The Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR) stands firm in our support for Otto De Vries, a fellow labor rights defender, amid the Bureau of Immigration’s revocation of his permanent residence VISA in the Philippines and the issuance of an order to leave. We also stand in solidarity with the Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research (EILER), a 40-year-old institution serving the workers, which is now the subject of red-tagging from the government. 

Otto, 62, is a lay missionary from the Netherlands who has been doing pastoral work in the Philippines for 30 years. He is a volunteer researcher of EILER since 2015. Earlier this month, he received a letter from the Bureau of Immigration, arbitrarily cancelling his VISA and ordering him to leave the country on the basis of malicious allegations of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA). In the letter, several organizations including Kabataan Partylist, Kontra-Daya and Kilusang Mayo Uno and EILER were dragged into a red-tagging spree, calling them Communist-Terrorist Group fronts and affiliates.

We decry this new wave of attacks against labor rights advocates. Labor education and research is not an act of terrorism! Our government should be ashamed of what it’s doing to Otto and institutions like EILER! Instead of recognizing their service to the workers, they are being persecuted and labelled as terrorists.

Otto’s missionary work started through the invitation of Bishop Julio Xavier Labayen of Infanta Quezon in 1991 to live out and immerse to the everyday life of the workers in the country. From then until now Otto remained faithful and true to his mission to bring workers closer to the church and work as one for the common good. He did not just study the dire working conditions in the country. He truly immersed with them by becoming a worker himself, as a maintenance personnel and an electrician in different. The bitter realities of the workers here inspired him to pursue his mission and devote 3 decades of his life, working for the betterment of their situation. 

We have witnessed how passionate Otto is in issues faced by workers especially their struggles related to contractualization and their occupational health and safety. His presence in forums is hard to miss, not only because of his skin color or his height, but because he is usually one of the most actively engaging in the discussions. He is always eager to learn and always has helpful ideas to help the struggle of the workers.

Meanwhile, EILER, in its 4 decades of existence have significant contributions in uplifting workers’ dignity and promoting their rights through research and education. They have engaged in countless of research and advocacy work based on concrete condition of the workers. EILER’s work is also internationally recognized by various networks 

It is preposterous that in the midst of a pandemic and a worsening economic crisis, attacks against workers and labor rights advocates continue to intensify. Just a few weeks ago, in separate incidents, a farmworker in Negros and a union President in Tondo were killed. Red-tagging and union busting 

We call on the Duterte government to stop persecuting trade unionists and rights defenders. We call on workers and fellow labor advocates to support and show our solidarity with Otto and EILER. This attack against them is an attack against labor rights defenders. And we shall not let them stop us from the invaluable work that we do, in service of the workers and the people.