Police Fire To Disperse Rally; Thousands Strike
MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ Police fired in the air to disperse a strike rally Monday as thousands of workers launched what militant unions called a week of protests for higher pay.
Police gunfire scattered 2,000 people in a demonstration outside a tobacco factory in the Manila suburb of Marikina. Witnesses said one person was slightly wounded.
Officers called the demonstration illegal.
Police said at least 27 strikers were taken into custody in the Manila area, including 20 in the Marikina protest, but most were later released.
Separate attacks in the capital killed two air force sergeants and a soldier Monday, but police blamed communist rebels and said the deaths were unrelated to the strike.
The military said another soldier was killed when communist rebels ambushed a patrol near Lucena City, 60 miles southeast of Manila.
The communists have waged an 18-year-old rebellion to topple the government.
A small bomb exploded late Monday in a bathroom of a Manila shoe store, breaking windows but injuring on one. Police said they did not know who was responsible or whether the blast was linked to labor unrest.
Monday’s protest was spearheaded by the 650,000-member May 1st Movement, the country’s most militant labor confederation. The movement pressed for a 50 cent a day increase in the minimum wage, which ranges from $1.80 to $2.90.
Crispin Beltran, chairman of the movement, said the strike affected 387 factories employing about 250,000 workers in Manila and Luzon. The Department of Labor said it had no overall figures on strike participation.
The rival Trade Union Congress of the Philippines supported the walkout but planned its own strike Friday unless the government agrees to the increase. President Corazon Aquino has asked Congress for an 40 cent increase for factory workers and a 30 cent boost for farm laborers.
Beltran called the strike was a success, although the union failed to win support of passenger vehicle drivers. Their participation in a strike Aug. 26 paralyzed transport in Manila and other cities.
Schools, government offices and the national carrier Philippine Airlines operated normally despite union threats to shut down land, sea and air transport.
Beltran said workers would rally Tuesday at Mendiola Bridge, about 500 yards from the presidential palace. Last January, troops fired on about 10,000 people marching for land reform, killing at least 12. Security in the area has been bolstered as safeguard against a new coup attempt.
In Manila, the military went on full alert because of fears that right-wing extremists might exploit labor unrest and try anew to topple the government. The August transport strike was followed two days later by the most serious coup attempt against Mrs. Aquino, in which at least 53 people were killed.
Aquino was swept to power in a civilian-military ouster of President Ferdinand Marcos in February 1986. Marcos lives in exile in Hawaii.
Labor unrest has persisted here despite a dramatic 5.1 percent increase in the gross national product during the first half of the year. Business and some government sources claim the movement has started strikes for political reasons. The military claims the union is communist-infiltrated but the union denies the charge.
Also Monday, Mrs. Aquino filed criminal libel charges against five newspaper executives after one of them wrote that she ″hid under her bed″ during the Aug. 28 coup attempt.
″I have been called many names in the past, but this is the first time I am being alluded to as being a coward,″ Mrs. Aquino said.
Her lawyer, Dakila Castro, said that if convicted, the five could face fines or six months to two years in prison.
Columnist Luis Beltran, who was jailed briefly under Marcos but has criticized Mrs. Aquino’s leadership style, said he was simply using a figure of speech when he wrote that Mrs. Aquino hid under the bed.