UN Special Rapporteur Welcome, Called on to Probe Rights Violations

January 22, 2024

The Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR), a human rights NGO that focuses on workers in the formal and informal sectors, welcomes the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression in time for her arrival to the country on January 23 and calls on her to investigate the numerous cases of violations of the right to said freedom that are experienced by the Philippines’ labor sector.

We trust that through close and impartial examination of facts, Ms. Irene Khan will help attain justice for the labor sector victims of violations of the right to freedom of opinion and expression committed by the Philippine government, especially under former president Rodrigo Duterte and current president Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.

We note that Ms. Khan arrives one year after the International Labour Organization High-Level Tripartite Mission to the Philippines, to which CTUHR, along with labor groups in the country, submitted a report. While the Marcos Jr government allowed the mission to carry out its work in the country, it did not implement the mission’s recommendations. (See this link: https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—ed_norm/—normes/documents/missionreport/wcms_874240.pdf) The government should heed recommendations of international missions, not use these for democratic and human rights posturing.

CTUHR, national labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU, May First Movement) and mutual help and advocacy network Women Workers in Struggle for Employment, Empowerment and Emancipation (Women WiSE3) have submitted a report to the UN Special Rapporteur presenting the numerous cases of violations of the freedom of opinion and expression in the labor sector.

The report details the numerous cases of red-tagging, terrorist-tagging, surveillance, harassment and intimidation, filing of trumped-up charges, illegal arrests, enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killings committed against trade unionists and labor activists.

The report also identifies government bodies (such as the Joint Industrial Peace Concerns Office or JIPCO, later Alliance for Industrial Peace Program Office or AIPPO, and the NTF-ELCAC), as well as laws (such as the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020) that enable the violations enumerated above.

Ordinary workers, unionists and labor activists who fight for unionization or higher wages are seen by the NTF-ELCAC and the government as rebel sympathizers and are subjected to various forms of harassment.

The Philippine government tries to justify these violations on the basis that labor activists and organizations support the armed insurgency in the country, and it has labelled those waging the armed insurgency as terrorist organizations.

Labor groups in the country are very transparent with their analyses, stands, and demands which are easily accessible on social media. They do not express support for the armed insurgency and organizations that wage it. They do not incite workers to undertake activities labelled as terroristic, or even to take up arms against the government. In short, the government’s national security considerations do not warrant violations of the freedom of opinion and expression in the labor sector.

The Philippine government violates freedom of opinion and expression in the labor sector in order to uphold the interest of employers, especially the biggest and foreign ones, to increase profits and press down workers’ wages. It also wants to forestall any criticism and protest against incumbent presidents, as these have led to peaceful ouster of previous presidents.

We welcome Ms. Khan, other UN and international bodies, and the international community in general to examine the state of the freedom of opinion and expression and all other freedoms in the Philippines. We encourage them to speak out on the violations of these freedoms. Filipino workers are claiming their freedoms and international solidarity will definitely help them do so successfully. ###