Labor Rights Group Raises Alarm Over Intensified Attacks on Labor Leaders in Compostela Valley

September 9, 2018

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Labor rights organization, Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR) raised alarm on the intensifying attacks on labor leaders in Southern Mindanao. Operating under the pretext of Martial Law, state forces hound workers struggling for their legitimate rights to protect and advance the business interests primarily of transnational corporations in the region.

Last September 4, unknown bonnet–wearing gunmen on board a motorbike open fired at Victor Ageas, a member of the Board of Directors of  Nagkahiusang Mamumuo sa Suyapa Farm (NAMASUFA) on his way to work at Sumifru Packing Plant 340 at Purok Uno, Barangay Osmeña. Ageas miraculously survived  the attack and escaped unhurt. Six (6) empty bullet shells were later found in the site of the incident. NAMASUFA is affiliated with NAFLU- Kilusang Mayo Uno or KMU.

Few days before the said incident, suspicious motorcycle-riding men tailed the union’s Secretary, Melodina Gumanoy  from her way to work at the Sumifru Packing Plant 250, in the same village last August 30. Gumanoy was also able to hide and evade the unknown me.

The attack on Ageas came a day after the workers held protest actions calling for regularization and collective bargaining agreement.  Both labor leaders are currently unable to come to work for fear of their lives.

Sumifru is a subsidiary of  Japanese-owned Sumitomo Fruit Corporation operating various large plantations in different parts of Mindanao.  It is one of the largest producers and marketers of Cavendish bananas in the world. In Compostela Valley, the workers’ union is demanding the company to regularize their contractual workers and negotiate for collective bargaining agreement.

“These consecutive and intensifying attacks on union leaders are seriously alarming.  It becomes clearer everyday, that Martial Law declared in Mindanao is intended to ensure that Transnational Corporations (TNCs) operate without impediments.  The military and vigilantes are ensuring the best protection that they can give to the capitalists by suppressing legitimate protests, such strikes, harassing labour leaders and even extrajudicial killings” Daisy Arago, CTUHR Executive Director. There is no wonder why businesses do not complain about Martial Law and even support its extension,” she mused.

She added that eight (8) workers and supporters, including NAMASUFA leader, Vicente Barrios, arrested during a combined police and military assault on Shin Sun strike last June 2,2017 were detained for almost two weeks and slapped with charges of economic sabotage, assault, etc.

It could also be recalled that in 2006, during the Arroyo regime, Jerson Lastimoso, SUMIFRU union board member, was killed in an ambush on his way to work also by bonnet-wearing men.  Vicente Barrios, union president was ambushed and he sustained multiple gunshot wounds but survived after six (6) months of intensive medication. Not one, including SUMIFRU was held accountable for the killing and ambush of union leaders, and yet  SUMIFRU continue to expand its operation outside Davao region and Compostela Valley to the detriment of communities and workers.

Since February of this year,  members of 61st Infantry Batallion of the Philippine Army based in Compostela Valley have been actively hounding unionists,  tagging them as rebels and forcing them to surrender.

“This situation resonates the trade unionists and workers’ predicament during the then Gloria Arroyo regime.  NAMASUFA who despite the killing and attempts on the lives of its members is able to resist these multi-faceted attacks. And now that Arroyo and her men are in power providing the not just back-up support but in leading positions in Duterte regime, atrocities on workers exercising their legitimate rights are mostly to intensify further,” CTUHR avers.

CTUHR recorded 31 cases of killings among workers and trade unionists under the Duterte administration. Majority of those who killed were from the agricultural sector struggling for wage increases, benefits, regularization amidst rising prices.###