Fourteen workers were killed in politically motivated killings and workers are restive over absence of significant change in their condition that has not come under the Duterte administation, says a labor rights NGO, Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR). This number is more than twice the six (6) victims during Benigno Aquino’s first year in office.
CTUHR has recorded 14 political killings among workers, farmworkers and urban poor since President Duterte came to power. Farmworkers resisting land grabbing were targeted more. On the evening of January 20, 2017, Alexander Ceballos, 54, was shot and immediately died close to his house in Brgy. Pandanon Silos, Murcia, Negros Occidental allegedly by a gun for hire by political clan in province’s Salvador Benedicto town. Ceballos, a regional council member of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), and farmworkers organizer in Murcia and Salvador Benedicto, was with his wife and children when the gunmen fired three shots before escaping with the two companions on their separate motorbikes.
Workers were also not spared from `Oplan Tokhang-style’ of silencing victims. Glenn Ramos, a construction worker who served as a Bayan Muna coordinator in Compostela Valley was killed “tokhang-style.” For quite a while, before he was killed, the military accused him of being a member of the New People’s Army. The CIDG (Criminal Investigation and Detection Group) claimed that they were serving Ramos an arrest warrant but Ramos and refused to submit himself and drew a weapon or ”nanlaban,”resulting to a brief firefight. This resembles much of the war on drugs killings. Ramos sustained 2 gunshot wounds in the body .
Another victim of the “tokhang-style” persecution was Joel Lising, an organizer and leader of Pagkakaisa ng mga Tri-Wheels Organization para sa Kabuhayan or PATOK in District 1 of Manila. Lising, was the leader of Tri-wheel drivers opposing the Manila local government’s plan to phase-out three-wheeled vehicles such as the pedicab, tricycle and kuliglig. Lising was accused of involvement in drugs and was shot by two (2) unidentified men riding-in-tandem.
Military’s drive against the “rebels” did not discriminate even innocent victims. Two (2) small-scale miners in Agusan del Norte and three (3) rubber plantation workers in Basilan were killed in separate incidents when soldiers fired at them under the suspicion that they are rebel supporters. They were later proved to be simply workers and not part of any rebel armed group.
However, even the war against drugs was also used not only to attack human rights defenders but also to sow anti-union sentiments. In Mindanao, CTUHR received reports that during the AFP’s anti-drug symposiums, the military discourage workers from joining unions especially those that are affiliated with the militant labor group, Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), claiming that the labor center was an NPA front. KMU-Southern Mindanao Region also reported that union leaders are harassed, as soldiers summon them, similar to those in drugs watch-list, to a meeting in the barangay center.
Aside from the killings and harassments, 57 other cases were monitored by the Center, including attempted killings, arrests and detention, assault on picketlines and others. The figure may be higher as CTUHR is unable to cover other areas.
“The killings and intensified militarization smack of the Duterte administration’s desire for peace. It is a complete paradox that this administration says it wants to uplift the poor and marginalized, to give them better life, when farmer advocates and innocent workers suspected as rebels are killed. Same for the victims of war on drugs whose death were swift, leaving wailing and restive family members,” said Daisy Arago, CTUHR Executive Director.
Workplaces are not space for workers to breathe a sigh of relief. Accidents and workplace deaths are at a record-high in the 10-month period of Duterte administration. Whilst the 72 victims of Kentex fire is still not given justice, controversies hound the almost 48-hour fire at the House Technology Industries (HTI) in Cavite Export Processing Zone (CEPZ) on February 1, 2017 when authorities claim that only five (5) died from severe burns at the hospital. Witnesses and data gathered by CTUHR-led National Fact-Finding Mission indicated that hundreds have died in the fire, which were kept covered-up by authorities. Workers in the enclave noted that CEPZ and authorities will indeed cover-up the incident to evade further liabilities and damage to the company, and avoid negative image on the foreign investors. Apart from the 5 declared dead in the HTI fire incident, 21 other workers were reported dead in different work accidents including the gas explosion in Pasig which killed 10 workers.
“As the world marks the first Labor Day under this administration, Filipino workers need only to remember the promises that catapulted President Duterte to power and to struggle, to collect what is due them,” Arago ended. ###