By Ruben D. Torres
July 8, 2022
THE International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), in its eighth edition of the ITUC Global Rights Index, ranks the Philippines as one of the 10 countries to have the “worst violations of workers’ and trade union rights in 2021.”
This marks the sixth straight year that the Philippines is rated to be one of the top 10 worst countries for workers.
The country is in the same category as Bangladesh, Belarus, Brazil, Columbia, Honduras, Myanmar, Turkey and Zimbabwe.
The ITUC noted that for the entire period of President Duterte’s administration, “many trade unionists have been murdered and arrested.” It stated that, from March 2020 to April 2021, seven trade union leaders were killed and 28 arrested.
The Global Rights Index observed that “workers and their representatives in the Philippines remained particularly vulnerable to violent attacks, intimidation and arbitrary arrests. Trade unionists maliciously tagged by President Duterte remained under immediate threat of the police and the army which targeted raids against them. More than 50 trade unionists have been killed since President Duterte came to power in 2016.”
This unfavorable report should be one of the foremost concerns of President Bongbong Marcos and, more particularly, the new secretary of labor and employment, Bienvenido Laguesma. The government has acceded to and ratified various conventions and treaties on human and trade union rights. There are international labor conventions that the Philippines has ratified and is therefore under obligation to honor and enforce regarding the rights of workers and their organizations.
More importantly, the 1987 Constitution in Article XIII, Section 3, provides: “The State shall afford full protection to labor, local and overseas, organized and unorganized, and promote full employment opportunities for all. It shall guarantee the rights of all workers to self-organization, collective bargaining and negotiations and peaceful concerted activities, including the right to strike in accordance with law. x x x”
In the forthcoming 111th session of the International Labor Conference in 2023, I will not be surprised if the Philippines will be asked to respond to the ITUC Global Rights Index. The Philippine government is represented by the Secretary of Labor in the ILO International Labor Conference held annually in Geneva. It will be his duty to explain why workers’ rights are often violated in the Philippines, as alleged by the International Trade Union Confederation.
It is not that the Philippines lacks the necessary laws to protect workers’ rights. The Labor Code of the Philippines, which was enacted via a presidential decree in 1972 by the late President Ferdinand E. Marcos, and the 1987 Constitution, are replete with provisions that guarantee the rights of workers to organize, to bargain collectively, even to go on strike to defend and promote their interests.
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Indeed, in our country there is a wide gulf that separates law and practice. While rights are guaranteed by law and the Constitution, the implementation is, in many cases, in derogation or in violation of such right, as cited in the Global Rights Index prepared by the ITUC.
The problem, as I see it, is that the exercise of these rights is often categorized as a communist activity. In the Philippines, just being a communist is no longer illegal. However, engaging in armed struggle is a criminal offense. Peaceful exercise of the workers’ right to strike is not proscribed by law. On the contrary, it is a guaranteed right under the Labor Code. For this reason, the police and the military are not supposed to do any act to prevent or intimidate militant unions in the exercise of this right.
The ITUC report narrates the harassment of the leaders of the Nagkaisa Labor Coalition of which Sentro, a duly registered labor federation, is a part. It also narrated the killing of Dandy Miguel, chairman of the Pamantik-Kilusan Mayo Uno, on March 28, 2021. Before he was murdered, he allegedly “lodged a complaint with the Commission on Human Rights about the extrajudicial killings of nine labor and NGO activists on March 7, 2020.”
Many other labor leaders have been “red-tagged” by the military as being leftists or communists. “Red-tagging” is a way to intimidate militant labor leaders. This practice of the military was even brought to the attention of Secretary Laguesma during his meeting with the leaders of the National Trade Union Council (NTUC).
Philippine labor leaders express their optimism that this practice of red-tagging government critics and militant unionists would be stopped. The newly appointed national security adviser, Dr. Clarita Carlos, announced in a television interview that “to the extent of my mandate as NSA, I would like to stop red-tagging,” saying further that “it was a lazy, counterproductive practice.”
In the Philippines, to be tagged “red” is to be tagged as a communist. The red tag is attached by the military and police to activists, journalists, trade union leaders and on anyone who is critical of the government.
Red-tagging was extensively used by the administration of President Duterte. Dr. Carlos wants this practice expunged under the watch of President Bongbong Marcos. A human rights group has alleged that this policy of the Duterte administration has resulted “in the killing of activists totaling 318 in 2021.”
It is our fervent hope that the present administration will give the ITUC Global Rights Index very serious attention. Hopefully, the present dispensation will get the Philippines out of the list of countries with the worst violations of workers’ rights.
For after all, labor matters.