Trade Unionists Being Murdered In The Philippines!

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THE International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) is bringing a complaint against the Philippines over the murder of trade unionists.

The ITF is joining forces with the National Confederation of Transport Workers’ Unions (NCTU) and the Centre of United and Progressive Workers (SENTRO) to bring a complaint against the government of the Philippines over its failure to adequately investigate the murders and victimisation of a number of trade unionists, including NCTU leader Antonio Petalcorin.

The complaint, to the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Committee on Freedom of Association, said the lack of independent judicial inquiries into these crimes has created a culture of impunity that reinforces a climate of violence and insecurity that has a damaging effect on the exercise of trade union rights.

These actions and omissions constitute violation of the internationally accepted principles of freedom of association set out in ILO convention 87. In 2012, Antonio Petalcorin, activist and then president of the NCTU, along with two union colleagues, filed a complaint against the director of the Land Transportation Franchising Board of Davao (LTFRB), alleging corruption. Among other things, the petitioners claimed that the director took bribes in exchange for franchise approvals.

Over the subsequent eight months Petalcorin was shot dead, one of his colleagues was killed and another was subjected to threats and violence forcing him and his wife to go into hiding. The ITF and co-complainants believe these murders are linked to the case against the director and the roles of these men as trade union leaders.

A police investigation into the possible involvement of the director and/or LTFRB in the murder of Petalcorin was opened but never concluded and no perpetrators have ever been brought to justice for any of these crimes. ITF general secretary Steve Cotton said: ‘The steps taken by the government of the Philippines to investigate these crimes clearly fall woefully short of what is expected in instances of such violence and victimisation.

‘We call on the ILO to intervene to make sure justice is done and to put an end to the current approach of the government of the Philippines to the right of workers to freedom of association which is at best apathetic and at worst corrupt.’

General Secretary of SENTRO Josua Mata added: ‘Workers in the Philippines have been let down by a system and an environment which is allowing anti-worker, anti-union activity to thrive. We can’t stand by and let that continue.’

Meanwhile, the Centre for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR) has said in a statement that incidences of harassment and intimidation of trade unionists and labour activists dramatically increased in 2015. They based it on cases they documented last year and in the past years.

Compared to just five cases documented in 2014, in 2015 they recorded at least 35 cases of harassment and intimidation of at least 192 trade unionists, labour activists and staff members of national trade union centres. Violations of workers’ and urban poor people’s civil and political rights also intensified, CTUHR said.

Their data in 2015 showed a threefold increase in cases of such violations, from 30 cases in 2014 to 91 in 2015. These violations included extra-judicial killings (2 cases), physical assault (7 cases), assault on the picket line (9 cases), divestment and destruction of property (6 cases), grave threat (8 cases), divestment and destruction of properties (6 cases), fabrication of criminal charges (3 cases), arbitrary detention (4 cases) and food blockade (2 cases).

These cases are not only a continuing but intensifying state policy, said Daisy Arago, CTUHR Executive Director CTUHR. She believed it is intended to suppress independent and progressive trade unionism in the country.

Of the cases they documented, CTUHR noted that the most frequently harassed in 2015 were staff members of national labour centres Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) and Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE).

They noted further that the attacks follow a pattern: a group of burly men claiming to be from the military would tail the staff members or officers of these workers’ organisations or surprise-visit them at home at various hours, often early in the morning; they would tell the unionists or labour advocates ‘we know what you are doing,’ and then, they would offer ‘assistance’ if the unionists or rights advocate would allow themselves to ‘coopt’ with the state. Often, these ‘military’ men would leave the unionists or advocates their cellphone numbers.

Labour activists and members of urban poor groups were also targeted for assassination last year. From CTUHR documentation, at least two (one labour organiser and one from the urban poor sector) were extra-judicially killed last year.

CTUHR also called attention to the government and big capitalists’ ‘use of naked force’ in breaking up workers’ peaceful protests.

Last year, it noted in one example of this use of naked force, the case of tycoon Lucio Tan’s Tanduay Distillery in Laguna. At least 100 unionists and supporters were manhandled and hurt. Contractual workers of Tanduay Distillers Inc. launched a strike on May 18 last year.

They suffered several incidents of violent and bloody assaults in which the perpetrators were mostly state agents and ‘goons’ reportedly hired by the Lucio Tan-owned company.

Even as the Aquino government is announcing that the Philippine economy is among the fastest growing in Asia next to India, China and Vietnam, amidst this ‘growth’, CTUHR emphasised the increasingly insecure and deteriorating working conditions in the country.

The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) said in a press briefing in January that the average full-year growth for 2015 was 5.8 per cent, giving a six-year average real GDP growth of 6.2 per cent. It said that was the highest since the late 1970s.

But amid all that, CTUHR said major cases of labour standards and rights violations affecting thousands of workers across industries and sectors nearly doubled from 50 cases in 2014 to 90 cases in 2015. In at least 12 cases of retrenchment and closure it documented, some 3,653 workers were displaced and pushed to join the army of unemployed.

CTUHR said the workers who managed to withstand past attempts to bust their unions are being made to suffer further violations in their struggle to defend or renew their collective bargaining agreements. These violations doubled from seven cases in 2014 to 14 cases in 2015, affecting over 6,000 workers. It involved unions which had been established for years or even decades.