporpordia.” As a makipordia, work is irregular and one is assured of a job only on certain days.

To augment their meager income, Manang Corazon and one of her daughters work as contractuals every now and then inside BCEZ. Manang Corazon got hired at the Dae Gu Garments Factory as a piece rater three years ago.  She had no contract and was told that her job is dependent on orders for Dae Gu products. She had to “take a leave” when she is not needed.

As a piece rater, Manang Corazon’s salary was computed based on her output. She was first assigned to the cleaning section where she cleaned the finished sweaters before these are packed. She got P1 for each sweater she cleaned.

After two months, she was transferred to the “Bind Off” Section.  Here, workers bind sweaters into sets. Four sweaters go into one set. Manang Corazon was paid P4 for each set she finished.

“Work in the factory is really hard,” Manang Corazon says.  Dae Gu employees report for work from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Most of the time, however, the company asks for work extension especially from the contractuals. When the demand is high, workers are in the factory even during Sundays and holidays.

“There is no time for rest,” she continues. “You fear losing your job that is why even though you need rest, you force yourself to report for work.”

“You work doubly hard as a piece rater if you want to earn for your needs,” Manang Corazon narrates. “Inside the factory, we are like in a race to have more sweaters done.  Some get more and the others, less. Some piece raters who have friends among the regular workers are given more materials to work on and thus, earn more than the others.  The sad thing about this is that though we work hard to meet the daily quota, workers like us are maltreated. Our supervisor humiliates and shouts at us for the little mistakes we make. Once, when we raced against each other to get more pieces to bind or clean, the supervisor shouted at us and said “You are so greedy!  You are acting like thieves!  All you think about is money!”

In one year, she was paid P100-P170 a day which she received in bulk every 15th and end of the month.  There are no deductions like SSS, Pag-ibig and other contributions.  “Besides,” she says, “we have no benefits and therefore are not required to pay for contributions.”

Her salary combined with what her husband and daughter receive put food on their table and a roof over their heads.  But when she was “forced to go on leave,” things got difficult. Her sixth and youngest child had to stop schooling because they had no money for his tuition.

She tried to apply in another garments factory inside the BCEZ – the Dong-in factory. She was rejected because of overage. 


To Manang Corazon and her fellow workers, contractualization, is a violation of their right to survive. 

Contractualization has been a problem for workers since the 1970s when Marcos decreed that companies may hire helpers, apprentices or trainees for a temporary production and pay them a wage lower than what regular employees receive.  The policy of contractualization was continued and strengthened by the Aquino, Ramos, Estrada and Macapagal-Arroyo presidencies at the cost of the workers’ rights and survival. Contractualization which results in cheap and docile labor has been constantly used to entice foreign investment in the country.

Walang awa sa mahihirap ang gobyerno natin” (Our government has no mercy for the poor), one of Manang Corazon’s co-worker says.  Another says, “Hindi nila tinitingnan ang tunay na problema ng mga manggagawa at ang mga batas na ginagawa nila ay kontra-manggagawa” (They do not care to look into the real problems of the workers and the laws they make go against the workers’ interests).

For them, the solution to contractualization lies in the unity of the workers.

“I would like to join a union if one is formed in the factories in BCEZ. It is important for us workers to form an association that will uphold our rights and promote our welfare,” Manang Corazon says.  She believes that a union guided with the right principles can minimize if not end maltreatment altogether in the workplace and earn them their dignity as workers, as women, as humans. Bulatlat.com


“Contractualization, A Look Inside the Garments Factory of the Philippine Export Processing Zone in Baguio City,” a research conducted by the Cordillera Labor Center and Center for Women’s Resources;

Kali, Voice of Cordillera Women, June 2001 (Journal of the Cordillera Women’s Education and Resource Center)  

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