MACTAN, Cebu – Since September, burly men — some sporting military-style haircut — have been keeping watch, taking pictures and videos of people going to and from a workers’ center being run by the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR) here.
Volunteers of the CTUHR reported that at all times, up to this writing, a different team of these men, as if on shift, would watch over the lone passageway to the private compound housing the CTUHR’s Cebu office.
On Oct. 2, while workers were meeting at the center, a member of this surveillance team even put a table in front of the compound and sat there for half a day to take pictures of people going in and out of the workers’ center, reported Butch Rosales, a volunteer for CTUHR assisting workers in the nearby Mactan Export Processing Zone (MEPZ) and victims of demolitions surrounding the zone. When other volunteers of the workers’ center went out and took photos of the suspicious man, they noticed that his hands trembled but he did not leave.
That night, three men with bulging waists and military haircut called Rosales when he dined at a nearby eatery. Rosales reportedly hurried inside the center and called another colleague to come fetch him as he feared the men might forcibly take him.
“This is intimidation plain and simple, meant to frighten the volunteers and workers frequenting the center,” said Daisy Arago, Executive Director of CTUHR.
CTUHR’s Cebu Workers Center began operations only last April, but its staff and volunteers say they have facilitated trainings and a significant number of basic human rights education. The center also supports the activities of Unity for Workers Rights (U4WR), a broad organization of workers and workers rights advocates established in February in response to massive retrenchments in Mactan Economic Zone (MEZ) and in neighboring industrial centers due to the global economic crisis.
“If the surveillance is meant to scare or stop us from doing our human rights work, and helping workers and urban poor discover their own rights guaranteed by law and international instruments, it will not work,” Arago said.
Surveillances and intimidation will only raise questions and curiosity from workers who are now being silenced by a no-union, no-strike practice in export processing or special economic zones, she added.
U4WR is the first workers’ organization established in Mactan Economic Zone (MEZ) since the 1990’s, with members coming from eight factories in the zone. “It is a sign of awakening. The group deserves to be supported by any labor rights or human-rights organizations,” Arago said.
The Arroyo government regards MEZ 1 and 2 as one of the country’s most successful public export processing zones. The two ecozones host some 189 companies and contribute a big chunk of the country’s annual exports in electronics, electrical devices and clothing apparel. (Bulatlat.com)