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Volume 3, Number 4              February 23 - March 1, 2003            Quezon City, Philippines

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Workers Decry IRRI Immunity from Suit

LOS BAÑOS, LAGUNA — Six workers dead due to work-related diseases. Others dismissed arbitrarily. Another summarily fired and then charged with criminal crimes.  All of them were workers and employees of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). But none of them or their families could sue IRRI because of a Marcosian decree that shields IRRI from any liability arising from labor disputes. 


On April 19, 1979, then President Ferdinand Marcos signed into law Presidential Decree (PD) 1620 granting IRRI the status, prerogatives, privileges and immunities of an international organization. Since then, IRRI has had blanket immunity from suit which, says its workers, IRRI has used as license to breach Philippine labor laws. 

Thus, IRRI employees who have found themselves afflicted with dreadful diseases contracted while working in IRRI, the families of those who died from such diseases and the workers who wanted to file complaints of unfair labor practices find themselves barred at the onset by PD 1620.

Work-related diseases

Reports said the employees and farm workers exposed to toxic chemicals and pesticides in the course of their work in IRRI have suffered not only extreme physical pain but also injustice.

Still seeking indemnification from IRRI are the bereaved families of employees who died from Parkinson’s disease, liver cancer, liver failure, kidney failure and leukemia.

Victims Bernardo Calibo, Alberto Banasihan, Camilo Malana, Raymundo  Mercado and Benigno Carandang, Pancrasio Mercado reportedly became “guinea pigs” in the course of what BISSIG said were reckless experiments conducted by IRRI.  

Meanwhile, Emerson Delfin, a former laboratory assistant in the biochemistry division of IRRI for 22 years, is suffering from Parkinson’s disease that was certified to be work-related.  The PD 1620 restrained his hope in seeking compensation and damages from IRRI.


Rogelio Granzore had worked as house attendant for 15 years before he was terminated in December 2001 for alleged arson and robbery.

IRRI filed cases against him before the Regional Trial Court, 4th Judicial Region-Branch 36 in Calamba City.  Granzore is detained at the provincial jail of Sta. Cruz.

But Granzore has filed an illegal termination case against IRRI management before the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC)-Regional Arbitration Branch No. IV in Quezon City.

The management invoked P.D. 1620.

Pura Ferrer-Calleja, a human rights lawyer, said that if an individual or an entity cloaked with immunity goes to court and sues, that individual or entity sheds himself/itself of its immunity from suit.

Other cases

Granzore’s case is not isolated. In fact, employees who were arbitrarily terminated last October 2002 filed another case of illegal retrenchment against the IRRI.                 

However, the IRRI management sought an outright dismissal of the case on the ground that the NLRC has no jurisdiction over the complaint and over the respondent, once again invoking P.D. 1620.

A similar incident happened in 1996. When a union organizer challenged his termination before the NLRC, the IRRI management refused to participate in the legal proceedings and invoked P.D. 1620. 

Patricio Layosa Jr., acting president of the Brotherhood of IRRI Support Services Group (BISSIG), said in a statement that the University of the Philippines in Los Baños coerced the tenants and farmers to sell their land by virtue of P.D. 457 and 1046-A in 1974 to give way for IRRI. 

“If IRRI is for sustainable agriculture, why do they have to forcibly take the land of the farmers, suppress the legitimate rights of workers and desecrate the life and health of its employees?” asked Layosa.

Repealing the oppressive decree

Pending in Congress is House Bill 5095 is an act protecting the rights to labor of the workers of IRRI as enshrined in the 1987 Constitution, amending for the purpose Article III of the PD 1620 and for other purposes. Rep. Roseller L. Barinaga, lead author of the bill, and 19 other congressmen said, “P.D. 1620 does not conform with Article XIII, Section 3 of the 1987 Constitution.  It also violates the Bill of Rights, which states that no person shall be denied the equal application of the law.”

Layosa said that the law also contravenes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights particularly Article 7 which provides that all persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law and the International Labor Organization conventions that guarantee freedom of association and protection of the right to organize; and the right to organize and to collective bargaining.

Aside from all these, Layosa charged that IRRI is not an international organization deserving immunity because it was not created through an agreement entered into by the Philippines with another sovereign nation. Bulatlat.com 

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