Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research (EILER) strongly condemns the red-tagging and illegal arrests by the 71st Infantry Battalion of Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in Compostela Valley, Davao Region in Mindanao. Latest victims of red-tagging are three unionists nabbed around 4 p.m. on February 27.
Union President Esperedion Cabaltera and Vice President Richard Genabe are found under custody of 10th IB in Municipality of Mawab. Meanwhile, the union’s Secretary General Ronaldo Rosales is being held against his will by the 71st IB in Pantukan. The three are officers of Musahamat Farm Workers Union, affiliated with militant labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno. The union representing more than 200 banana plantation workers has complained to DOLE in March 2016 about unfair labor practices committed by the management of the Musahamat Farms Inc. including union busting, illegal suspension and termination of union officers and members, and withholding of union dues.
“We received initial reports that the three union officers were illegally arrested based on perverse allegations that they are communist leaders. We strongly condemn the red-tagging and illegal arrests of unionists under Duterte administration. The extension of martial law in Mindanao only refuels the red-tagging by the military resulting to gross trade union and human rights violations,” EILER executive director Rochelle Porras said in a statement on Thursday.
Documentation from fact-finding missions of independent human and trade union rights organizations reveal that AFP members were also responsible for the torture and bloody attempt to burn two small-scale miners in 2017. The young workers namely Janry Mensis, then 22, and then 16-year old “Jerry” are members of Kahugpungan sa mga Mag-uuma sa Maco and were wrongfully accused of being members of the New People’s Army (NPA). They were forcibly taken to the camp of 71st IB where for several days endured torture and eventually escaped being burned alive.
EILER also condemned the stigmatization of trade unions as legal front of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the subsequent declaration as terrorist organization under Proclamation 374 and AFP’s whole-of-nation approach. The action is a clear attempt to criminalize the legitimate work of unionists in advancing their socio-economic interests.
EILER emphasized that the right to freedom of association and peaceably assemble is enshrined in the 1987 Constitution and are recognized under fundamental ILO Conventions ratified by the Philippines. The military and police should respect these rights at all times.
“We are enraged on how the government is perpetuating a culture of impunity. We urge the public to condemn the red-tagging of our unionists and call an end to Martial Law in Mindanao. The continued attacks against unionists must end, we demand justice and accountability,” Porras said.
“The red-tagging of unionists exposes the anti-worker policies of the Duterte administration. We at EILER are committed in raising the people’s awareness on working towards a just and pro-worker government that the people truly deserve. This election period and beyond, we will continue to put forward the workers’ agenda that tackles poverty, landlessness, joblessness and low wages as central issues,” ended Porras.
Kilusang Mayo Uno-Southern Mindanao Region confirmed in a Facebook post that as of March 1, the 3 union leaders in Musahamat Farms who were abducted by the 71st IB last February 27 has been released, after a day of interrogation, torture, and forced to sign a paper claiming to be NPA surrenderees.