Women, labor and human rights groups gathered in Santa Rosa City to commemorate the enforced disappearance of Ben and the brutal assassination of Tita Mely.
By DENNIS ESPADA
SANTA ROSA CITY, LAGUNA — People are searching everywhere for labor leader Benjamin “Ben” Villeno but has not found any sign of him.
Ben is a former president of Lakas Manggagawang Nagkakaisa sa Honda (LMNH or United Workers’ Strength in Honda), a workers’ union in Honda Cars Philippines based in this city, and the Organized Labor in Line Industries and Agriculture (OLALIA), a labor federation affiliated with Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU or May First Movement).
His last communication was via a text message sent to and received by a fellow labor leader. The message revealed that he was on his way home to Cavite, and suspicious men who look like military soldiers were following him. He was last seen last August 27, 2013.
According to Nhed Lagunias, LMNH spokesperson, they already sought the help of the Commission on Human Rights and repeatedly demanded military authorities to surface him. “We’ve done everything to find Ben…but still nothing came out of it,” he lamented during a protest rally organized by the regional labor center Pagkakaisa ng Manggagawa sa Timog Katagalugan (PAMANTIK or Unity of Workers in Southern Tagalog) and other groups.
One of the speakers in the rally held in barangay Balibago was Justin Villeno, Ben’s 17- year old son. Holding back tears, he expressed a mix of emotions: anguish from not knowing the whereabouts of his father and admiration for his father’s selflessness. As a teenager, he said, he used to resent what his father was doing because he was always out. But after learning the importance of his father’s trade union organizing activities and meeting countless people who support the cause, he saw the deep and noble conviction of his father and his colleagues.
“One of the reasons why he left us is to fight for the people’s rights and welfare, the younger Villeno told supporters. “But even though he left us, he was a good father because he had helped many workers.”
PAMANTIK believes that Ben is a victim of Oplan Bayanihan, the Aquino government’s counterinsurgency program which, the group said, seeks to decapitate the people’s movement for change by carrying out illegal arrests, detentions and extrajudicial killings of activists and trade unionists in the region.
“Ben has no enemies. There is no one who would wish to do him harm aside from the government,” said PAMANTIK spokesperson Hermie Marasigan in a statement given to Bulatlat.com. “He has done nothing but fight for the rights of workers and the people. He does not deserve this kind of treatment.”
Ten years after: Impunity
In the same rally, the multi-sectoral alliance Mamamayan ng Santa Rosa para sa Kagalingan, Kaunlaran at Kapayapaan Tungo sa Magandang Kinabukasan (MSRK3 or People of Santa Rosa for Welfare, Development and Peace Toward a Good Future) denounced the culture of impunity over the killing of Melita “Tita Mely” Trinidad-Carvajal, a known urban poor rights defender and anti-corruption advocate.
Tita Mely resisted the violent demolitions and forced eviction of urban poor communities in barangay Pulong Santa Cruz in 2003 that would pave the way for “development projects.” As Gabriela Women’s Party coordinator and MSRK3 chairperson back then, she led a city–wide campaign to implement the “six-point program”: free hospitalization; free education from basic to tertiary level; employment for the youth and people; assistance for small and medium-sized businesses; decent and affordable housing; and respect for people’s rights.
The illegality of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) and the public’s growing clamor to abolish the pork barrel system, the group explained in a statement, proves that Tita Mely’s and MSRK3’s continuous fight against plunder and grave misuse of public funds by a few corrupt officials is just and valid.
Unfortunately she did not live to see the day when the city council enacted the six-point program into a law through Resolution Number 274-2006 and Order Number 03-2006.
In August 27, 2004, Tita Mely was shot to death by unidentified motorcycle-riding men in front of her house in barangay Dila in this city. Members of progressive organizations asserted that military intelligence agents were behind the crime as part of a failed attempt to foment violent attacks against them and sow terror among local citizens.
Flames of justice
Members of LMNH, OLALIA-KMU, PAMANTIK, MSRK3, Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (KADAMAY), Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights (KARAPATAN), GABRIELA women’s alliance, Alyansa ng Manggagawa sa Engklabo (AMEN) and several local unions lit and held candles in boxes along the Old National Highway as a sign of their commitment to “keep the flames of justice burning.”
To carry on the search for the whereabouts, the quest for justice as well as Ben’s legacy, Justin decided to volunteer for OLALIA-KMU and work toward good governance.
If the Aquino regime thinks that the struggle will cease with my father’s enforced disappearance, then they are wrong,” he said. “My father’s enforced disappearance would result in the emergence of a new government.”
The MSRK3, meanwhile, called on elected city officials to seriously implement the six-point program, a cause that Tita Mely struggled and died for. They said: Neglecting the six-point program is like neglecting the poor people as well.”