Lepanto Labor Row, Far from Over

A multipartite meeting involving the striking union, Lepanto management, local government and labor officials, coupled with several pre-dawn dispersal operations, failed to weaken workers’ resolve to push for their demands.

BY Lyn V. Ramo and Abigail T. Bengwayan
Northern Dispatch


LA TRINIDAD, Benguet – The labor dispute in the Lepanto Mines in Mankayan town is far from over despite the third multipartite negotiations with Benguet Gov. Borromeo Melchor, the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB) and the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) at the governor’s office on June 23.

The picketlines remain intact despite open ingress and egress and workers remain steadfast not to return to work, defying and earlier Return-to-Work Order by DoLE Undersecretary Manuel Imson.

Ronaldo Maslian, auditor and spokesperson of the Lepanto Employees Union (LEU) said, “Saan pay a nalpas ti negosasyon” (The negotiations are far from over) after the union and management arrived at tactical agreements here.

While leaders of the LEU and the management of the Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company (LCMCo) agreed to adhere to some points already reached at the second negotiation in Mankayan on June 21, no talks have been held to address the issues for which the strike was launched.

Tactical agreements

In a joint manifestation, the parties specifically agreed to open Gates 1, 3, and 4, Tubo, Nayak and Buaki for union officers to freely consult and coordinate with their members, subject to security procedures. They also agreed that management is free to convince workers to return to work while the union will also have the freedom to persuade workers not to enter the workplace. Likewise, there will be a status quo at the picket lines and that the parties shall not use any intimidation, harassment or misrepresentation in convincing union members relating to the issues involved.

Ninian Lang-agan, LEU president, asked that a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) be drawn up between the union and the company before going back to the negotiation on wages and deadlock issues. He said there should be an atmosphere of peace when the negotiations resume and the labor dispute finally settled.

Defying DoLE

At the opening of the negotiations, Labor Regional Director Jalilo de la Torre offered to submit to voluntary arbitration the termination of 75 LEU members including officers and their reinstatement in the payroll. Since the multipartite body did not agree, De la Torre asked them to submit their respective positions until 5 p.m. on June 24. He said, however, that the DoLE secretary’s order has settled the issue on wages on June 9. DoLE Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas ordered P25-P27-P29 against LEU’s P29-P29-P33 and Lepanto’s P21-P26-P28.

LEU rejected the proposed wage settlement and defied DoLE’s return-to-work order. In a proposed MoA read by the union’s legal counsel, LEU demanded, among others, that management consider, recall or withdraw the notice of termination it issued on June 11 and that Lepanto consider all members reinstated while negotiation on the increase in wages and other benefits is ongoing. The officers said they would not report for work unless management assured them that no retaliatory action would be made against them and their members.

LEU also assailed Lepanto’s move at hiring new workers while the union is on strike and negotiations are underway. Lepanto allegedly announced that it needed miners and reportedly, recruits Philex retrenched workers into its workforce.

LCMCo position

The Lepanto representatives, legal counsel Weldy Manlong and Assistant Resident Manager Ernesto Laoagan said they do not want to reinstate the dismissed strikers and wanted them to “pay for the consequences of their action” by filing cases in appropriate courts. They also demanded the lifting of the strike.

DoLE’s De la Torre, however, said that the legality of the strike might be threshed out in another forum, reminding Lepanto that National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) has its hands full with thousands of labor cases up for settlement. He said it would take a long time before it could decide on the cases. He convinced management to soften its position.

The union wants an assurance that issues are settled with finality on the negotiating table and asked that Lepanto’s chief operating officer or its president attend the negotiations.

Company representatives said they will consult the chairman and members of the Board on the issue.

Laoagan appealed to the workers to lift the strike and return to work so Lepanto could pay its obligations. He said the National Power Corporation (NPC) has served its statement of account for unpaid electric bills.

Maslian challenged labor officials to visit the picket lines even as De la Torre agreed to take the issues directly to the general membership of the union and the owners of the company. He said LCMCo is on a black propaganda blitz informing workers that the negotiations are over and convincing them to return to work.

Pre-dawn dispersals

Tension at the picketlines heightened after the police dispersal on June 18, 20 and 21, led by PNP’s Col. Ernesto Gaab and the company security force, or the Reaction Force under Col. Wilhelm Doromal in the Tubo and Nayak picket lines. Most of the dispersals were carried out in the dark, just before dawn.

According to the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU)-Cordillera, two miners were injured when the company’s security men forced open part of the Tubo gate to unload supplies brought by a six-wheeler truck last June 18, 3 a.m. Mauricio Cadangen and Lolito Onio were among the miners who blocked the gate. Doromal struck Cadangen in the wrist with a rattan stick. Onio was reportedly hit on his right knee by Doromal’s men.

On June 20 at around 2:30 a.m., workers blocked the way of policemen escorting a company truck toward the Nayak picket line. KMU said the police pushed the strikers and attempted to handcuff miner Artemio Tictic. Tictic was also hit in the hand with the handcuffs and kicked. After the scuffle, another miner, Denver Tictic, reported his cellphone as stolen. Meanwhile, Luvina Tictic, who tried to pacify the policemen, was hit with a rattan stick in the right arm.

The following day at 4 a.m., over 200 policemen, armed with M16 and M14 rifles, surrounded the strikers at the Tubo gate and started dismantling the picket area. Makeshift tents, banners, and kitchen utensils were confiscated.

Prescilla Dilem of Timpuyog dagiti Babbai iti Minas ti Lepanto (TBML) said that one of the policemen tried to empty one sack of rice into the ground. Other food supplies were scattered, she added. The miners’ wives have been helping man the shift since the strike took off on June 2.

The victims filed complaints at the municipal hall. Union officers condemned the manner by which the dispersal was done.

Maslian said PNP’s actions made it very clear that it is siding with the company.

Frantic management

Lepanto management has reportedly filed criminal charges against the LEU and claimed some 80 percent of the workforce has reported back to work.

“That (filing of case) is only a threat. They say they intend to close the mines if we don’t return to work. That is impossible since they have applied for expansion of operations. Investors are already on the way,” he said.

On June 23, while union officers were in a dialogue with Melchor and representatives of the NCMB, DoLE and Lepanto, Doromal and his men reportedly went to the picket lines and announced that the negotiation was over and union officers had already given in to management.

The management also distributed an open letter to the four picket lines on June 23, accusing union officers of misinforming the members, even questioning their leadership.

According to a KMU press release also on June 23, the Lepanto management continues to hold meetings to persuade miners’ wives to convince their husbands to return to work.

Junita Farrong of TBML however stressed that the miners’ families will continue to support the workers until all demands are addressed. “Sisasagana kami nga ituloy daytoy strike” (We are determined to continue with the strike), she said. With reports from Aldwin Quitasol / Northern Dispatch / Posted by Bulatlat

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