Int’l body investigates plight of agricultural workers

UMA Isabela documented at least 50 cases of forced surrenders. Meanwhile, the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) said that forced surrenders reduced their membership of 12,000 sugar workers to only around 6,000.

By ELENA FALCON
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – Dominga Aberion, a sugarcane worker from Sta. Maria, Isabela, only earns P150 ($3) a day which is below the province’s minimum wage rate of P345 ($6.33) for agricultural workers.

With her daily pay, she can only afford a kilo of rice, a little coffee and sugar, and baon or lunch money for her school aged children. Given the need to campaign for higher wages and better living conditions, Aberion formed a sugar workers’ association and registered it under the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).

And then the soldiers came. “Around June last year, five soldiers started coming to my house to ask about the organization we had registered with DOLE. They kept accusing us of being rebel New People’s Army. They kept forcing us to admit that we were rebels,” Aberion said in a video shown during a forum organized by the Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) to highlight the plight of agricultural workers. The forum was organized in preparation for a High-Level Tripartite Mission of the International Labor Organization (ILO) to the country.

Aberion said that many of their members were tricked by soldiers into signing documents that were supposedly needed to receive food aid. Later on, these documents were presented as evidence of their surrender to government authorities as rebel returnees.

UMA Isabela documented at least 50 cases of forced surrenders. Meanwhile, the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) said that forced surrenders reduced their membership of 12,000 sugar workers to only around 6,000.

“These are not combatants, these are farmworkers and activists but were forcibly surrendered as NPA,” former Anakpawis representative Ariel Casilao said.

Among the country’s lowest paid workers, agricultural workers joined complainants from other labor and human rights groups that asked the ILO to investigate cases of harassment, surveillance, union-busting, forced disaffiliation, fake surrenders, illegal arrests and detention and extrajudicial killings of Filipino workers.

The ILO Mission will begin today a three-day investigation on violations of ILO Convention 87 or Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize, as well as ILO Convention 98 or Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining which the Philippine government has ratified.

Among the 56 workers and labor leaders who were killed under the previous Duterte administration, 27 were agricultural workers. Of these, 16 were officers and members of NFSW in Negros.

UMA hopes that the ILO High-Level Mission would look into these cases, which they said were backed by evidence, witness testimonies or formal court proceedings. “There needs to be justice for these slain agricultural workers. Someone has to be held accountable,” Casilao said.

The need to recognize workers’ rights to form organizations and to engage in collective bargaining was emphasized in a video testimonial of Robino Gameng, a worker for Hope Star Rice Mill in Cauayan City. “I only get paid P 1.50 for every sack of rice and corn that I carry. Each day, I only earn around P230 ($4.22),” he said.

Among the recommendations submitted by UMA to the ILO is the establishment of a Truth Commission to investigate acts of violence committed against trade unionists and formulate a framework for reparations for victims and their families. It also recommended the establishment of a National Tripartite Peace Council Monitoring Body which would establish clear investigation protocols for cases of workers’ rights violations with the police and military authorities, Commission on Human Rights, and Department of Justice.

In a video message of solidarity, San Carlos City Bishop Gerardo Alminaza said, “I hope that the government will give due importance to this tripartite dialogue. I hope that workers will achieve justice, and they will be assured that there are peaceful means for their grievances. I pray that this ILO Mission will give them hope.” (JJE, DAA) (https://www.bulatlat.org)

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