A writer’s letter to Mang Tomas

Dear Mang Tomas,

To be twice orphaned in one day: it’s something I wouldn’t wish on anyone—not even you. My decision, however, is final: I am turning my back on you and my favorite banana catsup.

You leave me with no choice. My turning my back on you and your co-brands is only apt, and altogether a wise and brave decision. I cannot and will not put up with what seems to be your violent streak. I simply cannot stand cruelty. I refuse to close my eyes to wanton and gratuitous exploitation.

Unless there’s something up your sleeve that needs saying, you’ve forced my hand to draw the line, this day, between you and me.

We welcomed all of you in our homes, a place at once affectionate and sacrosanct, and invited you to sit with us on the dinner table. We’ve never outgrown the sundry delights you’ve offered our way. Your workers, even for the little they can bring home as wages, broke arm and leg to make our dinners wholesome and unforgettable.

We’ve forged friendships on this very same table because of it, and paved the way for familial relationships to grow. Little did we know that the same workers had suffered more than their share of travails for the little that you give them in return for their services.

For most of us, holding a job means spending hours in an airconditioned office, sleek swivel chairs, and a level of stress no bigger than the slew of meetings which, by all standards, doesn’t amount to anything save that it’s a waste of our time and an excuse to drink expensive coffee.

But with the workers of NutriAsia, the job is no different from stitching rock after rock, it seems, ‘round the hem of their garments—daily—an act reminiscent of Virginia Woolf’s suicide.

Imagine a poor worker in your condiment factory deprived of their right to security of tenure, healthcare, bonuses, and 13th-month pay reserved for the small number regular employees that you have. Yes, the same workers who gave your company above and beyond a 200% rise in net sales revenue. If only for that, they ought to be treated with some respect.

Let’s not even go to where they are human and with families to raise.

Instead, the police and security guards rallied against them during, of all things, an ecumenical service. They pelted them with stones, and struck them with sticks and truncheons. A 56-year-old woman named Leticia Retiza now lies in a hospital, bloody and bruised in the face on account of this brutality.

As if assaulting them in public wasn’t enough, the police went out of their way to have journalists covering the dispersal beaten, threatened and arrested—and this was done with full knowledge that they were members of the media.

Was that part of the plan?

Did it even occur to you that they dragged a senior college student of the University of the Philippines, in the running for summa cum laude, into prison in Meycauayan? Were you informed prior to the violent dispersal that the people were in the middle of an ecumenical service? In prayer?

Clearly, you hurled caution out the window. You cared little for the consequences of your actions. It seems you relied too much on the security money and power can bring to push your workers to a corner, trap them in miserable little jobs, and later swat them like flies when they raised their grievance against you. At least, that’s how it appears.

The violence which sprung in the middle of their worship of God is an act the public will not forget. I assure you we will never let you forget this either. We have more than enough blood in our favorite condiments that, apparently, vampires could live off solely on your banana catsup and its other sauces.

Rarely have I invited other brands to grace our dinner table. Today, my family and I have decided to leave you all in the trash heap.

You are barred from entering my home.

Anyone who has ever worked in dire, well-nigh hopeless conditions know the bite of anxiety which drives many of us to despair. I should know. My teenage indiscretions yanked me into my initial career as a kargador for a popular meat company for four years.

It was at a time when my only bragging right was that I had two arms and feet to carry 1.9 tons of canned goods all across Luzon. Personal and academic attainments were forgone conclusions. The preponderance of mischief was all I had, like some stupid conversation piece with absolutely nothing to show.

One might perhaps trace the frightful situations one finds himself in to sundry reasons: a dearth of achievements; an appalling poverty; and getting used to the uneasy hours breaking arm and leg just to make ends meet.

To me, back then, it almost felt like an addiction, one from which I could not free myself, until I realized that earning P100/day was, in fact, a continuing death knell.

Poverty brings to naught any, if not all, chances to dream. To go one step farther and further to reach for the stars. Poverty’s fascination is with the here and now. The vague, disheveled snags of daily living. These complications, these daily grinds, bar anyone, especially the poor and destitute, from supposing that they can change their future into something resembling human dignity.

Remember, poverty’s first casualty is vision.

Knowing full well they cannot fight back, for decades you cashed in on the broken backs of your workers sans the due diligence required of conscientious companies. You kept your eyes closed to their plight. You turned your backs from their children. You’ve trafficked in human resource like these were poultry destined for the slaughter.

You established your future by depriving them of theirs.

Many would’ve turned a blind eye to your little indiscretions. We weren’t born yesterday. Businesses don’t thrive in a perfect environment. For some, malfeasance is needed to survive a bureaucracy given over to the wiles of corruption.

But leaving your workers bloody and bruised while in prison for trumped up charges is a crime. If this government will not hold you liable for such transgressions, then you leave us with no choice but to demand the accountability necessary for such abuse.

Unless you have a pretty good explanation as to what actually transpired (don’t know how you’ll be able to explain away the violence), I will begin by banning you in my household. G



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