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Vol. V, No. 33      September 25 - October 1, 2005      Quezon City, Philippines











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Bloodshed in the Picketline
Two killed, thousands hurt since January

The death of Nestle union president Diosdado Fortuna is the second strike-related murder case recorded this year. With almost a hundred thousand workers from 400 commercial establishments registering their desire to strike, labor groups expect more bloodshed at the picketlines.


WELGA KAMI: Nestle union president Diosdado "Ka Fort" Fortuna (left photo) addresses a crowd in his last days before his murder while a pioneer garbage collector of Ren Transport (right photo) mans the picketline in Quezon City.

Right photo by
Dabet Castañeda

CABUYAO, Laguna - “Nasaan ang patay?” (Where’s the funeral?)

Two dark, burly men on board a maroon car asked this question to leaders of the Organized Labor Association in Line Industries and Agriculture (Olalia) at around noon of Thursday, Sept. 22. The labor leaders were having a meeting at the Olalia headquarters in Shineland Subdivision, Cabuyao, Laguna province (some 40 kms south of Manila).

Wala po rito” (There’s none here), Olalia staff Emer Demetria remembers one of them answering.

Interviewed by a fact-finding mission (FFM) team led by the union rights group Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR) - including this reporter - Demetria added that the two men hurriedly drove off afterward.

The union leaders went on with their meeting, none of them ever thinking that the incident could be a warning to them – certainly not to Diosdado Fortuna, president of the Union of Filipro Employees (UFE), the labor group in Nestle Philippines' Cabuyao factory.

SCREAMING FOR JUSTICE: Streamers (left photo, above) bearing the Nestle union workers' demand for justice for the death of their president who was shot dead on the spot covered by a banana leaf (right photo) late afternoon Sept. 22.                                                                                     Photos by Dabet Castañeda

Ka Fort, as Fortuna was fondly called, had been leading the workers’ strike in Nestle’s Cabuyao, Laguna plant for three years. Triggered by the management’s refusal to give workers retirement benefits through a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), more than 600 workers have been on  strike.

But the prolonged deadlock in the CBA - despite a Supreme Court decision in favor of the union – has brought a series of violent dispersals in the picketline and continuous harassment of union leaders. At least 10 striking workers have already died due to poverty and illnesses.

A well-known labor organizer, Fortuna held a roster of organizational responsibilities. He was chairman of the Pagkakaisa ng Manggagawa sa Timog Katagalugan (Pamantik or Unity of Workers in Southern Tagalog), chairman of Anakpawis Partylist-Southern Tagalog, co-chairman of the National Coalition for the Protection of Worker's Rights in Southern Tagalog, national council member of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance) and convenor of Southern Tagalog for the Ouster and Punishment of Gloria (Stop Gloria).

The killing

Fortuna proceeded after the meeting to the picketline to meet with visiting students from the University of Santo Tomas based in Manila. He received a text message from his wife Luz a few minutes past 5 p.m. that their grandson was sick and should be brought to the hospital.

Riding his purple motorcycle, Fortuna was five minutes away from his house in Calamba City when shot twice at the back by two motorcycle-riding men.

By 6 p.m., Nestle union vice president Noel Alemania received word from a union member manning the picket line that Fortuna was shot and brought to the Calamba Doctors’ Hospital.

He was pronounced dead on arrival at 5:50 p.m. He was 51.

The felled union leader who had worked in Nestle since 1976 now lies in state at his home in Rodriguez Village, Barangay Pasyano, Calamba.

Fortuna was the second Nestle union president killed. In 1987, Meliton Roxas was shot in front of the picket line, also in Cabuyao.

Targeting union leaders

Fortuna is also the second union leader killed this year. The first was Teotimo Dante, union board member of the Schneider Packaging Workers’ Union (SPWU), in Caybiga, Novaliches, Quezon City, who was killed while the union was on strike Sept. 13.

The SPWU went on strike Aug. 15, demanding that management observe the minimum wage law and manage their Social Security Service (SSS) funds well. In an interview with Bulatlat, SPWU member Mariz Zaragosa said majority of the workers get P148 ($2.63 at $1=P56.32) to P175 a day for eight to 12 hours of work. Moreover, they are listed as self-employed under the SSS.

The company’s 15-man security force and policemen under Station 4-Urduja led by P/Supt. Joselito Fahrillaga reportedly first attacked the picket line on Aug. 25. Six union members were arrested and detained while the strikers’ properties were destroyed and stolen by the police, said Zaragosa.

The strikers then set up their picket line a few meters away from the company gate.

On Sept. 13, Zaragosa said the union held a forum in front of the company gate but the company’s security force prohibited them from doing so. Around 5 p.m. a commotion ensued between them and the security force.

STANDSTILL: Garbage trucks of Ren Transport are parked idle inside the company's main terminal in Tandang Sora, Quezon City.               Photo by Dabet Castañeda

Workers, including Zaragosa, then heard that plant manager Filipina Mandap ordering members of the security force to open fire on the strikers. Zaragosa herself said she heard the plant manager telling the security guards: “Pagbabarilin nyo yan. Pag hindi nyo binaril yan, kayo ang tatanggalin ko sa trabaho.”  (Shoot them. If you don’t, I will fire all of you.)

The strikers then heard a warning shot followed by successive gunfire.

Dante’s certificate of death said he sustained “multiple gunshot wounds on the trunk and extremeties” and was pronounced dead on arrival at the Lourdes Hospital in Novaliches at 5:30 p.m.

Seven other strikers were injured in the incident.

The CTUHR said it has recorded 27 cases of assault at the picket line victimizing 1,457 individuals and involving 11 companies nationwide from January to September this year.

Among the documented cases are 17 incidents of physical assault, injuring 1,011 strikers.


Union leaders from other companies have also experienced harassment and threats in the past months.

Joseph Fausal, secretary general of the Samahan ng mga Manggagawa ng Ren Transport (Organization of Workers of Ren Transport or Smart) was on his way home on Sept. 16 when he noticed three men trailing him.

He was with co-worker Jovito Labay and was followed from the picket line to the jeepney terminal in Litex, Quezon City.

The following day, Sept. 17, on his way back to the picket line, Fausal noticed a silver van with plate number XEL 299 following him. He said he saw the van stop and two men alighted. One of the men reportedly pointed him to his companion and both started toward his direction. Since it was raining hard that day, Fausal covered himself with his umbrella and ran away.

About 250 garbage collectors and truck drivers of Ren Transport have been on strike since Aug. 25. Union counsel Remigio Saladero, in an interview with Bulatlat, said the strike was mainly due to management scheme to clip Smart’s power as a bargaining agent by forming what he described as a company-run union. The labor lawyer said the company has alleged that Smart is a militant union due to its affiliation with ADLO-KMU (Association of Democratic Labor Organizations - Kilusang Mayo Uno or May First Movement).

Smart Union president Nestor Fulvinar also charged that management has failed to remit their SSS contributions since 2002 although workers have been getting deductions every month from their salaries as reflected in their pay slips. He said the strikers’ earned wages for the July 25 to Aug. 24 have been held in the bank since their strike erupted.

The garbage collectors also complained management has failed to deliver previous CBA agreements including uniform and safety device provisions, hospitalization benefits and regular sick and vacation leave benefits. 

Meanwhile, in Hacienda Luisita, site of the Nov. 16 massacre that killed seven strikers and their supporters, harassment continues at the picket line and the adjoining barangays comprising the 6,443-hectare sugar estate.

On Aug. 7, 19-year old Harley Amurao, whose parents are members of the striking union, was shot at close range by a security guard in Las Hacienda de Luisita. He was identified by one of the Hacienda guards himself who was on duty on the night of the killing. No one has been arrested however as of this writing.

On Sept. 9, in Mapalacsiao and Asturias (villages inside the Hacienda), bulldozers escorted by soldiers tried to run over the sugar and mill workers and their families who were protesting the construction of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway Project (SCTEP) and are blocking the bulldozers’ way. Previous to this, there have been many attempts by soldiers and company personnel to forcibly clear the land.

Meanwhile, union leaders continue to receive harassment in different forms. Ric Ramos, president of the Central Azucarrera de Tarlac Labor Union (CATLU) and Rene Galang, president of the United Luisita workers’ Union (ULWU) have been receiving death threats through their mobile phones while some of them received threats through registered mails, Bulatlat also learned. Last week, CATLU adviser Rene Tua’s home in Mapalacsiao was surrounded by soldiers.

CTUHR has documented six cases of arbitrary arrest and detention involving 30 strikers, among them 20 miners from Lepanto in Mankayan, Benguet, four from Solid Development Corp. in San Ildefonso, Bulacan and six from SPWU. All have been released.

Violence against workers

Daisy Arago, CTUHR executive director, said that 90 percent of picket line violence is due to the Department of Labor and Employment’s (DoLE) Assumption of Jurisdiction (AJ) power over strikes.

AJ usually allows the company to continue operations which means that the workers are also ordered to get back to work without the labor disputes being settled.

Controversial Labor Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas came under fire last year when she assumed jurisdiction over the strike of sugar mill workers of the Central Azucarrera de Tarlac (CAT), the largest sugar mill in Central Luzon owned and operated by the family of former President Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino.

The AJ allowed the entry of hundreds of police and soldiers inside the 6,443-hectare Hacienda Luisita (HL) in Tarlac. The subsequent dispersal on Nov. 16 last year killed seven strikers and injured several others while an unidentified number of sakadas (seasonal farm workers) have been declared missing. Known today as the Hacienda Luisita Massacre, it is noted as the bloodiest picket line dispersal in history.

Among the cases of violent strike dispersals due to AJ documented by CTUHR under Macapagal-Arroyo are those of Toyota, Nissan and Nestle Philippines in 2001, Sulpicio Lines in 2002 and Good Found Cement in Bicol in 2003.

Ninety-five percent of the cases reportedly point to the Philippine National Police (PNP) and company guards as perpetrators. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on the other hand has been reportedly involved in three violent dispersals: Good Found, Sulpicio Lines and Hacienda Luisita. 

Meanwhile, records of the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCBM) show that in the last nine months, around 94,200 workers from 400 commercial establishments nationwide have filed strike notices; of these, 41 percent have become full-blown strikes. 

The NCBM’s records also show nine percent of the country’s work force has been involved in labor disputes.With reports from Dennis Espada and Abner Bolos of Pokus Gitnang Luson. Bulatlat




© 2005 Bulatlat  Alipato Publications

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