By AIRA MARIE SIGUENZA
MANILA – As the International Labour Organization (ILO) started its four-day High-Level Tripartite Mission (HLTM) today, January 23, labor organizations are hopeful that violations of workers’ rights would be investigated.
ILO is an agency formed by the United Nations (UN), in order to investigate the cases of violations against the labor rights of Filipino workers, particularly their rights to establish and join a union. The HLTM is a tripartite body composed of representatives from three parties: the government, employers, and workers’ groups.
“This High-Level Tripartite Mission is important so that we can show the wretched state of the workers where their rights to organize were violated, and they are experiencing inadequate salary and lack of job security,” said Butch Lozande, Spokesperson of Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA).
ILO sets the International Labor Standards – one of which is the ILO Convention 87 or the Convention Concerning Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize. This convention was ratified in the Philippines in 1953 but the country continues to have records of violations of this convention.
Violations of workers’ labor and human rights
Under former president Rodrigo Duterte alone, the workers’ groups documented 56 cases of labor-related extrajudicial killings, 27 of whom were agricultural workers.
Last 2021, the Philippines were also among the ten worst countries for workers by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), along with Bangladesh, Belarus, Brazil, Colombia, Egypt, Honduras, Myanmar, Turkey, and Zimbabwe.
One of the most notable attacks against workers and activists happened in the same year. Nine activists were killed while six were arrested during simultaneous police operations in the Southern Tagalog region, also known as “Bloody Sunday.”
Emmanuel “Ka Manny” Asuncion, secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan – Cavite, is one of those who were killed in a raid at the Workers’ Assistance Center (WAC) in Dasmariñas City, Cavite. Asuncion was among the workers who dedicated his life to fighting for higher pay and ending contractualization.
Labor organizer Esteban Mendoza, executive vice president of Organized Labor Association in Line Industries and Agriculture (Olalia KMU), and Nimfa Lanzanas, 61, of KAPATID (Families and Friends of Political Prisoners-Southern Tagalog) were also arrested in the series of raids.
However, last January 18, the murder complaint filed against the 17 police officers involved in the murder of Asuncion was dismissed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) due to the “absence of proof.”
Three weeks after Bloody Sunday happened, another labor leader was killed on his way home. Dandy Miguel, the vice president of Pagkakaisa ng Manggagawa sa Timog Katagalugan (PAMANTIK-KMU) and the president of the Lakas ng Nagkakaisang Manggagawa sa Fuji Electric union (LNMF-OLALIA-KMU), was shot eight times. He was the tenth activist killed in the Southern Tagalog region in one month.
Aside from the killings, Filipino workers have been subjected to harassment by state forces. One of the most notable cases is the violent attack against Peerless Producers Manufacturing Corp. (Pepmaco) workers in Calamba, Laguna.
Pepmaco workers had been on strike for more than three days to assail their poor pay and dire working conditions, including being contractual and working for 12 hours with no day-offs and safety gear while receiving only P373 as minimum wage before. However, armed goons greeted the workers’ concerns with violent dispersal while they were still asleep.
“We pay tribute to their relentless service and immense contribution to the labor movement in advancing workers’ rights and welfare amidst multiple risks and challenges. We call on the ILO-HLTM to help us give justice to their families, friends, and fellow workers and foster an environment free of dangers for labor organizing,” said the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (Philippines).
Sectors expressed solidarity in pushing for workers’ rights
According to Danilo Ramos, chairperson of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), agricultural workers are among of the most exploited sectors in the country.
“The wage received by cane farmers in the Philippines is relatively lower than the set agricultural wage – like an enslaved person’s salary. Therefore, their rights to sufficient salary and benefits as well as their right to organize and freedom of association were violated,” said Ramos.
Aside from peasant groups, the informal workers’ sector represented by Pagkakaisa ng mga Samahan ng Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (PISTON), a national federation of jeepney and other small-capacity vehicle transport associations, and Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (KADAMAY), a national alliance of Filipino urban poor, also demand that state forces be held accountable for labor and human rights violations.
Women’s group Gabriela also narrated the exploitation experienced by women workers in the country, stating how women are the first to be let go and last to be employed in many fields. “Despite and in spite of these challenges, many women workers still led and helped organize fellow workers to improve their conditions. For these, however, Filipino women workers were viciously attacked by state forces, and their rights and liberties wantonly violated,” said Gabriela in a statement.
The anti-imperialist and democratic formation in Asia-Pacific, the International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS) Asia-Pacific, also expressed their solidarity with the Philippines.
“With Ferdinand Marcos Jr., son of the former dictator, Ferdinand Marcos Sr., now in power, the enablers and perpetrators of the human rights violations in the Philippines remained in power. The cabal of President Duterte is again in major positions of power, such as Eduardo Año, who was recently appointed by President Marcos Jr. as the National Security Adviser. The reign of terror and impunity of State forces are continuing,” ILPS stated.