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

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..

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