As the countdown for the last 365 days of President Duterte in office begins, the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR) unites with workers, trade unionists and human rights defenders in delivering the message of ending the years of hardships that Duterte’s regime has severely inflicted against the Filipino people. With this, CTUHR commits in exposing crimes committed against workers and supporting calls for justice in order for Duterte to not escape accountability towards the end of his term

Workers have endured five long and treacherous years under the Duterte Administration. From the onset of his campaign for President, and well into two years into his term, Duterte championed his pro-worker rhetoric of ending contractualization. But soon, this was exposed as nothing more than empty words and bravado. The truth surfaced and it eventually became much grimmer for workers as the regime dragged on.  

Political repression of workers intensified with the establishment of the National Taskforce to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) which has primarily targeted activists and critics including trade unionists through red-tagging/terrorist-tagging. Eventually, the NTF-ELCAC moved into direct arrests through questionable and motive-driven issuance of arrest and search warrants and planting of evidence. 

To further systematize its war against critics in the labor sector, the Joint Industrial Peace Concerns Office (JIPCO) was established in 2020 through the NTF-ELCAC. JIPCO, is basically a cooperation program between state forces and special economic zones. It hides under the pretense of maintaining industrial peace, but also explicitly states that it is meant to combat what it considers as radical unionism. Clearly, this goes against the workers’ freedom of association. 

These attacks against the labor sector horrifyingly peaked with the killings of innocent workers and human rights defenders as with the prominent case of the ‘Bloody Sunday Killings’ which employed a Tokhang-style approach from combined forces of the PNP and CIDG. Long-time labor leader and community organizer, Manny Asuncion was one of the 9 activists killed on that day. Less than a month after, the labor movement was once again hit with the news of the brutal killing of Dandy Miguel, the young, articulate and well-loved union President of the Lakas ng Nagkakaisang Manggagawa sa Fuji Electric Phils (LMNFEP-OLALIA-KMU). 

Meanwhile, economic hardships have worsened under Duterte’s term. The minimum wage increase was only at 9.4%, the lowest recorded among former presidents after Marcos. The last increase occurred in 2018 from P512 to P537; a measly 25-peso hike. Simultaneously, unemployment spiked under Duterte which is currently at 8.7% or 4.2 million workers, post-ECQ. This translates to Duterte failing to bring back lost jobs when unemployment last peaked at 15% in 2020 during the height of COVID lockdowns. The end of contractualization was never fulfilled and further exploitation of workers transformed into worse forms during the pandemic as flexible working schemes were implemented by the Department of Labor and Employment. 

Aid for workers has no longer seen the light of day ever since after both Bayanihan I and II were administered last year. Corruption became a high possibility behind the billions of pesos in foreign loans for COVID-related response which was never seen. PH COVID-19-related loans is at least $1 billion, as of March 2021. 

Lastly, prices for basic goods increased as inflation seeped in the economy. Inflation rate under Duterte peaked in 2018 at 6.7%which is the highest in the Asia-Pacific Region. Many local farmers and farm workers were critically affected as importations increased in response to inflation.

The pandemic has exposed the Duterte Regime’s criminal neglect and inutile management of public health programs. As early as January of 2020 when the COVID-19 started to appear in the country, no initiatives or response such as early banning of flights from COVID-infected countries were made to address the imminent threat. Months passed and local infected cases rose, the longest militaristic lockdowns were implemented from March to June of the same year with no attention to actual health prevention measures such as increased mass testing and robust contact tracing. During these lockdowns, minimal to no financial and social aid programs were provided amidst the foreign loans procured by Duterte. This has left millions of workers with no jobs or livelihoods; thus, poverty cases rose and was never given attention during the pandemic. Meanwhile, Philhealth Executive Officers faced corruption allegations at the height of COVID infection cases which was and is still left uninvestigated.  The blame was instead placed to the people for the rising cases of COVID-19 to excuse the Duterte Regime’s many failures. 

Workers especially were sanctioned the harshest if proper PPEs and social distancing is not observed in the workplace despite the fact that no PPEs or mass testing is provided by the managements. Workers also bore the brunt of the militarist character of the lockdown. As early as July 2020, the PNP records note 233,172 quarantine violators who were either apprehended, fined, punished or jailed. There were various reports of inhumane punishments against “quarantine violators.”

The national vaccination program on the other hand has already begun starting last March this year to provide the necessary cure in ending the pandemic. However, the program was earlier faced with controversies in the mishandling of vaccine emergency use applications by the Department of Health and the unauthorized use of vaccines by the Presidential Security Group. Currently, vaccine rate is still low with only less than 3% of the total population which are fully vaccinated.

We have indeed faced the worst years under the Duterte Regime. It has been riddled with forceful repression and killings, economic hardships and neglect of duty to protect the rights and welfare of workers. The Duterte regime is using the remaining months to intensify its war on critics, counter-insurgency and war on drugs. Accepting the recommendation of the ICC or International Criminal Court is the lest that Duterte can do if indeed the policy to annihilate the `so-called drug dependents and peddlers  ‘is not true. 

Although this will be his last year, CTUHR enjoins everyone to be vigilant in order to ensure  a smooth and democratic transition to the next administration, if indeed election will happen, all while maximizing the opportunity to hold Duterte himself accountable. His last years as president will be marked with intensified calls to bring justice from all victims of his transgressions. 

This will be the beginning of the end for Duterte and a new chapter for Filipinos to regain their democratic rights and rebuild a better future.###