Coca-Cola in labor protest

Exactly when the first bottle of Coca-Cola reached Davao at an age when air travel was still in its infancy, is something that will remain unsolved for nonce. One thing is certain, though: the first Coke, as it is widely known, could have arrived in Davao via Zamboanga in the years after Davao was already ran by a Filipino district administrator, the equivalent of a governor.

For decades, Coca-Cola products reaching Davao were sourced from Manila and shipped aboard cargo steamers. In May 1950, the same month the Mindanao Mirror published its maiden issue, the Davao Plant opened at McArthur Highway, at Barangay Ulas. For over 30 years, it was home to the iconic drink until it moved its Davao City plant to where it now stands.

To address the growing popularity of Coke, a new plant was later built in Darong, a village in Santa Cruz, Davao del Sur, on the same area where San Miguel Corp., founded in 1890, had opened its first Mindanao beer plant on September 29, 1994.

The product reached Philippine shores sometime in 1911, courtesy of American entrepreneur Metcalfe A. Clarke, who initially sold it as Coca-Cola syrup, originally with cocaine and caffeine in it. A year later, he diluted it with water and bottled the product and made it available in soda fountains, machines that dispensed carbonated soft drinks. The ‘Coke’ trademark, first used in a 1941 advertisement, was patented in the United States four years later.

Clarke, who first opened his Philippine store in December 1899 near the Jones Bridge in Manila, was the founder of Clarke’s, the country’s first ice cream shop in 1908. Habitues fondly called the store, which imported ice from New England, as the salon de refrescos. It was located on No. 2, in Escolta, Manila. He also invested in the Benguet Consolidated, which cost him financial collapse, and was the first president of the Manila Merchants Association.

After the war, Coca-Cola Bottling Co. boosted its presence in the country after it was ‘granted’ independence by the Americans. Today, the firm owns 19 plants throughout the islands, with Canlubang (Laguna) being recognized as the world’s fastest line, with an hourly capacity of 81,000 bottles. The largest plant is the 35-hectare Coke Sta. Rosa.

Davao plant’s history, meanwhile, has had its share of labor unrest. Four years after its ownership was acquired and transferred to a Mexican firm, the first discontent surfaced.

In 2017, the military union KIMACO-KMU filed with the labor department a complaint against Coca-Cola FEMSA “for violating the DOLE Department Order No. 174, series of 2017.” This contained the new rules regulating contracting and subcontracting deals. Earlier, after the enactment of Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law, the company reportedly retrenched over 700 employees “as part of the organizational structure assessment.”

The following year, the union held a strike on April 2, protesting the laying-off of its members and the implementation of contractual labor. The strike resulted in dispersal and the arrest of 10 protesters who were charged with resisting arrest and grave coercion.

As a result, the militant bloc in the House of Representatives filed a resolution “directing the Committees on Labor and Employment and Human Rights to conduct a joint inquiry… on the violent dispersal, illegal arrest and dismissal due to end-of-contract (endo) of workers” who are members of KIMACO-KMU in Davao plant. In part, the motion reads:
“WHEREAS, the plight of outsourced workers in the Talomo plant of Coca-Cola FEMSA Phil. presents a microcosm of the miserable plight of hundreds of thousands of workers throughout the country who have worked for years and even decades under contractual and outsource arrangements. Their situation casts light on the evil of contractualization and outsourcing which deprive them of security of tenure;

“WHEREAS, their precarious situation brings to surface that through contractualization and outsourcing, workers can be dismissed even without just cause and even though their work and job description is directly related and necessary to the main business operation of companies;
“WHEREAS. that existing labor laws and issuances, including the Department Order 174 issued last March 1917, have been shown to be toothless against this evil the practice of which has been widespread among local and foreign companies operating in the country as to become the norm rather than the exception…”

The resolution also raised issues that had already been addressed before it was even filed. For instance, the prosecution had already dismissed the grave coercion charges and downgraded the case of resisting arrest to “simple disobedience of an agency of a person in authority.”

The following day, the charged protesters were released on bail, as stated in the resolution, which was obviously overtaken by events. As an afterthought, the “Anakpawis Party-list immediately condemned the violent dispersal of the peaceful protest of the dismissed workers and demanded for the immediate release of the arrested workers.”