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 company manager practiced a double payroll, the actual daily wage of their worker was 50 pesos reported to the owner, but the manager only gave 30 pesos to their worker a day. When the workers found out the truth, they rebelled and almost killed the manager. The manager and his secretary had luxury in manipulating because the owner of the company hailed from 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 had realized that there were ample of carpenters and carvers available in the area. So they had luxury in looking for workers who were willing to agree to their preset cheap labor. Though the owners were already enjoying lucrative profit, they unmercifully kept pressing down the labor cost _thus making the furniture workers suffered extremely. In the year 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 (50,000 pesos a month) and they bit it. They (other countries) had learned from the skill or know-how imparted by Filipino workers, and they became our strong competitors. China for example, after learning the skill in processing furniture from us, They begun producing furniture in mass volume for export. China stole our customers by offering very low-priced furniture products. And this is the main reason why the booming Cebu’s furniture export industry collapsed. Some furniture businessmen blamed the government of the decline, while others ascribed the decline to the US recession, but even prior to the US recession, American customers already begun importing furniture products from China. But in my opinion, the main reason is the failure of our businessmen and government to acknowledge the value of our 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 still 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 the pillar of business industry and the government’s asset, without them our economy will collapse.
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