ILO heartened by positive gov’t stance (Last of two parts)

Published by rudy Date posted on April 20, 2010

(Last of two parts)

THE Philippines has assured the International Labor Organization (ILO) that cases concerning alleged harassment and assassination of labor leaders and trade union activists will be rapidly investigated and resolved.

The assurance was noted in a report by the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association on the alleged extra-judicial killings, disappearances and harassment of trade union members in the Philippines.

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) said an inventory of the cases has been evaluated and it has requested government agencies to prioritize their investigation, prosecution and resolution.

The DOLE has emphasized the democratic credentials of the Philippines, pointing out that the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) had existed since 1980, remains unregistered, and yet continues to represent an alleged 300,000 workers without interference for the last 29 years.

It said the alleged killings were not labor-related but common crimes not covered by the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention and that actual labor dispute provided the backdrop to only 13 cases.

The government created on January 20 a high-level National Tripartite Industrial Peace Council (NTIPC) to monitor international labor standards, freedom of association and the right to organize.

The NTIPC’s Tripartite Executive Committee had its first meeting in February to review and evaluate the first batch of cases of alleged extrajudicial killings.

The creation of a tripartite body was recommended by the high-level ILO mission to the Philippines last year. It also recommended a statement at the highest level instructs all government officials to ensure that their actions do not infringe upon the basic civil liberties of trade unionists.

Last December, during the National Tripartite Conference on Principles of Freedom of Association, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said the government does not tolerate or condone the persecution of labor leaders and trade union activists, which are reprehensible acts that assault social dialogue.

Several bills are in Congress to strengthen labor rights. A draft bill authorizing the DOLE to assume jurisdiction over labor disputes imbued with national interest is under consultations for submission to the NTIPC prior to filing with the appropriate committees of both houses of the 15th Congress by June.

Before that, and effective last March, guidelines have been issued on the conduct of police and private security guards during strikes and lockouts.

A bill filed before Congress defines “enforced or involuntary disappearance” and provides that the right against such disappearances shall not be suspended under any circumstances including political instability, threat of war, state of war or other public emergencies.

This bill bans an “order of battle” or any order from a superior officer or a public authority causing the commission of enforced or involuntary disappearance. Any person receiving such an order shall have the right to disobey it.

The ILO Committee considers the bill “an important step” in acknowledging the existence of enforced disappearances and ensuring significant and preventive sanctions.

A bill also expands the investigative and prosecution powers of the Commission on Human Rights as well as its visiting powers in detention centers.

Concerning the report of the ILO high-level mission that investigations need to focus not only on the perpetrator but also on the mastermind in order for true justice to prevail, the police responded that instigators can be indicted if there is proof to establish their authorship of the crime.

The Committee deplored the gravity of the allegations made by the KMU and the fact that almost two decades after the filing of the last complaint on the issue, “inadequate measures have been taken by the government” to put an end to the killings, abductions, disappearances and other human rights violations.

The situation, it said, reinforces “a climate of violence and insecurity and have an extremely damaging effect on the exercise of trade union rights.”

The Committee appreciated, however, the steps indicated by the government in recognition of the gravity of the allegations, especially allowing the high-level ILO mission to the Philippines which was able to meet with representatives of Congress, the Supreme Court, the Commission on Human Rights, labor and law enforcement officials as well as the KMU.

The Committee said it understood the difficulties in distinguishing between the exercise of trade union rights and insurgency-related activities. But it noted the observation of the Commission on Human Rights that the government was waging a propaganda war putting labor in the camp of the communists, and drawing a gray line between labor and security matters.

While observing that problems of impunity and insufficient guarantees for the respect of the law still persist, the Committee concluded it was encouraged by the positive attitude demonstrated by the government such as commencing a technical cooperation program aimed at promoting awareness on trade union rights and civil liberties, as recommended by the ILO high-level mission. –PAUL ICAMINA, Malaya

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