The China’s grabbing of the Scarborough shoal reminds me of the collapse of Cebu’s furniture export industry. In the past, Cebu’s furniture export was doing well esp. in the mid 1980’s to early 2000’s. I could say it was doing well because it gave our family and neighborhood decent living. In 1986, I remember my father earned 2,300 pesos a month, almost two times greater than a teacher’s salary in that time. He worked as a foreman in a certain furniture company. I couldn’t recall of the company’s name, but many called it Cenapro because it was located at the previous plant of Cenapro Chemical Corp. in Alang-alang, Mandaue City. It started with only one carpenter (my father) who made the samples. When his samples clicked, the company grew vigorously in just a short period of time. That they rented another two buildings next to the existing one, making it three large building buildings in total. Majority of the workers came from Mactan, Lapu-lapu City. In that time, Barangay Mactan was the main source of export quality furniture makers. Unfortunately after 2 years, the company went bankrupt due to corrupt management. The manager practiced a double payroll, the actual daily wage of a worker was 50 pesos, but the manager only gave a worker 30 pesos a day. When the workers found out the truth, they rebelled and almost killed the the manager. The manager had luxury in manipulating because the owner of the company was based in Macau.
In 1985, Maitland-Smith (a furniture company) became famous of its craft in MEPZA and was giving a good salary. Until now Maitland-Smith is still operating, but it’s no longer giving a good salary. In 1987, I learned wood carving and had worked at Santos Lumber under a subcontractor in 1988. I earned 600 to 700 pesos a week at the very young age of 14, my rate was not fixed because I worked in a piecework basis. The regular daily wage in that time was only 30 pesos. From 1987 onward, furniture export companies in Cebu were dramatically increasing, the number of carpenters and carvers were also increasing. In 1995, I worked as a carving subcontractor at Wicker and Vine, but the income was no longer good. In that time, Furniture companies started to suffocate their laborers, because they sensed that there were ample of carpenters and carvers available in the area. So they had luxury in looking for workers who were readily agreeable to their preset cheap labor. Though they were already enjoying lucrative profit, they unmercifully kept pressing down the labor cost _thus making the furniture workers suffered extremely. In 2000, I also worked as a carving subcontractor at Berben Wood Industries, but still the labor cost was insufficient. Battered with low labor cost, many furniture workers in Cebu were forced to work abroad in different countries particularly China, Vietnam, and Malaysia). China lured Cebuano skilled workers with good compensation and they bit it. They (other countries) had learned from the know-how imparted by Filipino skilled workers, and they became our strong competitors. China for example, after learning the skill and processing technique from us, begun producing furniture in mass volume for export. China stole our customers by offering very low-priced furniture products. For me, this is the main reason why Cebu’s furniture export industry declined. Some Cebu furniture businessmen ascribed the decline to the US recession, but even prior to the US recession, American customers already begun importing furniture products from China. It is the failure of our businessmen and government to acknowledge the value of their skilled workers. If only they were able to nurture our skilled workers and protect our know-how from not being disseminated or copied, we might be in the hectic schedule today catering our heavy orders from abroad. Government and businessmen should not neglect the living condition of their workers so that they would not flee and teach other countries with their skills. The manpower is our asset and the pillar of business industry, without them our economy will collapse.