By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA — In their concluding press briefing early this month, the high-level mission from the International Labor Organization expressed appreciation for the “full cooperation and extensive information provided to it” by the Philippine government, its agencies and the workers’ and employers’ organizations.
Now, the battle between the “contradictory statements concerning violence against trade unionists” has shifted to the meetings of ILO supervisory bodies due in November and December this year and March next year. The bone of contention in this battle is the Philippine government’s record in actually respecting the rights of its citizens, including workers, unionists and their defenders, and in implementing the international labor laws it had signed and ratified.
While the ILO team was in the Philippines gathering “first-hand information and complaints,” the Department of Labor and Employment has continued to vilify the chief complainant that led to the ILO’s first high-level mission to the country, the progressive labor groups led by Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU). The DOLE accused the KMU of “muddling the issue” and “raising issues that are outside the ILO review of matters relating to the application in law and practice of the right to freedom of association and the workers’ right to organize.”
In its statement, DOLE said “the government upholds its policy to promote and protect the Filipino workers’ rights including their right to organize as evidenced by 362 new labor unions and workers’ associations with 15,774 members that have registered with the DOLE from January to April this year.”
However, the DOLE failed to mention that over the years, the number of unionized workers has been sharply declining, from 14.6% of the labor force in 1995 to just about 5% in the years under Arroyo. “But even this is not reflective of the real picture,” according to the Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research (EILER), “since DOLE does not monitor the status of unions on a regular basis and includes even those in firms that have closed down over the past few years.”
EILER blames the declining number of unionized workers on “hostile conditions” in the workplace that prevent workers from organizing. These conditions include the killings of trade unionists, leaders and organizers, and “anti-union legislations and practices, especially contractualization.”
According to a statement from KMU on the first few days of the ILO mission this month, some of their labor leaders who trooped to the ILO office in Makati to testify “were nearly killed” on their way.
After showing the ILO team their “exhibit A”– the bullet scars of labor leaders who luckily survived assassination attempts– and after airing various testimonies of life and death struggle in workplaces from all over the country, the labor group said they hope they have shown that trade union repression is happening in all parts of the country. “These point to the fact that there is a national campaign, based on a national policy, of crushing and wiping out militant and nationalist trade unionism in the country,” said Elmer Labog, the KMU’s chairman.
“We tried to point the investigating panel into the string of government policies in place to demonize and liquidate unions, specifically Oplan Bantay Laya I and II,” Labog added, referring to the government’s counter-insurgency program that views unionists as communists.
Despite the fractious labor groupings in the Philippines, other labor groups also raised issues that are in dire need of improvement in the Philippines’ observance — or not — of labor rights and laws. This further fleshed out, even bolstered, the complaints of KMU.
A former congressman, Renato Magtubo of Partido Manggagawa, brought to the ILO team’s attention the harassment of unionists and curtailment of the right to organize in Cebu’s Mactan Economic Zone.