For the third time in three months, the Philippine government’s human rights record is under scrutiny by an international body. The International Labor Organization High Level Tripartite Mission comes in the wake of the United Nations Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review in November 2022, and the visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Sale and Sexual Exploitation of Children. The ILO mission will focus primarily on violations of international labor standards and labor rights.
The high level mission by the ILO is very timely. Filipino workers, apart from being overworked and underpaid, suffer continuing attacks on the right to form unions and freedom of association. The worst forms of attacks are the extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances of labor leaders and organizers. Many labor leaders have also been arrested on trumped-up charges.
For the ILO mission, we would like to highlight the cases of labor leaders who also stood as leaders of the multisectoral group Bayan.
1. Manny Asuncion was a labor leader in Cavite and coordinator of Bayan. He was gunned down by the Philippine National Police on March 7, 2021, in what is now known as the Bloody Sunday Massacre. The police operation stemmed from a questionable search warrant which was used to justify the entry of the police into his house, then his office. The search warrant itself was only for his house, but the police used “hot pursuit” to justify the forced entry into the Workers Assistance Center. Ka Manny was separated from his wife and companion in the WAC office and was summarily executed. The police later made it appear that Ka Manny fought back. A Department of Justice panel would conduct an investigation in 2021, and a complaint for murder against 17 policemen was filed at the end of the year. The formal preliminary investigation would begin January 2022. By January 2023, the complaint was dismissed by a panel of prosecutors from the Department of Justice on flimsy grounds. The Asuncion murder case highlights the impunity prevalent in the Philippines and how policemen can literally get away with murder.
2. Pol Viuya was a labor leader from Central Luzon before becoming the Bayan Chair for the CL region. He was arrested during raids on houses and offices of workers and peasant leaders last March 29, 2021, again on the basis of questionable search warrants. The search warrants were used to enter the house he was staying in Tarlac, thereafter, firearms and explosives were planted by the police in the house to justify his subsequent arrest. The case filed was initially non-bailable but he was granted bail in September 2022 after it was shown that the evidence against him was weak. The use of weaponized search warrants to target labor leaders at this point had become so prevalent.
3. Elmer Forro was a veteran labor leader in Panay Island before he became the regional chair of Bayan. He was arrested in March 30, 2022 on the basis of false charges of involvement in an NPA ambush. Ka Elmer in an aboveground activist who is not engaged in armed struggle. He is publicly known as the regional chair of Bayan and would not be in any position to be involved in an NPA ambush. Despite his being a publicly known aboveground activist, he was still implicated in the NPA ambush. State forces justify this linking of legal activists to the armed movement through the vile practice of red-tagging. Ka Elmer was able to post bail on December 11, 2022.
Most of the documented attacks on labor leaders and organizers were recorded during the 6 year reign of terror of Rodrigo Duterte. What is disturbing is that there seems to be no policy shift under the Marcos regime. In fact, Marcos Jr has brought back the Duterte generals as the AFP Chief of Staff, Defense Secretary and National Security Adviser. This points to a continuation of the bloody counter-insurgency program of the past regime, which has targeted activists and revolutionaries and has wrought widespread human rights violations throughout the country.
The ILO must call the attention of the Marcos regime to these gross human rights violations. The ILO must press the Marcos regime to act on these violations and hold the perpetrators accountable. The terrorist-labeling of workers unions, labor leaders and activists must stop.
To the Marcos regime: the whole world is watching the Philippines and no amount of frequent-flyer miles abroad can cover up the bloodied human rights record of the Philippine government.


Leave a Reply

Avatar placeholder

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *