“Is there an undeclared martial law against us by the Aquino government?”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – On April 27, a suspicious-looking man entered the Department of Labor and Employment office (DOLE) at around 2:30 p.m. He stayed at the office lounge, looking around, reading the memos on the bulletin board, and just waiting. Then, Elvie Prudencio, the DOLE Employees Union president, left her office, and the man followed.
The man introduced himself to Prudencio as “Josie,” and accused her of being a member of an “organ” of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
“If you are referring to my organs, I have plenty. I was trying crack a joke. But he did not find it funny. Instead, he said, ‘you are a cadre’,” Prudencio said during a press briefing today, June 24.
Prudencio is among the government union leaders who were subjected to harassment and surveillance by suspected state forces in the past two months. Also on April 27, which was just a few days before the May Day rally, government union leaders received letters – some in their homes, others in their offices – alleging that they are members of the CPP.
These letters contained cellphone numbers which they can contact “in case they changed their mind” and “before it is too late.”
Prudencio, found it ironic that while she is with a government office whose mandate is to provide services to workers, a unionist like her is being attacked not just within her workplace, but from suspected military agents.
“Now, there seems to be no let up. Nobody is spared from the harassment, intimidation and threats,” Ferdinand Gaite, COURAGE national president, said, adding that the red-tagging of government workers is “a veiled threat” given the military’s record of human rights violations.
“Is there an undeclared martial law against us by the Aquino government?” he added.
Erwin Lanuza, an employee of the Quezon City local government and a union leader, said he was on his way back to the office after buying lunch when a man called out his name. The man, he added, was standing in a corner, wearing a cap that cast a shadow on his face.
Lanuza said he thought he knew the man. When he approached him, he partly lifted his cap and Lanuza was surprised to see a stranger. The man is in his 50’s, and was wearing glasses, he recalled.
The man then blurted out, “I know you and what you are doing. I belong to the military.”
The man handed Lanuza a note with the cellphone number, 0915-3170413.
Rose Nartates, union president of National Housing Authority employees, and her co-worker Fely Sanyo, received identical letters, from a certain “Capt. Evangelista.”
But what made her anxious, she added, is that whoever was behind the letters did their research “well.” The letter for her, which was sent to her office, claimed that it came from their village chief. The letter for her colleague, Sanyo, was sent to her home.
The suspects also called Nartates’s office, looking for her and asking where she was. But when asked who it was, the caller would hang up.
Last week, June 15, a police man in plainclothes “visited” the NHA satellite office in Sta. Mesa, claiming that he would conduct a “Security Inspection Education.” He, however, could not present any letter of request for the activity. Nartates said she learned that the police returned at around 4 p.m., with a letter.
The letter stated that the purpose of the visit was to guide managers and supervisors in security management. A security inspection and education, too, was scheduled from June 15 to 19.
The police then brought out a camera and started taking pictures of the place and of the staff. He also reportedly asked where the exits of the buildings were located.
“Bakit? Lilipunin n’yo ba kami?” (Why? Do you plan to wipe us all out) one of the NHA employees asked the police man, alarmed at his unusual behavior. The employee then asked the police to delete the pictures, but the latter replied that he does not know how.
Nartates found it ridiculous.
On June 19, Police Senior Inspector Alfredo Agbuya visited the same office, asked how the police he sent behaved, and consequently apologized.
“We will not let it slide,” Nartates said, adding that it goes to show how one’s fight for workers’ rights is now being put in bad light. She reminded the government of the role of rank-and-file employees in ensuring that government services are delivered.
Gaite said employees of the Metro Manila Development Authority and volunteer staff of the national office of COURAGE in Quezon City also experienced the same harassment and surveillance.
The letters insinuated that their information came from other government unionists. The COURAGE officials believed the letters were trying to turn them against the “COURAGE 2,” Raul Camposano and Randy Vegas.
The two union organizers were arrested in 2012 and have been languishing in jail in Camarines Norte. These cases are hardly prospering, Gaite said, given the slow criminal justice system in the country. But apart from the cases in Camarines Norte, the two are also charged with other crimes in other places such as in Ifugao, and in Infanta, Quezon.
“That’s not true. These are just meant to sow intrigues. But we do not believe it,” Gaite told Bulatlat.com after the media briefing.
Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay found it “unusual” that the surveillance also targeted union leaders in government offices.
Recently, leaders of progressive groups and NGOs reported being tailed and harassed by suspected state forces.
“What is making us anxious, is that we know it will not remain just like this,” she said.
Palabay said these cases reminded her of the threats and harassment against activists during the height of killings under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The red-tagging, harassment and surveillance soon led to killings, enforced disappearances and arrests.
Santi Dasmariñas, National Food Authority Employees Union president, said government employees have their own share of extrajudicial killings under President Aquino, citing the case of Carlo Rodriguez, a union president of Calamba Water District workers, who was gunned down in 2010.
Dasmariñas along with three other union leaders Roman Sanchez, Evelyn Garcia and retired employee Larry Tan also received “poison letters” on April 27.
COURAGE reminded the Aquino government that union organizing is a basic right enshrined in the Constitution and international conventions that the Philippine government has signed.
Gaite said they will not be mere sitting ducks as state forces might be planning to abduct, detain or even kill government unionists based on allegations.
He added, “We ask the Commission on Human Rights and the Justice Department to conduct an investigation soonest. We dare the Defense Department and the PNP to check their ranks and sanction these elements. And we dare President Aquino to speak up on this creeping, undeclared martial law.”