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Military and police raids against trade unions in the Philippines

Some 57 people were arrested during the simultaneous raids conducted by joint military and police forces against trade unions, civil society groups, human rights activists and women's groups last Thursday night. The police raids are ongoing. Trade unions and activist groups are looking for ways to make sure staff and members are safe. The ITUC has condemned a new wave of police repression of Philippine trade unionists.

Several groups were raided. In the evening of 31 October 2019, bus workers were holding a union meeting in Bacolod city, capital of the province of Negros Occidental, when the building was raided. Elsewhere in the city, eight people, including four children, were held at gunpoint by police. Witnesses there reported that non-uniformed men entered the property and planted firearms. All 43 adults arrested were charged with the illegal possession of firearms.

The raids were conducted by joint military and police forces also against the Kilusang Mayor Uno, National Federation of Sugar Workers and Gabriela offices in the cities of Bacolod and Escalante in Negros, central Philippines.

Further raids are ongoing, and more trade unionists could be targeted in the coming hours and days. Faced with this abuse of power, trade unions are taking precautionary measures to safeguard their members’ safety. Among these is the ACT Teachers Union, the union of this year's receiver of the Arthur Svensson award, France Castro.

Trade unions are deeply concerned that the labour department’s ineffective response against trade union killings and red-tagging has emboldened security forces to step up its brazen campaign against organized labour. 

The country’s biggest trade union coalition, Nagkaisa!, is demanding a tripartite investigation over the simultaneous raids and mass arrests conducted by security forces to protect workers’ right to self organization. 

“We won’t let this assault on freedom pass without demanding accountability from authorities who ordered these Gestapo-style raids. We also want to send notice to the government that labour organizations in the country are jointly opposed to this kind of highhanded approach in dealing with legitimate sectoral organizations,”said Nagkaisa! in a statement sent to media. 

According to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) the Philippines is among the 10 worst countries in the world for workers and trade unionists. The authorities does not respect the basic workers’ rights: The right to organize and collectively bargain, and the right to protection against child labour, discrimination and forced labour. In a context of extreme state violence and suppression of civil liberties, workers and trade unionists face threats and intimidation from both the regime and companies, and have to fight for their rights.

This latest crackdown occurs amid a broader climate of government repression in the Philippines. The ‘war on drugs’ has been responsible for a reported 27,000 extra-judicial killings since it was launch by President Duterte in 2016. Both the ILO and the United Nations’ Human Rights Council have resolved to send high level missions to probe the human rights situation following widespread reports of extra-judicial killings and repression of trade-unions and their members.

While the government has recently pledged to investigate the killings of 43 trade unionists in a meeting with the ITUC in August, no progress has been reported and the government is yet to accept the ILO mission to the country, while the violence against activists continues with impunity.

“The rule of law is paramount and security services must treat everyone with impartiality. What we are seeing in the Philippines is a blatant appropriation, by the ruling party, of government forces to undermine labour organising and, more generally, to attack voices of dissent in order to consolidate its political power. The international union family will not let this go. We are demanding that the government stop the killing and repression of trade unionists and receive the ILO mission to investigate the situation as a matter of urgency,” said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow.

In a strong show of force,  59 global, regional, and national organizations from across Asia-Pacific, Africa, and Europe issued a joint statement demanding the immediate release of the 57.

Among those that signed the joint statement are international human rights and pro-democracy civil society groups and networks of peasant movements, agricultural workers, and women’s rights advocates from Bangladesh, Belgium, Cambodia, Cameroon, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam and Zambia. The groups expressed concern over the worsening human rights situation in the country, particularly on Negros island where the recent mass arrests were just the latest in a string of cases of harassment and assaults and even extrajudicial killings.

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