MANILA, Philippines — The president of the National Parks Development Committee Employees Association complained about being locked in a canteen they operate at Luneta Park for a few hours Monday after they refused to obey management’s order to relocate.
Roberto Paghiligan told InterAksyon that NPDC management had issued a memo giving them five days to move their canteen from in front of the Japanese Garden to inside the NPDC office compound.
On Monday morning, NPDC guards told them they would be closing the canteen on the same day, returning at 1 p.m. to carry out what they said was the order of NPDC executive director Penelope Belmonte.
“Ang sabi ko, bilang president ng association, may karapatan ako na huwag ipasara (I said that as president of the association, I had the right for it not to be closed),” Paghiligan said.
So the guards exited the canteen but padlocked the gate.
“Hindi na nga kami pinalabas, eh (They wouldn’t let us out),” Paghiligan said, adding nine of them were locked in from 1-4:30 p.m. when the guards finally opened the gate.
“Lumalabas, illegal detention ang ginawa nila sa amin (What they did to us amounts to illegal detention),” Paghiligan said.
He pointed out that their association had been seeking a dialogue with the management for a long time, and the latter had not given them any reason for the move.
But Virginia Arnold, chairperson of the Management Employees Association Consultative Committee, insisted that the nine people at the canteen were not trapped at all.
She told InterAksyon that there were two exits at the back of the canteen that remained open and that only the gate in front was locked so park-goers would no longer enter.
Arnold explained that the as the employees association’s canteen, it should cater only to employees and therefore should be inside the NPDC compound. This had been an issue since the previous administration and the employees association had been told repeatedly over the past months to relocate.
During the time of NPDC executive director Juliet Villegas, the employees association was told that they could not continue managing the canteen and parking at the NPDC because they were not a cooperative.
But since the association was already taking steps to become a cooperative, Villegas decided to help them out and have them move from their original place inside the NPDC office compound to their location in front of the Japanese Garden, which had recently been vacated. The canteen was renamed Cafe at the Park.
“Kaya lumabas ang canteen, naging cafe, in the guise na we are all hoping na ang kooperatiba ay matapos (So the canteen was transferred outside, became a cafe, in the guise that we were all hoping that it would finally become a cooperative). But then, nothing happened,” Arnold said.
Villegas was succeeded by NPDC executive director Elizabeth Espino, who reminded the employees association that they should form a cooperative. However, the association asked for time to continue the process.
By the time President Rodrigo Duterte took office, Arnold said there was still no cooperative.
Belmonte likewise reminded the employees association that they should form a cooperative so they could continue operating. But despite memos issued on the matter, nothing happened, Arnold said.
The employees association sought help from Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo, as the NPDC is an attached agency. In response, said Arnold, Teo told NPDC management and the employees association to help each other form the cooperative.
The employees association then wrote Teo asking if they could stay in their location in front of the Japanese Garden. The issue was tackled at an NPDC board meeting, where it was agreed that the establishment was still a canteen and the operators were still an employees’ association, and therefore should move inside the office compound.
Arnold said she called for a meeting with the employees association to “formally inform” them of this, but they didn’t attend the meeting, giving her a letter instead saying that since some of their officials had resigned, they were still looking for replacements and would inform them once they did.
She then gave them a memo informing them about what had been taken up at the board meeting, including the need for the canteen to move inside the NPDC office compound while the employees association was forming a cooperative.
Arnold said the employees association was concerned that they wouldn’t make money in the new location because their customers would be limited to NPDC employees. But Arnold insisted they could not sell to outsiders since they were not yet a cooperative.