High Hopes for ILO’s 1st High-Level Mission to the Philippines


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 Cases filed with the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) have been archived allegedly due to lack of witnesses, said a report by the Commission on Trade Union & Human Rights (CTUHR).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.

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