By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
Back story: France Castro: teacher, friend, activist
MANILA– Amid red-tagging of the progressive leaders, ACT Teachers Party-list Rep. France Castro has been named as recipient of the Arthur Svensson International Prize for Professional Rights 2019.
The Svensson Prize has been awarded to persons and organizations working to promote trade union rights and organizing around the world.
In its statement, the Svensson Foundation said Castro received the award for her “long-standing struggle to organize teachers and to fight for basic workers’ rights in the Philippines.”
Castro, a public school teacher for more than 20 years thanked the Svensson Foundation for the recognition “especially in light of the current dire political, economic, and human rights situation in our country which gravely affects the marginalized such as teachers and unions.”
Education International, the global union federation of teachers’ and education workers’ trade unions, nominated Castro for the 2019 Svensson Prize.
Castro as brave leader
In its statement, the Svensson Foundation described Castro as a brave leader who defies threats and dangerous condition.
“Despite threats and persecution, there are brave people fighting for democracy and human rights. The regime has particularly attacked unionists among teachers and journalists. Some are killed and many imprisoned. Death threats are not uncommon. In recent times, police officers in the Philippines have been running an organized campaign where they are herding and publishing information on unionized teachers,” Svensson Foundation said in a statement referring to the profiling of the public school teachers, particularly the members of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) by the Philippine National Police (PNP).
Castro was also among those who were detained by the Talaingod police last November 2018, together with former Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo and Lumad teachers, students and administrator, for defending Lumad’s right to education.
Championing public school teachers’ welfare
The Foundation also took notice of Castro’s role in the fight for public school teachers’ rights and welfare.
Before being elected as nominee of the ACT Teachers Party-list in 2016, Castro became the founding president of the ACT-National Capital Region Union, the first union representing public school teachers in the Philippines.
ACT is the largest union in the country with 200,000 union members nationwide. The ACT-NCR Union also successfully negotiated and signed in 2015 the collective negotiation agreement with the Department of Education-NCR.
While working as a mathematics teacher at the Quirino High School in Quezon City, Castro who hold different positions within the teachers movement in the local and international spheres. She served as president of the Quezon City Public School Teachers Association, Member of National Trustees of the Philippine Public School Teachers Association, and Member of the World Executive Board of Education International representing the Asia Pacific.
The Svensson Foundation also noted Castro’s involvement in the fight for teachers and people’s welfare while serving as ACT Teachers Party-list representative in Congress from the fight against the neoliberal reforms in the education sector and for better working conditions for teachers to fight against lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility.
“We also hope that the Svensson Prize will highlight our struggles here and uplift the morale and fighting spirit of teachers not just here in the Philippines but around the globe as well,” Castro said in a statement.
The Svensson Prize was created by Industri Energi and is awarded annually by the Committee for Arthur Svensson’s International Prize for Professional Rights.
As a recipient of this award, Castro gets 500,000 Norwegian kroner (P3 million or $58,000) which half goes directly to the winner and a corresponding amount allocated for follow-up work related to the winner or similar projects.