Demand for Union and Democratic Rights
Aside from rising prices and ignored demands for social justice, the continuing extra-judicial killings and harassments of leaders and members of progressive people’s organizations underscore the absence of a honeymoon period under the new president.
Far from getting rid of the Arroyo government’s infamous counter-insurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya, which regarded organized workers, especially the progressive bloc as enemies of the state and targets for neutralization, the Aquino government even extended it until a new one has been crafted in January.
As a result, five union leaders and members became victims of extra-judicial killings in 2010. Two of them – Edward Panganiban, 27, and Benjamin Bayles, 44— were killed shortly before Aquino was sworn in last June. The other three were killed after Aquino was installed in Malacañang.
Panganiban was secretary of the workers union in Japanese-owned Takata Phils., Inc. in Laguna. Motorcycle-riding men wearing ski masks gunned him down while he was riding his motorcycle on his way to work. His fellow union officers at the Samahang Lakas ng Manggagawa sa Takata (SALAMAT or Association for Workers’s Strength in Takata) immediately accused the military, saying they had begun experiencing military surveillance and receiving threats since they formed their union in 2007.
In an incident, noted a report of the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR), one of these men doing surveillance showed the union president his ID issued by the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP). The intelligence agent said they were just doing their job. Also, during SALAMAT’s campaign for certification election in 2009, the Takata management reportedly held anti-union and anti-communist seminars facilitated by ANAD (Alliance for Nationalism and Democracy), an anti-communist group, which tried to dissuade the workers from voting yes to the union or approaching any of the union leaders.
Less than two weeks later, Benjamin Bayles, 44, organizer of the National Federation of Sugar Workers in Himamaylan City, Negros Occidental, was gunned down also by motorcycle-riding men. Based on the documentation of the CTUHR, the assailants fled to the direction of Kabankalan City, where the police checkpoint later reported that they apprehended two men, each armed with a .45 caliber pistol. They were identified as Roger M. Bahon and Ronnie L. Caurino, “organic” members of the 61st Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army.
Motorcycle-riding men wearing helmets or masks later separately gunned down two teachers on the same day in July in Masbate, Bicol. Mark Francisco, 27, was member of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) while Edgar Fernandez was a public school teacher. Witnesses reportedly noted that Francisco’s killers wore camouflaged uniforms frequently worn by soldiers.
Last month in Laguna, the same province where Panganiban of Takata Phils Inc was killed five months ago, Carlo Rodriguez, 41, union president of Nagkakaisang Lakas ng Manggagawa sa Calamba Water District, was killed also by men riding motorcycles.
Until now, no suspect in these killings has been identified even if these killings follow a seeming pattern wherever in the Philippines it was committed. So far the Aquino government does not show any intention of investigating these killings.
It appears that workers would have to suffer the same risk of violent attacks as they assert their legal right to organize, bargain for decent wages and humane working conditions, and articulate their positions on important national matters affecting them.
New unions continue to face hardships on the way to legal recognition. In the first half of the year, the number of newly registered workers’ associations reached 1,421, lower by 323 compared to the same period last year, according to the Bureau of Labor and Employment Statistics (BLES). Workers associations listed with the labor department cover only 781,000 members all over the country, or roughly less than four percent of all employed wage and salary workers.
Some unions, like the ABS-CBN IJM workers’ union, are still grappling with repressive measures being instituted by corporations such as mass termination. Others are striving to avert getting thoroughly whittled down by redundancy and contractualization schemes. In the first half of 2010, regional offices of the labor department reported that more than a thousand establishments resorted to permanent closure or retrenchment, displacing 17,042 workers.
In Southern Tagalog, workers had organized various alliances to confront these problems, such as an alliance against illegal termination. Other workers’ unions are struggling against being virtually wiped out, as companies relocated to other areas and took new, non-unionized, non-regular workers. The workers of Triumph underwear, for example, accused their employers of having done such a runaway shop. Others, such as the unions of port workers and stevedores in Manila North Harbor, are currently struggling to regain their union and their collective bargaining agreements after the pier was privatized early this year.
Other unions, particularly those in regions outside of Metro Manila, are being harassed and repressed by the military; others such as the union of the Dolefil workers in General Santos were forcibly taken over by management-chosen unions. The union of workers in Nestle, which is still on strike, continues to press the government to enforce Supreme Court rulings ordering the company to go back to the negotiating table to hammer out a collective bargaining agreement with the workers.
Despite the difficulties in conducting a strike and the dwindling number of strikes in the past years, the number of actual strikes rose this year (from four in 2008 and in 2009 to seven as of Nov 2010), involving more workers (from 1,115 and 1,510 in 2008 and 2009 to 2,976 as of Nov 2010). But the labor department has issued at least eight assumption of jurisdiction (AJ) orders, thus continuing the trend begun by the Arroyo government, which issued more AJ orders than the number of actual workers’ strikes.
Assumption of jurisdiction (AJ) orders, notwithstanding, some unions in 2010 had proved yet again that asserting their right to strike could help them achieve their demands for better wages, even if these are fraught with danger.
An independent monitoring of CTUHR in 2010 documented a total of 161 cases of trade union and human rights violations in the country, directly affecting 24,132 union members. It covered various violations of the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining, from union-busting to harassments, intervention on trade union affairs, anti-union discrimination and prohibition of the right to strike.