The plight of the Philippine Airlines Employees Association (PALEA) has garnered a significant amount of public interest over the past seventeen months. What began as a strike against Philippine Airlines has grown into a large-scale movement against contractualization and unemployment. For over seventeen months, members of PALEA have set up camp outside the in-flight offices of PAL at Airport Road as a sign of protest, hoping that their fight would lead to their reinstatement as official employees of PAL. It is with this rationale that I chose to conduct my participant observation exercise at the PALEA campsite.
My visit to the campsite came at a very opportune time, as they were commemorating the seventeenth month of their struggles through a fellowship and a celebration of the Holy Eucharist. While hearing mass to commemorate the seventeenth month was not a usual event at the campsite, the members of PALEA would often hold fellowships at the campsite, giving me the perfect event to clearly observe how members of PALEA conducted their affairs as they continued to fight for their reinstatement.
However, while I operated under the assumption that I would be there to strictly conduct this exercise for class, what I got from this exercise would be something that continues to amaze me, maybe even overwhelm my mind and heart …
Notes on the Field
On a sunny Wednesday afternoon, I, along with my fellow members from our political party, the Christian Union for Socialist and Democratic Advancement (CRUSADA), took an hour ride from Ateneo to attend PALEA’s celebration of the Holy Eucharist, as well as their usual fellowship. This trip served to be the first time I got the chance to visit the PALEA campsite.
Just to provide a bit of a background, our political party has been heavily invested with the plight of PALEA, so much that a partnership was made between the two organizations in support of the other’s advocacies. As such, it was through CRUSADA that this trip to the PALEA campsite was possible. On my trip to the PALEA campsite, two fellow members served as my key informants, namely: Ryan, an alumnus of Ateneo and CRUSADA, and Mr. RR Raneses, political science instructor at Ateneo and CRUSADA’s faculty adviser. They helped in providing all the pertinent details regarding PALEA and their struggles, as well as accommodating me in the fellowship-mass, since they were two of the members of CRUSADA who kept close ties with PALEA.
As we arrived at the PALEA campsite, I could not help but feel a bit excited to meet the members of PALEA, who were really accommodating and pleased to have us as their guests. Taking a walk right outside the campsite, I was also amused that the campsite actually took up the entire parking lot of the PAL in-flight office. I never thought that the campsite could take up that much space that it seemed invasive, but then again, I had to remind myself that this act of invading the parking lot was a sign of their opposition against PAL.
Unfortunately, by the time we arrived, the mass was about to finish. We took this time to take a quick smoke break before entering the campsite. Fortunately, we were just in time for the fellowship. As I entered the campsite, I took a quick walk around the area, observing their make-shift headquarters. While from the outside, the campsite didn’t appear as much besides the many tarpaulins conveying their struggles that hung from the walls, it was amazing to see that given their limited resources, they were able to create a space for them to dine, to gather, and even to sleep. Entering the campsite from the southwest corner of the area, we were greeted right away with the area that they allotted for fellowships, with most of the members of PALEA present in the area. This area was surrounded by areas that served as make-shift kitchens, pantries, and living quarters. The area dedicated for community gatherings was the center of the campsite, with an altar for Jesus Christ and Mother Mary placed in front. Beyond their make-shift community center, we could see an open space in which members and visitors used as a smoking area, with tents dedicated for gaming and more lodging located at the sides. It didn’t seem as much, but to the members of PALEA, it was home. And throughout our visit, I truly did feel at home.
Once we exchanged pleasantries with some PALEA members, we were escorted to the front of the crowd, where they asked us to be seated. Once we took our seats, the fellowship began with a simple address from the president of PALEA, Mr. Gerry Rivera. While he was delivering his speech that drew robust laughter from the crowd, as well as passionate applause, I was trying to get a hold of my notes, since I was overwhelmed with the passion that these members showed in support of their fellow member’s pleas for continuing their fight. While I already knew of their struggles through our political party’s partnership with them, it was during this moment in which I truly felt and understood the magnitude of this issue. Hearing them talk about receiving what is right and just struck a nerve in me, and from that moment on I truly wanted to be a part of their struggles as well. It felt as if we were truly in solidarity with one another, even if we came from two completely different groups, as it appeared that both groups were fighting the same fight.
Later on, Mr. Rivera called on us to give a few words to the PALEAns. Seeing this moment as perfect opportunity to be one with them, I gladly took the mic and spoke my heart out on continuing my organization’s partnership with PALEA, hoping that sooner than later this fight will come to end and will bring upon what is right and just for the members of PALEA. I continued with how I, as a student, will support their cause, and that we, not as students nor members of PALEA, but as one community, will see to it that inequality in employment will be resolved not just for those in PALEA, but also for those who will become part of the work force as well. My few words managed to garner a huge round of applause from the crowd, and as I returned the mic back to Mr. Rivera, I was completely enamored with the thought that those few words managed to make an impact on them, that perhaps our support continued to give them hope in their battle against contractualization and unemployment.
Before we ended the fellowship, some members of PALEA invited us to their tri-weekly march around Airport Road. Of course, we gladly accepted this invitation, and we made our way outside to Airport Road, with us carrying some of the banners that they made in opposing PAL. We made one round while we shouted along with the PALEAns some of their chants: “Itigil ang contractualization!” “Ipagpatuloy ang laban!” This moment furthered my intense feeling of solidarity with PALEA, which I’m sure will remain with me even though PALEA hopes to resolve their dispute with PAL by the end of this month.
By the end of the fellowship, the PALEA members gathered to enjoy their dinner. As we left right when they began having their meal, I saw them once more coming together while sharing a few laughs and stories, and once again I was completely amazed in seeing how these workers, who I believe were always divided in terms of occupation as employees, were brought together by such an unfortunate circumstance. While I hope that their disputes would be resolved soon, I feel a bit saddened by the thought that once their struggle ends, this little community-that-could will eventually become nothing more than a memory, for getting a glimpse of their lives within the campsite was truly an inspiring and overwhelming experience.
Raphael Guio A. Martinez
2 AB Communication
Chief Whip, CRUSADA
SA21 – U