By KENT GALIDO
MANILA – Southern Tagalog activist Kobi Tolentino can still vividly remember his memories of Emmanuel Asuncion who was fondly called as “Ka Manny” and the day their office was raided.
Asuncion was the secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan – Cavite when he was killed in a police raid in the Southern Tagalog region on March 7, 2021, now known as the Bloody Sunday. His life and contributions, particularly in the fight for higher pay and to end contractualization, were among those honored as the nine-day online solidarity action for the rights and welfare of Filipino workers culminated last week.
Read: Manny Asuncion: A worker who embraced the bigger fight for social justice
“We will always hold on to the reasons why Ka Manny advanced the national democratic struggle,” said Tolentino.
Last week, workers’ rights advocates held a Global Day of Solidarity against attacks on labor and human rights defenders with its theme ‘Stop the Attacks! Workers Fight Back!’. This was the culmination of a nine-day activity that marks the sixth month since the infamous Bloody Sunday that left nine activists killed and four arrested in the provinces of Southern Tagalog.
For the fifth year, the Philippines is tagged as among the 10 worst countries for workers by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), with the most number of unionists killed.
To date, there are 31 unionists who remain in detention for trumped-up charges and 56 trade unionists extrajudicially killed in the country according to the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights – Philippines (CTUHR).
“They may kill thousands more like Ka Manny…but this will only push us to tread the path to struggle towards the fall of a backward system and fight for the lives of the people,” said Tolentino.
Hopes for freedom
Rafaella Barquilla is still in disbelief why her husband, Esteban Mendoza, was jailed during the Bloody Sunday. Mendoza, executive vice president of workers group Olalia-KMU, remains in detention despite earlier calls on the government to review search warrants that led to killings and arrests of activists in the Southern Tagalog region.
“I hope my husband will be freed soon because accusations have no merit. He is our sole breadwinner and our family is suffering,” Barquilla said.
Read: After Bloody Sunday, lawyers’ group asks SC to act on the ‘pattern of defective search warrants’
In a statement, Defend Southern Tagalog said activists arrested during the Bloody Sunday must be released. Apart from Mendoza, those arrested were: Nimfa Lanzanas, Arnedo Lagunias, Ramir Corcolon, Mags Camoral; and Erllindo Baez.
“While the election is fast-approaching, the Duterte administration is more desperate to silence its critics and intensify weaponization of law against Filipinos,” the group said.
Uphold human rights
Six months since the Bloody Sunday happened, Southern Tagalog activists said harassment and campaign among workers unions in the region to disaffiliate from the Kilusang Mayo Uno continue.
Unionists were being “threatened with arrests and a possible ‘Bloody Sunday’ repeat if they refuse to comply with the disaffiliation resolution,” the group added.
Despite the worrying development in the Southern Tagalog region, lawyer Fudge Tajar, spokesperson of the Labor Rights Defenders Network – Philippines, said “human rights like labor rights are not mere principles that are written on paper, they are choices that we make every day.”
Labor leader Elmer Labog, on the other hand, said it is important to intensify efforts in campaigning workers’ rights. “Let us intensify international solidarity, push further for our trade union and democratic rights as workers,” he said. (JJE, RVO)