Amid the threats posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) imposed in Luzon, the military continues harassment and red-tagging the trade unionists and labor rights defenders in Coca-Cola Femsa Philippines, Inc. in Sta. Rosa, Laguna. 

On April 6, 2020, labor alliance Pagkakaisa ng Manggagawa sa Timog Katagalugan (PAMANTIK-KMU) reported that on March 31 and April 1, 2020, around five armed plain clothes men who introduced themselves as members of the military, visited the house of Nonito Dagta, an active member of Sta. Rosa Coca-Cola Plant Employees Union (SRCCPEU). The men tried forcing him to admit that he is a rebel and a member of the New People’s Army (NPA) and surrender under the government’s Enhanced Community Livelihood Program (E-CLIP). Dagta resisted and immediately reported the incident to his fellow unionists.

The Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR) denounces this  continued harassment amid this critical time. “The use of this pandemic to harass the trade unionists, who are religiously following ECQ policies, is the height of insensitivity. They are using the situation to sow fear amongst unionists who are only fighting for legitimate workers’ demands. Instead of providing support to those who lost their livelihoods, the state forces in connivance with employers, are adding unnecessary burden by harassing and threatening labor rights defenders,” said Daisy Arago, CTUHR Executive Director

She further noted that the leading beverage company is building its corporate social responsibility image, as it announced that it stopped all their advertising activities and rechannel its P150 million advertising budget towards supporting COVID-19 relief and response efforts for most affected communities. “We appreciate efforts like this from corporations but they should also be reminded to show compassion to their own workers and respect their rights. One of these rights is their freedom of association,” Arago said. 

According to PAMANTIK, the harassment against the organized workers in the Coke factory in Sta. Rosa has been going on since January this year. Elements of the military with some hired goons of the company have been visiting houses of union members and leaders and threatening them that their families’ lives will be in danger if they will not stop participating in protests and other union activities.

“For the Coca-Cola management, the SRCCPEU — an independent and militant union — is a thorn on its throat, as it is actively fighting for the rights and demands of the workers.  It was instrumental for the regularization of 675 workers in 2018, a victory which caught international attention,” said PAMANTIK-KMU in a statement. The workers alliance added that the harassment only shows the desperation of the Coca-Cola management to cripple the workers union and silence their struggle for their rights.  

The union will be filing complaints before the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and will get an update on the complaints they filed earlier at the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) regarding the red-tagging of unions in Coca-Cola plants. 

CTUHR calls on DOLE and CHR to immediately look into this issue and ensure that the current situation is not being used by anyone – employers and state forces alike, in any action aimed at thwarting legitimate workers’ unions. “We are in a public health emergency. The state should focus its efforts in combatting COVID-19 and providing ample and immediate assistance to the people. Big companies like Coca-Cola, with millions of profits they gained from the blood and sweat of workers,   should do their share in the fight against COVID 19 and stop their unfair labor practices,”CTUHR ended.###