Raquel and Mervin Toquero were having breakfast with their children at their home in Cavite last June 28, 2015, when two men who identified themselves as soldiers suddenly appeared at their kitchen door asking for Raquel. The two men accused Raquel of being a communist and handed out a piece of paper with a phone number to call if she wants to “cooperate” with authorities.
The violations committed against the Toquero couple are just the latest in more than 20 similar harassment incidents against union organizers and leaders of the Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (Courage) and the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU). Raquel Toquero is a staff of Courage.
While the culprits identified themselves as soldiers, they did not show their identification cards nor did they wear their uniforms. They did not have a search or arrest warrant when they entered the homes of the organizers. Worse, they even accused them of being communists.
They took it upon themselves to act as accuser, judge and enforcer.
While on the surface, these incidents appear to be innocuous – some of the letters did not issue direct threats – the effect that it has is far from being harmless. It is actually meant to intimidate and the seemingly tame letters are actually veiled threats. The union leaders were not simply approached; they were accosted.
Why target union leaders?
Well those in power, both government and corporations alike, have a strong dislike for union leaders because the latter organizes the rank and file to collectively fight for their welfare, rights and interests. Whatever the rank and file wins, the employer loses.
Aside from also being an employer, the government or rather its officials are beholden to corporations. After all government officials get their campaign kitty and their perks from corporations. Progressives in the Philippines call it bureaucrat capitalism – meaning government officials use their position to make tons of money – while in the US it is called the revolving door policy: top executives in corporations get appointed in government and officials who served corporations well are rewarded with lucrative positions when they leave the government.
Does anyone still believe that President Aquino’s bosses are the Filipino masses?
Should the Filipino people be alarmed about this harassment on union leaders and organizers?
We should be.
First the country is not under martial law and the people, union organizer or not, have rights such as the rights to due process, safety and security, privacy, freedom of association, and expression. The harassments of this scale were not done even during the Marcos dictatorship. During the Martial Law of Marcos, those suspected of going against the repressive measures of the government were placed under surveillance then arrested. But they were not approached at their homes and offices and given veiled threats.
Second, this is impunity at work. If we allow the government to violate the rights of others then it would only be a matter of time before they violate our rights as well. Would you take it lightly if a government official or a member of state security forces surreptitiously enters your home, accuses you of contravening the law, and issues a veiled threat against you?
All the rights that the Filipino people have now, even if just formally, such as the freedom of expression, association, due process, among others, were fought for by the people. And those in power could easily take it away from us again if we allow them.
It is not only those who were victimized and their organizations that should be protesting against these clear violations of their rights. This is a concern of all freedom loving Filipinos. Because if we keep silent now, with the worsening economic, social and political crisis in the country and the world, chances are we would wake up someday and be surprised that all radio and TV stations are off the air. Then a government official would be speaking on air announcing that martial law has been declared.