High Hopes for ILO’s 1st High-Level Mission to the Philippines
Date of publication: September 15, 2009
By Marya Salamat
Manila – Filipino unionists and families of those who have been summarily killed, illegally jailed, harassed or abducted, welcomed the news that finally, investigators from the International Labor Organization (ILO) are coming over to look into their cases.
“We are glad that the first International Labor Organization-High-Level Mission to the Philippines is finally pushing through,” said the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU-May First Movement). They have filed the complaint with the ILO three years ago.
From September 22 to 29, representatives from ILO will delve into labor organizations’ charge that the Arroyo government is violating at least two labor conventions it had previously ratified. Specifically, the said conventions included the ILO Convention 87 on Freedom of Association, and ILO Convention 98 on the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining.
“Our members and leaders have been killed, abducted, illegally detained, charged with trumped-up cases, harassed and threatened,” said Elmer ‘Bong’ Labog, KMU Chair.
At the time the KMU filed their complaints with ILO, 64 trade unionists and advocates had been slain since Arroyo took power in 2001. Today, the number has increased to 92. Not one case has been seriously investigated and no one has yet been prosecuted. Cases filed with the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) have been archived allegedly due to lack of witnesses, said a report by the Commission on Trade Union & Human Rights (CTUHR).
“I hope the ILO mission would look into the causes of murder of my husband and the continuing rights violations of his fellow Nestle workers, who, since January 2002, have been on strike,” said Luz Fortuna, wife of slain Nestle union president Diosdado Fortuna, in a forum of rights defenders last month.
Militarized Factories and Communities
Labog said a number of factories and workers’ communities have been turned into military camps to silence its unions while workers are charged or jailed without due process.
A case in point is the continuing harassment of Robina farm workers in Antipolo, Rizal by the 16th Infantry Battalion who until now holds a camp in the farm’s vicinity and conducts frequent “visits” to union leaders. Two weeks ago, KMU said Robina’s management had even hired a new chief of security as well as “new workers” who were former soldiers and military intelligence agents “to silence the workers’ union in the farm.”
Another case is that of Solid Enterprise in San Ildefonso, Bulacan. Rogelio Concepcion, acting president of its union, had been abducted in March 2006. The military then reportedly took over Solid Enterprise and busted its union. Concepcion remains missing up to this day.
In Southern Mindanao, armed military men in bonnets had sporadically kept the union office of workers of Dole Philippines under surveillance, especially during times when the union had sharp struggles with its management, said Lito Ustarez, KMU Vice Chair and Chairman of NAFLU (National Federation of Labor Unions), to which Dolefil union is an affiliate.
The military’s presence has been most strongly felt by the workers during negotiations for a collective bargaining or protest actions, Ustarez told Bulatlat. The military are also reportedly campaigning against the progressive union of workers of Dolefil, even going so far as tearing up the union’s streamers and spray-painting public infrastructures with anti-KMU or anti-union slogans.
Cerila Anding, 50, union president of Nagkahiusang Mamumuo sa Osmiguel (NAMAOS), Compostela Valley, told CTUHR she hopes the ILO mission will be as broad and as intensive as possible particularly in investigating threats to their lives and safety. Anding has been under constant military surveillance, the union she leads under attack, both by military elements.
Anding’s fellow union leader in Compostela Valley, Vicente Barrios, 43, president of United Workers of Suyafa Farm (NAMASUFA), had narrowly survived an attempt on his life in December 2006 while he and seven fellow unionists were on their way to work. His colleague, Jerson Lastimoso, died instantly of multiple gunshot wounds. Since 2004, the military had been pressuring Barrios to stop his union activities and to dissociate from KMU. NAMASUFA and NAMAOS are both affiliated with NAFLU-KMU. Hoping to put an end to threats on his life and union activities, Barrios had also sought the ILO investigation.
Excessive Force Against Rallies and Strikes
Force has been used to break up rallies and strikes, Labog said. The biggest examples of which are the massacre of striking Hacienda Luisita workers, which killed 12 strikers and two children and injured hundreds of workers in Tarlac in 2004. President Gloria Arroyo’s labor secretary at the time, Patricia Sto Tomas, had personally dispatched the soldiers and police with instructions to disperse the picket, as she had “assumed jurisdiction” of the case because “the national interest” was “clearly affected by the dispute.”
Despite incriminating accounts by many witnesses who saw police, soldiers and security guards firing into the picket line, not a single arrest has been made. The National Bureau of Investigation’s subsequent report also made no mention of the military’s role in the massacre even though an eyewitness—Francisco Lintag, a sheriff from the department of Labor and Employment—said he saw soldiers rushing toward the strikers and discharging their firearms.
More union and community leaders in Hacienda Luisita were killed after the infamous Hacienda Luisita massacre.
Another big example of the government’s use of excessive force against workers was the case of Chong Won and Phils Jeon in Cavite Export Processing Zone (CEPZ). In Sept. 2006 police and military violently dispersed the workers’ picket. Afterward, the PEZA (Philippine Economic Zone Authority) and its police force charged the strikers with criminal cases; the Municipal Trial Court of Rosario, Cavite issued warrants of arrest. Until now, there have been no impartial investigation and justice for these workers, said the Solidarity of Cavite Workers (SCW).
In a rally Monday before the head office of PEZA and then at DOLE, SCW joined the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) and other labor organizations and federations in the campaign for labor rights in view of the ILO’s upcoming high-level investigative mission.
Workers with SCW asked DOLE and PEZA to respect and implement their rights to organize/freedom of association as stated in the ILO Convention 87. They pinpointed the role of PEZA in implementing in the country’s economic zones a “No union, no strike” (NUNS) policy.
KMU said the harassment of workers and union members and the Arroyo government’s “campaign to discourage workers from joining unions” are clear violations of ILO Convention 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize and Convention 98 on Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining.
Undemocratic, Illegal “Setups” for Violating Trade Union and Human Rights
In most instances of anti-union activities, red-or-communist tagging accompanies or presages the attacks on union rights, said Labog. It is being used like a “setup” for justifying the attacks, or threatening the activists with likely attacks if they persist in progressive unionism.
But even if the military could prove that the organized workers and activists are communists, it does not mean the workers no longer have democratic or trade union rights. Although the Arroyo administration and the Armed Forces of the Philippines have been pushing for the revival of the long-dead Anti-Subversion Law, which criminalizes membership in communist organizations, it had not taken off the ground because of widespread criticisms of its limiting effects on the freedoms of speech and assembly.
Yet, the military and Mrs Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo appear to be acting on their illegal and undemocratic notion that communists or anybody they tagged as communists are fair game for attacks.
Since 2001 when Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo assumed the presidency, “the trade union movement, like other peoples movement in the Philippines, have been experiencing violations of our rights as humans and as workers in a level never before seen in our country’s post-Martial Law politics,” said the KMU in a statement.
The progressive labor group cited cases where their affiliates had been branded as communists and subsequently attacked. Across the Philippines, many unions and union-leaders are being kept under surveillance and harassed by elements of military or by “organizations” formed by the military, such as the Workers for Industrial Peace and Economic Reforms (WIPER) in Compostela Valley.
Recently in Rizal province, Labog said members of the 16th IB, noted for its bloody trail of human rights violations in Mindoro and Nueva Ecija under the notorious Gen. Jovito Palparan, openly insinuated in a forum that some farm-workers are members of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
The Arroyo government’s former secretary of labor and later appointed as associate Supreme Court justice, Arturo Brion, “went as far as asking the ILO to not pay attention to our group because, according to him, we are “a political front” of the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People’s Army,” said Labog. He stressed that only upon the insistence of the trade union movement and the ILO did the Arroyo regime give way and “welcome the mission.”
Victimizing the Rights Defenders, Too
Unionists are not the only targets in this “systematic and vicious attack” on the trade unions and peoples movement. Rights defenders themselves, such as the KMU’s Chief Legal Counsel, Attorney Remigio Saladero, also the author of a labor casebook “Husgahan Natin” (Let Us Judge On It), told of how he himself was imprisoned last year on trumped-up charges. And how until today, he is getting reports of similar trumped-up charges being filed against him, along with unionists and other advocates.
After Atty. Saladero got out of jail last year when the courts realized that he couldn’t have been involved in exploding cellsites because he was attending hearings or other public gatherings at the time of his supposed crime, Saladero said he discovered that other trumped-up charges are being lodged against him in different municipalities.
“A lawyer in Batangas (in Southern Luzon) found out we have a pending case there. We countered that and the case was dismissed,” said Saladero. But another case against him in Rizal was discovered by a relative who happens to be working there. “Because we were able to answer that in time, the case was also dismissed,” said Saladero.
Still, even with the impending arrival of the ILO’s high-level mission, Saladero and other trade unionists and advocates are facing another similarly trumped-up case this time in Taytay, Rizal.
Other labor lawyers, such as Atty. Felidito Dacut, had not been as “lucky” as Atty. Saladero. He was shot in the back in March 2005 when Palparan was head of the 8th Infantry Division detailed at Eastern Visayas.
The ILO Mission
Scant details about the programme of the ILO high-level mission is being divulged, Ustarez told Bulatlat. But this much they were sure of: the formal fact-finding mission will begin September 22 with a morning courtesy call at Malaca?ang and in the afternoon, consultations with Philippine government and workers’ organizations.
“Investigators from ILO will look into the killing of 92 labor union leaders. They will meet with families of victims and survivors of unexplained killings, enforced disappearances and labor-related harassments, and they will inspect two major manufacturing plants in Central and Southern Luzon,” Ustarez said.
“We hope it (the high-level mission) will shed light on government policies and structures that are responsible for the wave of attacks that we have witnessed during the Arroyo regime,” Labog said.
In a report, ILO director Linda Wirth said the killing of labor leaders is the most serious form of harassment. “But the mission is coming here not to say all things are wrong but to find a solution to the problem.”