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Unions demand justice, pro-worker reforms for the upcoming ILO-HLTM

Amid the country's economic crisis, unions challenge the current administration to heed their calls, to hold the state forces accountable, and prioritize the needs of the workers instead of red-tagging labor progressives.

Words by Claudette Jas Alba

Various workers from different sectors convened at the Press Conference for the upcoming 2023 International Labor Organization High-Level Tripartite Mission (ILO-HLTM) to address the issues regarding the freedom of association and red-tagging among union workers last January 11.

ILO is an agency of the United Nations that strives and mandates social and economic justices through the implementation of international labor and production standards. 

Progressive groups come at the heels of the incoming HLTM of ILO which will be conducted next week, January 23 to 27. ILO-HLTM will investigate the mounting cases of violations of ILO Conventions 87 and Convention 98 which Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) filed as a member of the Council of Global Unions-Pilipinas.

Jerome Adonis, secretary-general of KMU mentioned that the worsening economic situation of the country has contributed to more violations of labor rights. He pointed out, “Sa tumitinding kalagayang kinakaharap ng pamilyang Pilipino at dahil matagal na itong nakasulat sa Saligang Batas, dapat talaga itaas ang sahod. Pero ginagawa itong masama ng AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] at PNP [Philippine National Police] at inaaresto kami dahil dito.

(As the economic crisis worsens, so does the living situation of Filipino families. It has been long written in the Constitution that it is only right to raise wages. However, the AFP and PNP see this as irrational, hence arresting progressive individuals.)

KMU continuously calls to pass the P33,000 monthly wage and to prohibit the state forces from repealing policies that take away the right of public employees to create labor groups and join unions.

The National Federation of Sugar Workers shared that excise tax and value added tax (VAT) on basic necessities should be suspended since the subsidies given were insufficient. Across the board, all sectors should benefit from lower oil prices to reduce production and transportation costs, and to lower the price of other basic commodities. (READ: Kakulangan ng aksyon sa ekonomikong krisis, iprinotesta ng mga progresibo sa unang SONA ni Marcos Jr. )

Ipinapasa sa mga manggagawa ang epekto ng economic crisis, kaya imbes na itaas ay ibinababa ang wages at vinaviolate pa ng mga kumpanya [ito]…Saan kukunin ng ordinaryong manggagawa ang renta sa bahay, tubig, kuryente, pambayad kapag nagkasakit ang anak, at pamasahe? Kaya dapat itaas ang sahod sa antas na nakabubuhay,” Adonis added.  

(The impact of the economic crisis is being passed onto the workers, so instead of raising wages, the companies lower wages and even violate them… Where will the ordinary worker get the house rent, water, electricity, budget when the child gets sick, and fare? With that, wages must be raised to a livable level.)


National representatives from labor groups emphasized their daily struggles with the country’s current economic status that degraded their current wages as they gathered at the Molawin Hall in the Student Union (SU) Building in UPLB. 

Photo by Jonel Mendoza

Pagkakaisa ng Manggagawa sa Timog Katagalugan (PAMANTIK-KMU) iterated that the severity of the effects brought by the economic crisis in the country is also a reflection of how the government acted during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the inflation rate soars faster and prices of basic necessities rise more than ever, workers demand a higher and livable wage. 

(RELATED STORY: Dagdag-sahod, sapat ba para mabayaran ang pagod?

Stop the attacks, red-tagging

Labor groups emphasized the daily struggles experienced by unionists and how the Anti-Terrorism Law can be a tool to silence and red-tag leader activists.

The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, has been widely opposed by lawmakers and various progressive groups in the country, because of its vague provisions and being weaponized against progressive groups and activists

Industrial centers in the economic zones of Luzon have recorded large amounts of violations of workers’ right to association and collective bargaining, as protected by the ILO Conventions 87 and 98, respectively.

The implementation of contractualization and exercise of unfair labor practices, which includes prolonged work weeks, intensify the violations of ILO conventions 87 and 98, resulting in union organizing and collective bargaining being more difficult to achieve. 

PAMANTIK-KMU estimates that at least seven to nine workers in the manufacturing sector are contractual, mostly hidden as regular or casual employees in service cooperatives in Southern Tagalog.

“[Mula sa red-tagging], lumalabas na sa Pilipinas mayroong kalayaang pumatay, dahil ang gobyerno ng Pilipinas ay walang planong panagutin ang mga perpetrator at dahil sila mismo ang nagmamando,” said Adonis.

(From red-tagging itself, it looks like the Philippines is a country where everyone is free to kill because the government does not hold the perpetrators accountable and because they are the ones commanding it.)

The agricultural and transport sectors are no exemption from the tremendous attacks and trumped-up charges of state forces. Jeepney drivers are also stripped of their franchises once they join any legitimate workers’ organization.

(RELATED STORY: Estado ng agraryo sa Timog Katagalugan; Amidst phase-out, six jeepney drivers jailed for protesting)

Pagkakaisa ng mga Samahan ng Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (PISTON) suggested that the government should make the country’s own industry of transportation without the intervention of foreign countries. Funds allocated to the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict’s (NTF-ELCAC) should be mandated to the more lacking sectors such as transportation and labor. 

Hanggat patuloy na [naka]kapit ang administrasyon sa international na organisasyon ay magdurusa ang lagay ng transportasyon. Hamon namin sa gobyerno na unahin ang pagtatayo ng sarili nating industriya [ng transportasyon] dito sa ating bansa,” said Mody Floranda of PISTON. 

(As long as the current administration depends to the international organization, the transportation will suffer. We challenge the government to prioritize the development of our own transportation industry in our country.) 

Manny Baclagon of COURAGE shares that their organization fell victim to the NTF-ELCAC red-tagging, and that the government agency released memorandums that prohibit workers from joining them.

Progressives led by KMU and PAMANTIK-KMU staged protest rally in front of DOJ and DOLE to condemn the attacks from state forces among workers and union groups

Photo by Jeaver Aoanan

Additionally, the AFP and PNP in the Southern Tagalog frame unions from participating their red-tagging seminars through anti-sexual harassment and anti-illegal drug campaigns, according to Mario Fernandez of the Organized Labor Association in Line Industries and Agriculture (OLALIA) National Federation. He also pointed out how the NTF-ELCAC does not create any jobs for the masses, but rather they instill fear to not organize and not voice their demands.

(RELATED STORY: UPLB progressives condemn red-tagging in NSTP webinar)

The challenge the workers have for the government is to heed their calls, to hold the state forces accountable, and prioritize the needs of the masses instead of continuously silencing them.

Kung hindi siya [Marcos Jr.] katulad ni Duterte o ng kanyang amang si Marcos Sr. ay tatanggapin niya ang daing ng mga manggagawa,” Nagrampa of Bicolana GABRIELA says.

(If Marcos Jr. himself is any different from Duterte or his father, the late Marcos Sr., he would listen to the demands of the workers.)

Labor groups will continue to assert their rights to the government and demand pro-worker laws and abolish those that violate their rights. Adonis mentioned that the ILO will investigate the red-tagging of the NTF-ELCAC and the widespread extrajudicial killings among union workers.

Call for pro-worker resolutions

After the organized presscon, KMU and PAMANTIK-KMU led the protest programs last January 16, in front of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to call for fair wages and regularization of contractual workers. Labor groups also demand for justice for the victims of red-tagging and harassment by the state, as well as the release of political prisoners.


Some protesters were found wearing masks splattered with red paint and along with them are the violations on labor rights under the Duterte and Marcos Jr. administrations.

Photo by Jeaver Aoanan

Elmer “Ka Bong” Labog, KMU Chairperson, expressed his rage over the unreasonable and poor justice system in the country. “Justice delayed is justice denied. Mabuti pa ang anak ni DOJ Secretary Remulla, 75 araw lang tapos na agad ang kaso. Samantalang ang mga pinatay, ilegal na ikinulong na mga manggagawa, ilang taon ang inaantay sa usad pagong na proseso ng kanilang mga kaso.”

(Justice delayed is justice denied. Compared to DOJ Secretary Remulla’s son whose case only lasted for 75 days, progressive individuals who were wrongfully killed and illegally arrested take several years before progress is made on their cases.)

Labog also mentioned the new incident of enforced disappearance of labor organizers Dyan and Armand in Cebu, months after the disappearance of four activists Loi, Ador, Cha, and Elgene.

Antonio Fajardo, the acting chairperson of PAMANTIK-KMU, emphasized that justice is still nowhere in sight for the Bloody Sunday Massacre victims. A total of nine Southern Tagalog progressives were reported dead and six were arrested during the organized crackdown by the PNP and AFP last March 7, 2021. (READ: 9 patay, 6 arestado matapos ang ‘Bloody Sunday’ sa Timog Katagalugan)

Steve Mendoza of OLALIA-KMU and Nedo Lagunias are among the 29 unionists that are currently in prison due to alleged charges of possession of firearms and other cases filed by state forces. Laguinas and his family have been receiving severe grave threats. Both cases are still not heard in court.

(RELATED STORY: 2 lider-unyon sa Laguna, inaresto sa magkaparehong araw; Nexperia union officers harassed by AFP-PNP and NTF-ELCAC, forced to disaffiliate from labor center)

“Paano magkakaroon ng hustisya kung pinagkakait ito ng gobyerno na sila mismo ang dapat magbigay nito?,” says Fajardo.

(How will it be possible for justice to prevail if this is being denied by the government itself, when they themselves should provide it?)

Fajardo also pointed out that those who were given government positions are the same people who are the agents and implementers of Duterte’s fascist policies. 

(Gen. Eduardo) Año is now the national security adviser, despite being behind the disappearance of farmer-activist, Jonas Burgos. (Gen. Carlito) Galvez resisted the economic reforms and the discontinuation of the GRP-NDFP peace talks; Galvez is now the appointed DND secretary. Marcos Jr. also reppointed (Gen. Andres) Centino as the AFP chief-of-staff, whose top priority includes “to defeat communist threat groups.”

By lunchtime, workers expressed how they are extremely affected by the high commodity prices and low wage in the country: eating of chicken feet, which also symbolizes the common Filipino idiom, ‘Isang kahig, isang tuka‘.

Photo by Jeaver Aoanan

Nananawagan ako sa mga manggagawa at mamamayan sa buong bansa na magkaisa at igiit ang ating mga panawagan sa gitna ng [ekonomikong] krisis. Hindi dapat tayo manahimik sa gitna ng todo pahirap ng rehimeng Marcos, sama sama nating ipaglaban ang nakabubuhay na sahod, regular at disenteng trabaho at karapatan sa pag-uunyon!“, Labog said in the protest rally. 

(I am calling all the workers and citizens across the country to unite and assert our calls amidst the economic crisis. We must not be silent in the midst of all oppression of the Marcos regime, let us all fight for a livable wage, regular and decent work, and the right to association!) [P]

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