A Brave Woman

By Fr. Jim Mulroney

A Young worker chooses to suffer with her workmates rather than accept a bribe.

Several hours of following a trail of former addresses brought me to the font door of the home of Delma, her husband Rikki and their three children, I was in the middle of one of Manila’s largest squatter areas, and even on his hot, dry night, the soil oozed water my feet. Philsite is a swamp it cradles a shanty homes of 30,000 people. I entered their stuffy two room home and we spoke excitedly over the scream of mosquitoes. It was 13 years since I had last met Delma. She was then a 20 year old catechist at a community centre in a shanty town in another part of Manila. She had left her catechist job to work in a department store; her mother was sick so Delma needed a bigger income. Educated, intelligent and articulate she was promoted to section head. However, the staff saw her qualities, too. There been a long running dispute with the management about payment for overtime. Everyone had to work nine hours a day and were only paid eight. When they heard their union representative had been paid P160, 000 pesos for her resignation, they began to look towards Delma as one of their leaders.

Management had forbidden the employee to gather or organize in anyway Delma arranged for a cleaning lady to sit in the stall wash room and collect the signatures of 1,300 employees, enough to authorize industrial action. At a meeting held in the Sheraton Hotel that night, they legally registered their union and applied to the Philippine Law of Management Office for a legal ruling on their petition. They received a favourable reply. But the company refused to pay.

Delma and two other leaders were offered P30, 000 and cadetships in Canada for their resignations. But they did not betray the trust of their co-workers.

At a second large meeting at the hotel a resolution was passed to strike. As Delma left the hotel she saw a car pull up to the sidewalk. Four thugs jumped out and hit a young woman. People rushed to stop them and the woman who looked like Delma, escaped without much injury.

At a second meeting with management Delma and the two leaders were offered P160, 000 each for their resignations. They refused. “We are not fighting for this type of money, but for the welfare of all Filipino workers,” they replied.

Delma was harassed by the police in the picket line during the strike. But would not quit. She was encouraged by the fact that the public refused to buy anything at the plush store during the three day strike even though management was staffing the cash registers and the doors were wide open and easy access was given to the shop.

Eight years later, Delma is still a blacklisted worker. She and Rikki survive on part time work but they lose even that when Delma’s true identity is discovered. She holds no regret for refusing the offers of money and good employment, she says simply, “I may not have achieved much, but I served those who trusted me as best I could.”

As I walked home that night I wondered what other tales of heroism we hidden behind the walls of Philsite.