The Arroyo regime’s “total war” is not only victimizing progressive party lists, lawyers, church workers, teachers, students, and peasants. It is also victimizing workers who are peacefully exercising their union rights as the experience of the Samahan ng mga Manggagawa sa Console Farms (SAMACOFA or the Union of Workers at Console Farms) in Central Luzon would show.
BY MAUREEN HERMITANIO
Contributed to Bulatlat.com
The Arroyo regime’s “total war” is not only victimizing progressive party lists, lawyers, church workers, teachers, students, and peasants. It is also victimizing workers who are peacefully exercising their union rights. Sixty four labor leaders and unionists have been killed since 2001. Fifteen were from Central Luzon.
As more troops are deployed in Central Luzon, numbering 10,000 soldiers as of the last count, even workers peacefully exercising their trade union rights are harassed.
Military takeover of union activities
A fact-finding mission (FFM) composed of 200 persons from the Center of Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR), National Coalition for the Protection of Workers Rights (NCPWR), Religious of Good Shepherd Sisters and various unions and federations from Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU or May 1st Movement) went to Bulacan, on Sept. 12, to investigate reports of harassments of workers at Console Farms. The FFM team had to pass through two military checkpoints on their way to the farm.
The situation was tense as the team arrived at the area. Heavily armed military men were stationed at the barangay hall. But as several union members and workers of Console Farms related their experiences, earlier reports of infringement of union rights and harassments of workers were confirmed.
According to the workers, the frequent visits of soldiers at Console Farms began last November 2005, two months after Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan was deployed as commanding officer of the 7th Infantry Division operating in Central Luzon. The soldiers conducted a census of the workers and residents in the farm. They also convened weekly union meetings where the workers were required to report all their union activities.
Workers and union officers were also visited by soldiers at their homes. They were subjected to interrogations and mental torture during these visits.
The military also “requested” them to elect a temporary president for their union, the Samahan ng mga Manggagawa sa Console Farms (SAMACOFA or the Union of Workers at Console Farms), and to disaffiliate from their federation, the Alliance of Nationalists and Genuine Labor Organizations (ANGLO), which is affiliated with the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU or May 1st Movement).
The CTUHR received reports that most of the union officers have resigned from their work in the factory because of these harassments.
Reynaldo Pizon, acting union vice-president, said that 11 soldiers once visited him at his house and accused him of letting NPA (New People’s Army) guerillas sleep in his hut. “Hindi na namin magawa ang mga trabaho sa unyon. Masyadong mahigpit ang sitwasyon ngayon,” (We could not do our union work. The situation is too hot. ) said Francis Paraon, union treasurer. The military is also “encouraging” the union to refrain from asking for higher wages and benefits from management.
Earning only an average of P190 ($3.78 at an exchange rate of $1= P50.26) daily, the workers said that their wages are usually delayed and they don’t receive enough benefits even though most of them have worked at Console Farms for over a decade.
Another resident who asked not to be named said, “Noong miniting kami, nagbanta sila na huwag tutulong sa NPA kundi papatayin nila. Wala kaming magagawa, papatay talaga sila. Gagawin talaga nila yon kapag sumuway sa kanilang kagustuhan.” (In one of the meetings presided by the military, they threatened us not to extend assistance to the NPA otherwise we would be killed. We really cannot do anything because they really kill people. They will no hesitate to kill you if you go against their wishes.
Paraon said that he personally experienced being harassed by the military. Soldiers took him from the farm on Dec. 28 last year. He was interrogated by five military men who wore civilian clothes. “Alam mo Francis, kung nagsisinungaling ka, pwede kitang patayin sa bahay niyo!“(You know Francis, if you lie to us, we could easily kill you inside your own home.), Paraon quoted one of his abductors.
He was asked regarding the whereabouts of NPA guerillas.”May kasamang pananakot at paninindak. Naglagay pa sila ng alas sa mesa. Akala ko nga totortyurin na ako. Ang gusto nilang mangyari, mayron [akong] ituturo na tao kahit di ko alam” (I was threatened. They even placed an ace of cards on the table. I thought I would be tortured. They wanted me to finger anybody even if I don’t know anything.), he said.
CTUHR Executive Director Daisy Arago said that at Console Farms there is virtually a military takeover of the union. “Out of fear, some workers in the farm refused to talk to us as the military warned that their lives will be endangered if they interact and cooperate with ‘communists’. It took a while before workers of Console and residents within the area agreed to talk to FFM participants,” she said.
Arago added that the deployment of more military troops in the region caused complete disrespect of human rights of innocent people, non-combatants or non-insurgents. “The military and the Arroyo government said that they are there to uphold the constitutional and inherent rights of the people although what has been happening for the past years and months is entirely the opposite,” she said.