(UPDATE2, – 9:20 p.m.) MANILA – Former labor leader and member of an independent commission that probed the 1983 Ninoy Aquino assassination, Ernesto “Boy” F. Herrera, who as senator later authored the 1995 Migrant Workers’ Act, died Thursday at the age of 73.
Herrera was for several days being treated at the Intensive Care Unit of Manila Doctors Hospital when he suffered a cardiac arrest.
He had suffered severe burns a few days ago while taking a hot shower that went horribly wrong.
Born in Samboan, Cebu, in September 11, 1942, Herrera is married to businesswoman Lourdes Betia Cuico.
He obtained his Bachelor of Laws (1965) at University of the Visayas, and spent most of his professional life in the cause of labor, mainly as general secretary of the Trade Union congress of the Philippines (TUCP) since 1983.
He was elected Senator championing the labor sector in 1987, and held his legislative seat until 1998.
Herrera then served as a member of the House of Representatives from 1998 to 2001.
He was the founding chairman of Citizen’s Drugwatch Foundation Inc., and president of the Carlos P. Garcia Foundation.
Herrera was also a former member of the board of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.
‘Deep Throat’ for truth on Ninoy murder
Not known by many, even in the newspaper business, Boy Herrera was the “deep throat” of the Jose Burgos-published newspaper Ang Pahayagang Malaya (later, simply “Malaya”), which in 1984 ran an Extra Edition on the morning that the Agrava board majority report was released, indicting then AFP chief General Fabian Ver and several other ranking military officers for what was billed as the “double murder of the century.”
Hours earlier, Herrera had given the Mosquito Press trailblazer Malaya a copy of the Majority Report of the Agrava fact-finding body.
That body was formed to investigate both the 1983 assassination of ex-senator Benigno S. Aquino at the then Manila International Airport and the military-tagged assassin Rolando Galman, in an effort to ease public apprehension that the outcome of the investigation was being whitewashed.
Former editors at the Burgos paper recalled that Herrera, in turning over a copy of the much-awaited report hours before the Majority (he and three other members) was to release it at the SSS auditorium, had a morbid “bilin” (message) to the Malaya staff: if the board members get arrested or killed before they can release the report to the public, it will be all up to Burgos and his staff to make sure the world knows its contents.
One ex-Malaya staffer told InterAksyon: “That, to us, was Boy Herrera’s shining moment: the total willingness to risk his life or liberty in exchange for the freedom to expose the truth.”
Migrant Workers’ Act
Meanwhile, OFWs also “need to know and remember,” according to former labor undersecretary and anti-human trafficking campaigner Susan “Toots” Ople, that Herrera was the principal author of the landmark Migrant Workers’ Act of 1995.
The 20-year-old law was cited repeatedly just this year for its many key provisions benefiting migrant workers, notably the one mandating government to set aside each year at least P100 million for the worker assistance units in consular posts, considering that 10 million of Filipinos are spread out across the globe.
Years after his stint as member of the Agrava board, Herrera’s courage was also manifested when he took on the drug syndicates as a pillar of the anti-illegal drugs movement and legislator of laws for harsher penalties for drug dealers and traffickers. “He stood up to big-time drug syndicates at a time when only the wealthy knew what shabu was,” recalled Ople, whose late father, Blas F. Ople, was the “Batman” to Herrera’s “Robin in their duo that was most popular among Senate reporters for their being so accessible and articulate.
“A titan of the labor movement passed away today. He was my first boss and up to a few days ago, a source of wisdom and encouragement on how I should wage my campaign,” added Susan Ople, who is running as a Nacionalista member for the Senate, but has been adopted by two other presidentiables: the United Nationalist Alliance of Vice President Jejomar Binay and by Sen. Grace Poe, whose Poe-Chiz Senate slate includes Ople.
When Ople’s father Blas was labor secretary of then President Ferdinand Marcos, Herrera was a pillar of the biggest labor federation then, the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) – an association that would mature into a deep friendship and collaboration until both men became senators post-EDSA Revolt. Admirers noted that while the TUCP then was known as the more moderate labor alliance, Herrera during his Agrava Board stint took an independent stance, despite the risks of indicting the then very powerful AFP chief Ver.
Herrera in the past few years had been excoriated by militant labor groups for his “Herrera law” that allowed for contractualization, which they said debased the quality of jobs and undermined job tenure. The late senator in his time had defended it as a means for encouraging business to create more jobs.
Tribute from Belmonte
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. issued the following statement:
“In behalf of my family and of the House of Representatives, I extend my sympathy and prayers to the loved ones of Ernesto Herrera who passed on today at the age of 73.
“Boy has been a Senator and a hard-working and vocal Member of the House during the 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th Congresses representing the 1st District of Bohol.
“The name of Boy has been synonymous with his staunch advocacies relating to trade unions in the country and has been General Secretary of the Trade Union Congress since 1983. He was a consultant for the International Labor Organization (ILO) and also known for his role as a member of the Agrava Fact-Finding Board which investigated the assassination of Benigno Aquino, Jr.
“We join our fellow Filipinos and his family in mourning his loss, especially those in our trade unions who have looked up to Boy’s leadership of many years.
“We thank Boy Herrera for his valuable service to our nation and its people as we pray for his eternal rest.” –InterAksyon.com