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Friday, March 1, 2024

The audacity of Leody

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"He has no larger-than-life personality, no penchant for gimmickry, and no money."


(Part 1)

These days, election news has become all about candidates’ personalities: What A or B is up to, what the latest political stunt is, what controversies or statements they are making. And while these big names seem to think they are keeping the public entertained with their antics, feeling entitled to bask in the attention we so generously shower them, there are those who are devoid of a larger-than life personality, or a penchant for gimmickry, and who are running solely to advance a platform of government that speaks for itself in its audacity, and, in some places, its eminent sense.

Like Leody de Guzman.

His great reveal

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Ka Leody says his family was shocked when he first revealed his plan to run for president. “The opposition was strong,” he said in Filipino. His partner and two of his three children feigned concern about his health. “I noticed they did not have an explanation to their friends for why their father was running for president. Perhaps they were worried that we would be a laughingstock.”

He had the hardest time convincing his eldest child, who left their family group chat after giving him the equivalent of an online sermon. As of the time of the interview, in late October, they had yet to be on speaking terms again.

“I thought it would be all right with them, I had pretty much done what I felt like doing in the past 35 years. Even when I ran for a party-list seat in 2016 and for the Senate in 2019, they took it in stride. But the presidency was a different thing,” he said.

Even his relatives and neighbors initially looked at him differently. He wondered if they thought he was crazy. Imagine a labor leader, no money stacked anywhere, a virtual unknown.

So why, indeed, did he run?

“I have spent more than three decades immersed in issues of the ordinary worker. I have been constantly interacting with them, being one myself, and I know the root of all our problems. The laws and policies of our country themselves legitimize the pursuit of the rich to amass more riches, and also to make it difficult for the ordinary worker to prosper. This is what we have to change.”

None of the mainstream candidates – “mga makikinis,” he jokes – offer any substantial support to the working class based on their track record. They live in comfortable, secure villages, and their interests are vastly different from the interests of the masses. They may utter a promise or two to entice people to vote for them, but in the end they renege on their promises and simply go back to preserving the status quo.

“There has to be a new face, even if that face is not fair and  smooth, that would bring neither money nor false promises, but principles and a genuine platform.”

In other words, Ka Leody is acting on the off chance that Filipino workers finally get sick of a system that has always given them the raw end of the deal, and of politicians who pretend to be concerned for them but who break their promises or say nothing about oppressive practices.

A sector’s problems, a people’s problems

Since his factory days in 1978, Ka Leody has observed that the problems of workers have only gotten worse. Today, he says, contractualization is rampant, wages never catch up to the prices of goods, rice tariffication favors importers and places local farmers at a disadvantage, the poor bear the brunt of taxes — “why the VAT on instant noodles,” he asks — while the rich get away with paying only a small percentage of their income to the government. 

The irony is that the 45 million workers who are directly affected by these practices themselves willingly participate in their entrenchment – by electing leaders who do not even attempt to strike a balance between the interests of the poor workers and Big Business, and who look upon the export of labor as a permanent government policy instead of a stop-gap measure that is symptomatic of what ails our country. 

“There is no dearth of stories of overseas Filipino workers getting duped, abused, insulted, or taken advantage of. They are carrying the heavy burden of leaving their families and working in a foreign land, sometimes under a hostile environment. And the government tries to make them feel a little better by calling them heroes,” he says.

In fact, it’s not only the OFWs and their families who make the sacrifice. Our nation suffers too because of skills and human capital that we lose to other countries. They would have been invaluable contributors to nation-building.

Ka Leody acknowledges that there are no quick solutions to the OFW phenomenon because we first have to develop an economy that provides sustainable jobs to its citizens.  “I believe that even if our OFWs can’t earn as much as they would in other countries, if they had stable jobs here and the opportunity to be with their loved ones, they would stay.” (Continued next week)

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