The Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR) reiterates its call upon the Philippine government to allow the High-Level Mission proposed by the International Labour Organization (ILO) at the soonest possible time. CTUHR expressed alarm over the recent attacks against rights defenders especially the illegal mass arrest conducted by combined forces of AFP, PNP, SWAT and CIDG last October 31, 2019 in Bacolod City, Negros Occidental. A total of 57 leaders and members of progressive organizations and trade unions were arrested on the eve of All Saints’ Day, which falls on a long weekend. 

The mass arrest was conducted after simultaneous raids in the offices of Bayan Muna and Kilusang Mayo Uno, Gabriela, National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) and the residence of Romulo Bito-on of Bayan Muna. Another raid happened in Escalante, Negros Occidental the following day. The raids were conducted on the basis of a search warrant for firearms and ammunition issued by a municipal trial court in Quezon City. 

Among those arrested are Noli Rosales of Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU); John Milton “Butch” Lozande, secretary general and Danny Tabura of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW); Anne Krueger of BPO Industry Employees Network (BIEN) and also a Negros-based community journalist; and 21 retrenched workers of Ceres Bus Lines who were consulting with a labor leader at the time of the arrest. Other leaders of progressive organizations and members of cultural groups Teatro Obrero and Teatro Bungkal were also arrested.

The mass arrests were conducted after the combined state forces allegedly recovered firearms and ammunitions from the raided offices. The progressive groups however, denies this and asserts that the police conducted a “tanim baril, tanim ebidensya”  (planting guns, planting evidence) scheme, as the people in the offices were asked to get out of their offices while the search is being conducted. 

“We are appalled with these naked attacks against labor and human rights defenders, enough ingredients to fuel discontent.  CTUHR is equally enraged how courts are being used to judicially detain these people who open their offices not only for official consultations but also a dwelling to those in need.  Such is the case of Anne Krueger of BIEN whose family, including her six (6) children, stays at the raided GABRIELA office. The raid is not only an affront to legitimate organizations but also affirms the high-handed manner this administration treats everyone opposing his policies and governance. Detaining these leaders and workers on the basis of planted evidence and trumped up charges is a cowardly act. What the government cannot provide to century-old poverty stricken province amidst aplenty, it responds with gruesome violence and cruelty against those who resist to keep their lives and dignity,”said Daisy Arago, CTUHR Executive Director. 

As of writing, 44 of the arrested labor leaders, activists and rights defenders have been subjected to inquest proceedings and were charged with trumped-up cases of illegal possession of firearms and illegal possession of explosives 

To recall, since Duterte came to power, Negros has been a target of the government’s brutal anti-insurgency campaign, which has cost the lives of 87 peasants, farmworkers and rights defenders. Extrajudicial killings escalated when Duterte issued Memorandum 32 on November 2018, which ordered more deployment of military and police in Samar, Negros Oriental, Negros Occidental and Bicol region to suppress what they claim as lawless violence and acts of terror.  Then on December 2018, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP), implemented Oplan Sauron1 and Oplan Sauron2 last March 2019 – the government’s counter insurgency operation in the province. 

“The current human rights situation in Negros is seriously alarming. What is happening in Bacolod may be a prelude to similar and more vicious attacks against rights defenders in Negros and other parts of the country so the public is urged to report, document and speak,” Arago averred.

CTUHR calls for the immediate release of #Negros57 and calls for a thorough and impartial investigation on this crackdown against trade unionists, rights defenders and activists. The Center also calls on the public to pressure this government to allow the ILO High-level tripartite mission in the Philippines. 

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