MANILA — The Philippines' largest and most militant trade union Saturday announced plans for a general strike beginning Monday to protest the murder of its chairman, Rolando Olalia.
The May 1st Movement said the strike would be centered here in the capital but could spread into a nationwide work stoppage if regional offices decide to join the mass protest.
The government Saturday put police forces on full alert in the event that violence breaks out during Monday's mass job action.
A general strike, if it turns out to be violent or prolonged, would provide the most severe test to date for President Corazon Aquino, who could be forced into a difficult choice between using troops against striking workers or seeing a widespread shutdown further disrupt an already battered economy.
Aquino's labor policies under leftist Labor Minister Augusto Sanchez have been seen as generally sympathetic to the May 1st Movement. The militant union has gained in stature since Aquino was installed in February.
The union claims about 600,000 members, concentrated in some key sectors of the economy such as export manufacturing industries and a significant part of the public transportation industry. A walkout by a large number of drivers of "jeepneys"--colorful, elongated, U.S. Army-style jeeps converted to public buses--could paralyze the sprawling capital, because most Filipinos do not own cars and rely on the jeepneys to get to work.
It was unclear Saturday how effective a strike called on short notice could be, or how long it would last. The union issued a list of demands to Aquino, including the removal of Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile, whom it suspects of complicity in the Olalia slaying. But officials did not say whether the general strike might be a one-day symbolic protest or might last until all the demands were met.
The other demands include "a thorough revamp and genuine reform" of the Philippine armed forces and "a swift and thorough investigation into military complicity in the Olalia murder."
Olalia's body was found in a field near a suburban highway Thursday with multiple gunshot and stab wounds. The body of his driver was found nearby.
Meanwhile, Justice Minister Neptali Gonzales said in a statement Saturday that his military-civilian task force investigating the murder has located at least four people who heard gunshots and saw two light-colored cars speeding off from the Antipolo area where the bodies of Olalia and the driver were found.