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 1980’s, 1990’s, and early 2000’s. I could say it was doing well because it gave our family and neighborhood decent living. In 1985, I remember my father earned 2,300 pesos a month, 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 at the previous plant of Cenapro Chemical Corp.. The company was located in Alang-alang, Mandaue City. It started with only one carpenter (my father) who made the samples. When the samples clicked, the company grew vigorously that they rented another two plants nearby, making it three 3 plants in total. Majority of the workers were coming from Barangay Mactan. 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. In 1986, Maitland-Smith was erected in MEPZ and was giving good salary. Until now Maitland-Smith is still operating, but is no longer giving a good salary. In 1987, I learned wood carving and started working at Santos Lumber under a subcontractor. I earned 600 to 700 pesos a week at a very young age, 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 the labor cost, 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, furniture makers in Cebu were forced to work abroad in different countries. China lured our 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 cause why Cebu’s furniture export industry declined. Some 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 our workers so that they will not leave and teach other countries with their skills. The manpower is our asset and the pillar of business organization. Without them an economy will collapse.