THE International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), in its eighth edition of the ITUC Global Rights Index, ranks the Philippines among the 10 countries with “the worst violations of workers’ and trade union rights in 2021”.
This is the sixth consecutive year that the Philippines has been ranked among the 10 worst countries for workers.
The country is in the same category as Bangladesh, Belarus, Brazil, Colombia, Honduras, Myanmar, Turkey and Zimbabwe.
The ITUC noted that throughout the period of President Duterte’s administration, “many trade unionists were murdered and arrested”. He said that from March 2020 to April 2021, seven union leaders were killed and 28 arrested.
The Global Rights Index observed that “workers and their representatives in the Philippines remain particularly vulnerable to violent attacks, intimidation and arbitrary arrests. more than 50 trade unionists have been killed since President Duterte came to power in 2016.”
This unfavorable report should be one of the main concerns of President Bongbong Marcos and, more particularly, of the new Secretary of Labor and Employment, Bienvenido Laguesma. The government has acceded to and ratified several conventions and treaties on human and trade union rights. There are international labor conventions that the Philippines has ratified and is therefore bound to respect and uphold with respect to the rights of workers and their organizations.
More importantly, Article XIII, Section 3, of the 1987 Constitution states: “The State shall provide full protection to workers, local and foreign, organized and unorganized, and promote full employment opportunities for all. It must guarantee the rights of all workers to self-organization, bargaining and collective bargaining and concerted peaceful activities, including the right to strike in accordance with the law. xx”
At the next 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 at the International Labor Conference of the ILO which is 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’s not that the Philippines doesn’t have the necessary laws to protect workers’ rights. The Labor Code of the Philippines, which was enacted by Executive Order in 1972 by the late President Ferdinand E. Marcos, and the Constitution of 1987, are replete with provisions that guarantee the rights of workers to organize, bargain collectively, even to go on strike to defend and promote their interests.
Indeed, in our country, there is a wide chasm between law and practice. While the rights are guaranteed by law and the Constitution, the implementation is, in many cases, a derogation or violation of these rights, as shown in the Global Rights Index prepared by the ITUC.
The problem, in my view, is that the exercise of these rights is often labeled as communist activity. In the Philippines, simply being a communist is no longer illegal. However, engaging in armed struggle is a criminal offence. The peaceful exercise of workers’ right to strike is not prohibited by law. On the contrary, it is a right guaranteed by the Labor Code. For this reason, the police and military are not expected to take any action to prevent or intimidate militant trade unions from exercising this right.
The ITUC report chronicles the harassment of the leaders of the Nagkaisa Labor Coalition of which Sentro, a duly registered trade union federation, is a member. He also recounted the murder of Dandy Miguel, president of the Pamantik-Kilusan Mayo Uno, on March 28, 2021. Before he was assassinated, he allegedly “filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission about extrajudicial executions of nine activist workers and NGOs on March 7, 2020.”
Many other union leaders were “red-labeled” by the military as leftists or communists. The “red flag” is a means of intimidating militant union leaders. This practice by the military was even brought to the attention of Secretary Laguesma during his meeting with the leaders of the National Council of Trade Unions (NTUC).
Filipino labor leaders are expressing optimism that the practice of red-flagging government critics and militant trade unionists will end. Newly appointed National Security Advisor Dr. Clarita Carlos announced in a TV interview that “as far as my NSA mandate is concerned, I would like to stop red-tagging”, adding that “it was a lazy practice and against -productive”. “
In the Philippines, to be labeled “red” is to be labeled as a communist. The red tag is affixed by the army and the police to activists, journalists, trade union leaders and anyone critical of the government.
Red marking was widely used by President Duterte’s administration. Dr. Carlos wants this practice to be abolished under the supervision of President Bongbong Marcos. A human rights group alleged that this policy by the Duterte administration resulted in “the killing of a total of 318 activists in 2021”.
We fervently hope that the current administration will pay very close attention to the ITUC Global Rights Index. Hopefully, the current waiver will knock the Philippines off the list of countries with the worst violations of workers’ rights.
After all, work matters.
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