by Alito L. Malinao
MANILA, May 2 (Xinhua) -- Thousands of disgruntled Filipino workers marked Labor Day here on Thursday with street protests in the capital and other cities in the country assailing the failure of the government of President Benigno Aquino III to provide jobs for Filipinos during his four years in office.
The protesters slammed the government's economic policies which they said only favor business oligarchs at the expense of the labor force which continues to experience lack of job security, low income, and high cost of basic services.
About 6,500 members of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (May One Movement) demanded that the government raise the minimum wage by 125 pesos ( roughly 2.8 U.S. dollars).
The KMU attributed the country's high unemployment rate to dependence on foreign investments, failure to implement genuine land reform and absence of national industrialization plan.
The protesters, led by former Bayan Muna (Country First) Representative Teodoro Casino and director-actress Monique Wilson, burned a robot effigy of President Aquino, which they said symbolized the chief executive's "puppetry to imperialism."
The Partido ng Manggagawa (Labor Party) called for the establishment of an agro-industrial policy to strengthen local agriculture and industry as basis for growth that will provide regular work and living wages.
"The workers' (call) for an agro-industrial policy has fallen on deaf ears since administration finance and economic officials argue dogmatically that the state's only economic role is to encourage workers and the poor to become micro-entrepreneurs," the Labor Party said.
The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP), a more moderate labor group, called on the government continue to attract new job-creating investments, build new roads, bridges, and sea ports and airports, and lower electricity rate if it wanted to effectively address the unemployment problem.
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), the Philippines has the highest unemployment rate among the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
A report by ILO Global Employment Trends released in January showed that the Philippines registered an unemployment rate of 7.3 percent as of 2013.
This was relatively high compared with the rest of the Southeast Asian region, the ILO report said. In most of Southeast Asia, the unemployment rate showed a downward trend--from an average of 6 percent between 2000 and 2008 to a projected 4.5 percent in the next few years.
Ranking just below Philippines is Indonesia with 6 percent, the study showed. Brunei has 3.7 percent; Burma, 3.5 percent; Malaysia, 3.2 percent; and Singapore, 3.1 percent.
According to ILO, the countries with the lowest unemployment rates are Vietnam, 1.9 percent; Laos, 1.4 percent; Thailand, 0.8 percent; and Cambodia, 0.3 percent.
The global unemployment for 2013 reached 202 million, an increase of almost 5 million compared to last year's figure, the ILO said.
The ILO noted that in the Philippines, the high unemployment rate persisted as the country failed to translate the significant improvement in its gross domestic product (GDP) in the past two years to employment opportunities for its unemployed workers.
"Despite robust economic growth in excess of 6.8 percent in the last two years, job growth has been subdued and the unemployment rate has remained at around 7 percent throughout 2012 and 2013," ILO Director General Guy Ryder said.
The ILO has projected a bleak outlook for employment in the Philippines and other countries this year despite the expected slow improvement in the world economy.
In February, Aquino held an emergency Cabinet meeting to come up with an "action plan for poverty reduction" as the benefits of a strong economy have eluded the country's middle class and poor.
The meeting was called after the release of a survey the Social Weather Stations (SWS), a local survey firm, that showed the country's unemployment rate rose to 27.5 percent, or an estimated 12.1 million, as 2.5 million Filipinos joined the ranks of the jobless between September and December last year.
The unemployment rate soared even as the economy surprisingly grew by 7.2 percent, the second-fastest after China's, showing that the remarkable economic growth was not inclusive.
The unemployment rate was 6 percentage points higher than the 21.7 percent (some 9.6 million) in the previous quarter, according to the SWS survey.