Press Statement: CUPE delegation defend human and labour rights in the Philippines

January 18, 2010

Friday, January 15

We are a delegation of nine trade unionists from the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and the Ontario Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (OCHRP) who have recently concluded a two-week solidarity exchange and exposure tour in the Philippines.  We were hosted by the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) and the Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE).

A Global Justice delegation from the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) have recently learned that while union activists in both Canada and the Philippines share a common struggle against privatization, deregulation and global restructuring, in the Philippines trade union, social movement and human rights activists face alarming levels of  repression and violence. We are particularly concerned about recent accounts of torture by 3 peasant organizers currently being held in Batangas Provincial Jail in Batangas City, especially in light of the recently passed anti-torture legislation.

As a delegation, we would like to address the following 3 points:

1.      We support the Filipino people’s right to oppose the privatization of their public services. CUPE supports a peoples’ right to water and education.  Over the past 2 weeks we have heard numerous accounts of the disastrous impact that privatization of land and resources has had and continues to have on workers and communities. The US $1 billion Laiban Dam project in Tanay, Rizal, to be built by the San Miguel Corporation in order to sell water resources to two private water companies in Metro Manila, will flood the lands of indigenous peasants in Rizal and Quezon provinces.

2.       The prevalence of “union-busting” tactics and the failure to recognize the legal rights of trade unionists to organize and bargain is a concern. Militarization has become rampant, particularly in export processing zones (EPZ’s), where workers’ protests are violently dispersed and individuals are kidnapped. The relocation of industry and the shift to contractual labour under the guise of the economic crises are prevalent in these zones and throughout the country.  We were shocked and appalled to learn that the military are conducting “awareness campaigns” in several public schools denouncing the work of ACT.

3.       Human rights violations and the resulting culture of impunity must end. From intimidation, harassment, and extrajudicial political killings, the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration has launched a direct campaign against legal organizations and activists from groups such as our partners ACT and COURAGE, in addition to several others.  The recent Ampatuan Massacre is a shocking example of the culture of impunity that reigns in this country.  Targeting trade union and human rights activists appears to be an attempt to stifle any attempts to defend workers rights or oppose detrimental government policies.

As a result of our observances, the Canadian national delegation is extremely concerned over the continuation of such repressive practices, particularly in relation to the upcoming 2010 May presidential elections. The International Observers Mission will be an important mechanism to continue to monitor the human rights situation in the Philippines in the context of national elections.

We are committed to Resolution No. 238 at the 2009 National CUPE Convention and will continue to monitor how Canada is implicated in the deteriorating human rights situation in the Philipines.  For example, Canada offers training to the Philippines National Police (PNP) and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).  The Philippines is the primary source country for temporary foreign workers to Canada and therefore has a stake in the economic and political conditions that contribute to the forced migration of Filipino citizens.

The delegation plans to continue our solidarity work with ACT and COURAGE.  In bringing our experiences and local testimonies back to Canada, we hope to spread awareness, strengthen international solidarity and, ultimately, advance the struggle for national democracy in the Philippines.

CUPE Global Justice Tour – Philippines delegation:

Kelti Cameron, CUPE National Staff

Priscillia Lefebvre, CUPE 4600 Member

Natalie Phillips, CUPE 4600 Member

Rebecca Warden, CUPE 4600 Member

Joseph MacDonald, CUPE 4600 Member

Stuart Ryan, CUPE 4600 Staff

Serge Landry, CUPE 2079 President

Ilian Burbano, CUPE Ontario International Solidarity Committee Chair & Local 3393 President

Douglas Booker, Ontario Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines

(OCHRP) Coordinator

"Stop the Killings Now!"

DAYS 8-9: Hacienda Luisita

January 17, 2010

Monday, January 11

Natalie Phillips, CUPE 4600:

Today we traveled nearly two hours from Manila to Tarlac. We went to visit the site of the Hacienda Luisita massacre and to meet with the people who lived through it. Our delegation has heard the story of the massacre many times over, but for those of you who are unfamiliar with this tragedy, below is contextual background information.

On November 6th, 2004, over 6000 farm workers on the hacienda (plantation) went on strike. Their union, the United Luisita Workers’ Union, demanded fair wages, guaranteed working days, geniune land reform, and respect of their basic human rights, all of which had been neglected for far too long. Their fight was against their employer, the Cojuangco family, who own 6453 hectares of agricultural land, the majority of which is devoted to lucrative sugar cane production for export. The Cojuangcos have made substantial financial gains by demoralizing their labour force, and even denying them the opportunity to feed themselves off of the land on which they work.

To bring readers up to speed I’ll go even further back to 1987. At this time, the farming community of Hacienda Luisita witnessed the introduction of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law. The law included provisions that allowed land owners to form a corporation and redistribute shares to the farmers who worked the land (known as the “Stock Distribution Option”). The Cojuangco family exploited this law by giving out stock certificates to farmers.They evenly divided 33% of the land amongst 6000 farmers and kept the remaining 66%; of course, this meant that the farmers’ stocks were meaningless.

On November 10th, 2004, four days into the workers strike, an Assumption of Jurisdiction Order was issued by the Secretary of Labour. This is akin to a back-to-work order in Canada. The strikers were told they had five days to return to work or the military would disperse their picket line with force. True to their word, police and military arrived at the gates of the sugar central where the picket line was formed and attacked the peaceful crowd with tear gas and water cannons. The strikers retaliated by hurling small objects back at the military forces using sling shots. They were determined to stand their ground, and they were determined to have their demands heard. As the afternoon progressed, and supplies of tear gas dwindled, the military resorted to more drastic measures; armed with M-16 rifles, they opened fire on the assembly of farmers. Panic tore through the crowd as quickly as the bullets, and when the shots stopped, seven men lay fatally wounded.

To this day, these farmers are fighting to revoke the Stock Distribution Option.

Mr. Laza's son was shot and killed by the army during the Hacienda Luisita strike in 2004. He continues to seek justice for his son and all farmers, and vows to continue struggling until genuine land reform is realized.

DAYS 10-11: No! to the Laiban Dam Project

January 15, 2010

The beautiful land being threatened by the Laiban Dam project.

Thursday, January 14

Stuart Ryan, CUPE 4600 staff:

On January 13 and 14 our delegation split into two for exposure tours far away from Manila, both in time but also in the lives of the Filipino people we were to meet. One delegation visited the indigenous people in the villages of  Tanay municipality in the province of Rizal, far up in the Sierra Madre mountains.

After a long trip up winding highways some 4,000 feet above Manila, we spent the last hour of the trip navigating one of the most difficult dirt roads I have ever seen. At the end we had to get out of the van to walk into the tiny village of Sitio Manggahan in Barangay Laiban where 130 families live.

The road literally ended in at the church in the village. Just down the slope was the meeting of two rivers, called the Left and the Right rivers, at the border of the provinces of Rizal and Quezon. The river beds surrounded by lush mountains was a beautiful setting.
The views were spectacular, as you can see from the pictures.

What looks idyllic is not. Down the path from the church rests a huge tunnel from a previous attempt to build a dam in the region. International pressure has stopped the Marcos dictatorship, but the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo administration is considering the approval of a US$ 1 billion dollar project to build the Laiban dam, which will flood the 8 barangays of Rizal and Quezon and bury the lands of the Dumagats, the indigenous people in the region.

The Laiban dam project will be built by the San Miguel Corporation, which is one of the largest corporations in the country. The owners belong to the Cojuangco family, a powerful clan that also owns the Hacienda Luisita, a huge sugar plantation where the army and police killed seven strikers in 2004. (We were there two days ago.) Everyone drinks San Miguel beer.

Why are they building the dam? To provide an alternate source of water for Metro Manila by 2015. A private company, financed by Japanese capital, will sell the water to the two private companies who distribute water to its 12 million citizens at a profit. How is the public interest met in all this? Privatization of water is also an issue for CUPE in Canada, as multinationals are trying to get into the pubic water supply system.

Community members, who have spent their lives on this land, are in danger of losing their homes. Their ancestors are buried on this land. The San Miguel Corporation has never consulted the community about the dam project or the prospect of their forced relocation.

We met with leaders of Sitio Manggahan and neighbouring Sitio Magata in General Nakar, Quezon who are most worried about their future. The first question they asked is where are they going to be moved to. Will we be able to provide for our people? To date San Miguel Corporation has not talked to the indigenous people; they sent a feasibility study group last year but did not talk to the village leaders.

Our hosts took us around the village. They make a living by making charcoal from the abundant trees in the forest and from subsistence farming. Apparently some 70% of the Filipino people are peasants eking out a living from what they can.

In our tour of Sitio Magata in the neighbouring Quezon province (we crossed a suspension bridge by foot to get there), we were shown an alternative school that used to be run by the United Church of Christ in the Philippines. It was closed by the Philippine military because it was teaching a more progressive curriculum than what is provided in the elementary school across the bridge. The military says it must be a school of the New People’s Army, a peasant guerilla army in the adjoining mountains.

We found out that some 28 pastors, many from the United Church, have been killed in the last seven years, as part of the counter-insurgency strategy of the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo government. Anyone who is preceived to be a supporter of workers, peasants or in this case, the indigenous people, are considered to be part of a front of the Communist Party and the New People’s Army, and are targeted for killings, disappearances or other forms of harassment.

This region is a priority area for the counter-insurgency. During our trip we were stopped three times by militias, who had our driver open the van to look for weapons.

Our hosts, including one of the elected officials of Barangay Laiban, provided us with both dinner and breakfast. The official put us up in his house. While the only source of energy, a common generator, shut down at 8 p.m., we were well greeted with the utmost hospitality. Our host asked about the conditions of the First Nations people in Canada.

Our guides told us of a grassroots alliance, involving the Southern Tagalog regional chapter of Karapatan (whom we met a week ago), that was organizing against the potential building of the dam. You can follow it as a link from Karapatan’s web site

A rainstorm on Wednesday night cut short our visit because the walk on the road to an adjoining village was not possible. But our determination to support the indigenous people grew as we left to return to Manila.

DAYS 10-11: Southern Mindanao

January 14, 2010

KMP (Peasant Movement of the Philippines) Southern Mindanao Region launch of the National Peasant Caravan in Davao City

Wednesday, January 13

Ilian Burbano, CUPE Ontario International Solidarity Committee and Local 3393:

As we entered the final phase of our visit in the Philippines, half of our CUPE delegation took a 2 hour flight to the Southern Mindanao region arriving in the city of Davao (the country’s third largest in population with 5 million people). The aim of our visit was to meet with affiliates of COURAGE, the national labour centre representing 300,000 government employees, connecting with local peasant/farmworker organizations and hearing more testimonies of state-sponsored repression against legal peoples’ (popular) organizations and the civilian population. Our group was accompanied by Ferdinand Gaite, National President of COURAGE and one of CUPE’s partners in our “worker-to-worker exchange.”

January 12th is an important date for country’s rural-based mass movement because it marks the launch of a nation-wide peasant/farmworker caravan commemorating the infamous “Mendiola Massacre.” In this massacre which took place on January 22, 1987 in Manila, several peasants were shot at and murdered by state security forces while holding a protest action in opposition to the Cory Aquino government’s passage of a bogus land reform law. The Mendiola Massacre, like the Hacienda Luisita Massacre of 7 sugarcane farmworkers by the Philippines National Police and the Armed Forces in November 2004, are emblematic of the nationwide struggle for agrarian reform, which is at the heart of the country’s progressive struggles.

Our delegation had the privilege of briefly meeting with peasant farmers of the Kilusang Mugbubukid ng Pilipinas or KMP (Peasant Movement of the Philippines) of the Southern Mindanao branch, who had gathered in a church hall in Davao City to officially initiate the peasant and farmworker caravan. Like other KMP member organizations across the country, the KMP Southern Mindanao peasant activists and their allies will initiate their 1,000 km march, targeting arrival in Manila in two weeks. Similar gatherings were taking place in the diverse regions and provinces of the Philippines, as peasant and farmworker organizations began their trek to the capital city to highlight their grievances and demands. This caravan will culminate in a huge gathering of thousands of peasants at the very site close to the presidential palace where the Mendiola Massacre occurred in 1987. It will be a time to mourn and commemorate martyrs of the struggle, but it will also be a time to highlight front-and-centre the ongoing and urgent struggle by peasant farmers in the Philippines for the attainment of genuine agrarian reform.

DAY 7: The Batangas Three

January 11, 2010

Sunday, January 10

Douglas Booker, Ontario Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines:

The Global Justice Tour had the pleasure this afternoon of visiting the Batangas Provincial Jail.  Batangas City is located about two hours drive south of Manila in a predominately agricultural area.  The visit was organized by the Ontario Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (OCHRP) and the purpose of the visit was to look in on three recently arrested political prisoners.   The individuals in question included Ms. Charity Diño, 29, from Mindoro province; Mr. Billy Baterina, 26, from Batangas; and Mr. Sonny Rogelio, 23, also of Batangas.

With Billy and Sammy inside their cell block.

The three were organizers of SAMBAT (Samahan ng mga Magsasaka ng Batangas), an affiliate of the Peasant Movement of the Philippines (KMP).  The three were arrested by members of the 730th Combat Group of the Philippine Air Force on November 23, 2009, while travelling by car in the town of Talisay near the Taal Volcano.  At the time of their arrest, they were travelling through the community by car and were stopped by a group of six armed men not in uniform.

The three were subsequently held in a military detention center of the Air Force for approximately two weeks in a totally white room while handcuffed. Each of the three in separate testimonies described being tortured by the military over this period. The men were beaten to the point of serious bruising and both reported having electrodes attached to their bodies and receiving severe electric shocks.  The female victim also experienced simulated suffocation, having her mouth taped and being unable to breathe, and also experience forms of sexual assault.  Ms. Diño indicated that she was stripped naked during interrogation by her captors and forced to stand and endure lengthy examination of her person by her male captors while unclothed.  The point of the torture was to force confessions that they were members of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army.

After several weeks of abuse at the hands of the military they were charged with common crimes; possession of firearms, possession of explosives and, in addition, Mr. Baterina was charged with possession of marijuana.  The accused speculated that they had been charged with possession of explosives because it was a non-bailable offence. The accused were transferred from military custody to the Batangas Provincial Jail on December 11, 2009. They have been held in this facility on these charges for the past month.

Despite the fact that they remain in provincial jail, the three continue to receive visits from the military pressuring them to confess.  The most recent visit experienced by Charity Diño took place on January 9, 2010, where a military officer who introduced himself as “Col. Incognito” indicated he would be adding murder charges to the existing charges against her.

The Batangas jail can only be described as grossly overcrowded.  The jail currently houses a total of 507 prisoners, 28 in the women’s prison which we were unable to visit, and the main jail which houses 479 male prisoners in 8 cell blocks.  Originally built for probably 12-15 prisoners, Mr. Baterina’s cell block which we visited housed 83 prisoners in small rooms made from cardboard boxes, with many prisoners sleeping on the floor or outside, lacking even the most rudimentary accommodation.

The real crime the three have committed is dissent to the existing order.  The area in which the three were working, Lake Taal, is targeted by the Philippine military because of the instability and volatility in the region created by the Metro Taal-Tagaytay Development Plan.  The development plan has resulted in the forced relocation and demolition of many communities in the region to make way for eco-tourism developments.  In one community we visited, the homes of 33 families had been forcibly demolished and the community relocated 3 times.

The case is just another example of harassment of activists by the Philippine military using the criminal courts to silence opposition to the Arroyo regime.  Any opposition to the existing order is considered subversion and is met with the full weight of the state to suppress it including false charges, torture and abuse, violation of rights. The military, as the main enforcer of the Arroyo government’s war on dissent, can act with impunity in all instances.

DAY 6: “No Union, No Strike”

January 11, 2010

Saturday, January 9

Kelti Cameron, CUPE National and Ontario Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines:

Our delegation travelled two hours outside of Manila, to the province of Cavite.  We were hosted by the Workers Assistance Center (WAC), a non-profit organization that organizes workers inside the Cavite special economic zones.  WAC was founded in 1995 in response to labour and human rights violations experienced by workers in the newly-formed processing zones.  Today there are more than 500 multinational corporations operating in the area; WAC continues to organize these precarious workers.

Export processing zones are protected by high walls and private armed guards. Corporations find it advantageous to operate in these zones because of the relative ease with which they can bust unions and exploit workers.  Neoliberal support and pressure for trade liberalization and deregulation, (particularly between the Philippines and countries such as the US, South Korea and Japan) ensure the existence of these tax-free zones, in essence existing to facilitate capital’s need to acquire superprofits.  One delegate noted that “this is a neo-liberal project that mulitnational corporations would like to see expanded everywhere, to the point where they are no longer confined to special zones.”

The experience of violence, harassment and human and labour rights violations by workers in these zones is extreme; 80% of these workers are women.   Interviews conducted with workers in garment and electronic factories exposed a pattern of systematic violence against trade unionists.   Workers at the Chong Won garments factory (the Korean supplier to Walmart and American Eagle among others) experienced the violent dismantling of their picket lines in 2005 as they struggled to be recognized as a union. A picket line in a second garment factory, Phils-Jeon, was also violently dismantled in 2005. Both the president and chief union steward were abducted by armed men as they were sleeping in a tent on the picket line.  This had a chilling effect on the union, undermined their ability to struggle for their rights and ultimately busted their union.  The abductees were eventually released, albeit psychologically traumatized.  Despite the fact that the perpetrators would have had to pass a security checkpoint in the export zone to gain access to the picket line, no investigation was conducted and no one was brought to justice.

Workers from the Chong Won, Golden Will and Phils-Jeon garment factories share their stories of violent trade union repression. They experienced trumped-up charges of theft, abductions and violent picket line dispersals.

Filing false criminal charges against trade union executives is another way employers in the zones are busting unions and penalizing workers for their trade union activity.  Workers in the Golden Will garment factory are currently fighting charges of theft in the courts.  The existence of a blacklist that permanently bans known union leaders from working within these zones places these workers in a very difficult position.

Workers may or may not receive minimum wage; several workers recounted the violation of basic rights through their experiences of forced overtime(as a rule, Chong Won workers had a 15-hour working day) , dangerous conditions and increasing workplace surveillance.  As workers are increasingly being laid off due to the economic crisis many have had to struggle to have the company recognize their right to severance pay and final paychecks; it is not uncommon for a corporation to leave the country overnight, leaving the workers stranded without proper compensation.  As the former president of the Chong Won factory explains, “this is why we need a union”.

Union members in the Yazaki-EMI factory, a parts manufacturer for auto industry giants such as Chrysler, GM, and others, recounted the harassment and violence that culminated in the assassination of two of their leaders, including the union president.  They began organizing a union during the heyday of the “No Union, No Strike” policy in the Cavite special economic zones, and continue to struggle for a just collective agreement to this day.

Land use conversion is a major issue for workers and peasants in Cavite.  WAC organizes workers outside the zones who have lost their farm land to large development projects.  The Eagle Ridge Workers Association is a formation of farm workers who now work as groundskeepers on a 72-hole golf course that now occupies the land they used to till.

Trade union activity continues to be met with harassment, intimidation, persecution and violence in the Philippines.  This was clear following our discussions today with workers who continue to struggle against this repression.  Their courage and determination are inspiring.

DAY 5: Working with COURAGE

January 11, 2010

Friday, January 8

Rebecca Warden, CUPE 4600:

Today we met with a variety of workers’ groups who belong to COURAGE, one of our host organizations, to learn about labour issues that are now being faced within the public sector. COURAGE (Confederation for Unity, Recognition & Advancement of Government Employees) is a national government employee centre which works to 1) secure better salaries and benefits for government workers through collective & mass action; 2) demand safe and conducive work conditions; and 3) assert and defend the rights to organize unions, participate in policy formations, and exercise full union rights, including the right to strike.  From the union office of the National Housing Authority (NHA), to the picket line of the Golden Acres home for the elderly, to the judiciary employees’ union, to the in-the-middle-of-the-freeway street sweepers’ “union office,” to the National Food Authority’s rice packing warehouse, we covered a lot of ground today.

Our morning started out with a number of presentations at the NHA which addressed the increasing privatization of water in the Philippines.  We heard from union representatives who explained the processes of water privatization in Metro Manila that began in 1997, as well as the privatization initiatives that are currently happening in the water districts of Laguna province.  The speakers made it clear that the privatization of water has failed to deliver on any of its promises: targets for lower prices have not been met, fewer people have reliable access to a clean water source, water quality has been deemed not potable according to international standards, and private enterprises show significantly less cost efficiency (in terms of cost to the consumer) than their public sector counterparts.  The privatization of water benefits only the government-supported multinationals (for example, Suez from France and United Water from the UK).  Organizations like WATER (Water System Employees’ Response) fight for their belief that water is life and water is for the people.

A COURAGE member and water systems worker from the province of Laguna describes attempts to privatize the water in his province.

Another really powerful part of our day was a visit to a picket line where staff of Golden Acres, a care home for the “abandoned elderly,” are protesting the closure of their location and re-location of staff and residents to a site outside of Metro Manila.  They argue that this move is motivated by the high real estate value of the current land; the site is a natural choice for development in the expansion of a neighbouring shopping centre.   We learned that the Department of Welfare & Social Justice (which these care-workers are employed within) has only 4000 employees nationwide.  This incredibly limited number (compared, for example, to the approx. 28,000 workers we learned are employed by the Department of Justice) vividly represents the lack of social service resources available to the 90 million Filipinos across the country.  We expressed our solidarity to the 70 workers of Golden Acres who continue to fight to serve the 227 residents who rely on this facility as an accessible, well-run public social service.

We also had a particularly interesting encounter with the National Food Authority employees today.  Beyond learning about some of the pressing current issues that face this department, including land use conversion, the increasing importation of staple foods from neighbouring countries, typhoon-related rice shortages, etc., we were taken to visit a NFA rice storage warehouse.  Within the warehouse, we found a team of temporary workers seated around a huge mound of rice, packaging, weighing, sealing, and bagging 1 kilogram bags for a Rice For School program (this controversial program offers rice to students as an incentive for staying in school).  We learned that these government-employed workers were working from 7 am – 6 pm for between Php 200-300/day (depending on how many bags they collectively fill at a piece rate of Php 12/bag).  These workers are making less than minimum wage, without benefits or any type of job security.  It is appalling that the Philippine government places workers under these conditions.

Our day, filled with much more than I can possibly fit in this summary, was rounded off by a dinner at the COURAGE office.  This was an opportunity for us to learn about the work that COURAGE is doing to support the government workers in the various sectors we visited.  Fair wages, job security (versus the increasing use of casual labour in government sectors such as the street sweepers – another incredibly interesting pit stop in our day), privatization, and transparency are some of the main issues currently being faced.  Today’s itinerary proved to offer an incredibly eye-opening window into the Philippines’ public sector.

Under an overpass in Quezon City, Manila, where the office of the street sweepers is located.

DAY 4: Modern Day Slavery and Workers’ Resistance

January 8, 2010

Thursday, January 7

Priscillia Lefebvre, CUPE 4600:

We visited two unforgettable places today signifying two distinct yet complimentary issues facing the Filipino labour force. The first was the trip to the Salam Mosque Compound, a Muslim community which serves as a temporary hold for females, as young as 14 years of age, who are preparing themselves to be sent overseas as domestic helpers. These workers are sent overseas to the Middle East alone, to places they have never been, to live with people they do not know, and who speak in languages they cannot speak. They are provided no recourse, no protection, and are in some cases not permitted to leave the home of their employer. They are effectively imprisoned and made to work for a meager wage.

Women migrate from Mindanao to Manila to wait for a job placement in the Middle East. Most women will work as domestic workers and housekeepers in countries with few labour rights.

We spoke to one girl preparing to leave for Saudi Arabia. She introduced herself as 23 years old even though she was only 18 (you must be at least 23 years old to qualify for work). She expressed eagerness to leave and work as this would provide her with the opportunity to provide the means that would allow her sister to finish school. Putting children through school is the number one reason why women go overseas to work and expose themselves to whims and demands of their employer, which could range from child care to rape and even death. To add to personal risk, there are social costs related to this type of employment situation. Filipina workers are deskilled as their professional training is not recognized outside of the country. For example, many skilled workers such as teachers end up working as nannies. However, most of the Muslim girls at the compound never get the chance to acquire such training in the first place.

Labour export has proven to be extremely profitable to the government and as such it is encouraged and unregulated to suit the needs of wealthier nations. There are many bureaucratic channels prospective workers must navigate and fees they must pay in order to secure a position overseas. They send substantial remittances back from abroad. These remittances boost the country’s dollar reserves, which enables the government to borrow funds from international lending institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as well as the big transnational banks. As a result, the workers are seen as little more than export commodities – cheap to produce and highly replaceable.

"Your Vision is Our Slavery"

The afternoon led us to the picket lines of garment industry workers who had been on strike for 6 months and continue to guard the entrance of the factory from which they were laid off. The factory, owned by the capitalist multinational Triumph International Philippines Inc., closed its doors and its back on the over 1000 affected employees, many of whom had been serving the company for 30 years. These discarded workers were given no notice and no consideration when the company closed its doors in June of 2009. Since then, laid off workers have been blocking the company from underhandedly removing the means of production out of the factory here in the Philippines to areas of even cheaper labour and greater profit, such as Vietnam and China.

After observing the conditions the strikers have been forced to endure on the picket lines without water or electricity (both of which were cut off by management), it is clear that the abandonment of these workers is not only an issue of labour rights, but also of human rights. Since the beginning of the strike the workers have incurred a great deal more than a loss of wages. Some have lost their homes, the means to provide for their family, and their livelihood. We sat with Lita De La Cruz, the president of the New Union of Workers of Triumph in the Philippines, as she explained the urgency of the situation. Many strikers are no longer able to send their children to school and have lost their homes; some have even lost mothers and husbands due to a lack of essential resources and access to care. Lita went on to say, “The working class is providing the wealth of the country, yet we are treated like trash.”

NUWT president provides the delegation with a update on their struggle for reinstatement or a just settlement.

Under the guise of the recent economic crisis Triumph has attempted to justify the inhumane treatment and unjust dismissal of its employees by claiming that it has been forced to adopt a “global restructuring program” in order to ensure its survival through the harsh economic downturn. The fact of the matter is that Triumph workers have been struggling against downsizing measures, work casualization, and illegal dismissal for some 30 years. Triumph has been known to its workers as a union buster since at least 1985, when workers organized to resist the conversion of permanent positions to contract employment. This scenario has unfortunately continued to become a common practice in the workplace be it in Canada or the Philippines.

It is the belief of the workers that the factory will open once more as the compulsion to accumulate wealth pushes Triumph to expand in the Philippines. Of course, this is something that the government is heavily pushing for. In order to remain competitive in the global market and remain an attractive spot for foreign investment and production, the government assumes a very anti-worker, pro-corporate, commercial position. If Triumph should re-open the factory, one of the demands of the strikers is the reinstatement of their positions. At the very least, the workers are demanding that Triumph renegotiate the severance package offered to discarded workers as the current amount is considered insufficient. Another central issue in this conflict is the fight for unemployment benefits. Workers have been consistently denied government assistance or support throughout their struggle. I realize now more than ever that it is the workers and their children who suffer most as the burden of the economic crisis has been passed on to be carried on the shoulders of the worker.

In solidarity with New Union of Workers of Triumph (NUWT)

I must say that this reminded me of struggles of workers back in Canada fighting similar battles against the contracting out of jobs, precarious work, and intensification of labour. Workers being devalued, deskilled, and reduced to commodified, disposable automatons seems to be an international trend. I realized this is what connects us as workers. Listening to Lita today helped me see that even though the struggles of Canadians and Filipinos may be different on certain levels, we are all of us affected by the same neo-liberal restructuring and capitalist rationale. We are united though the need to sell our labour in order to live; this is what makes us human, this is what aligns us as workers. As such, international solidarity is crucial in order to pressure multinational companies such as Triumph to respect and recognize the rights of workers around the world and speak out against our failing, exploitative economic system. By the same token, the young women of the Salam Mosque Compound provided us with a tragic example of the dehumanizing trafficking of fresh labour sources in a market of limited opportunity, with no choice but to sell ourselves to survive.

DAY 3: Teachers Resisting Aggression on Numerous Fronts

January 8, 2010

Being welcomed to a large elementary school in an urban poor community in Manila.

Wednesday, January 6

Ilian Burbano, CUPE Ontario International Solidarity Committee & Local 3393:

On January 6th, our CUPE delegation visited the ACT (Alliance of Concerned Teachers) office in Quezon City to get an overview on some of the multiple challenges facing public-sector teachers in the Philippines. ACT is one of the “Worker to Worker” initiative’s main local partners and host of our group. ACT has 13 regional chapters in the country and represents 30,000 teachers in primary, secondary schools and colleges/universities in both teaching and non-teaching positions.

Classes are overcrowded, there can be as many as 70 students per class.

ACT National Chairperson Antonio Tinio, explained that his organization—like other Filipino mass movement organizations—is active organizing on multiple fronts. In addition to campaigning for increased wages, benefits and improved working conditions for its members, ACT also advocates with local and national government authorities against cuts to public spending on education. ACT is also active in broader political struggles through coalitions like BAYAN (“New Patriotic Alliance”) in the “genuine struggle for “freedom and democracy”. This struggle includes opposing the oppressive policies of the governing regime under President Gloria Arroyo and its security forces which have involved extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, trumped-up legal charges issued against leaders/activists and detentions aimed at dismantling or weakening the capacity of mass movement organizations to organize and resist against the status quo. There is a shortage of classroom space.

In terms of concretely improving ACT members’ conditions, Brother Tinio highlighted a major campaign that was launched from 2008 to 2009 to increase teachers’ salaries. Public-sectors teachers’ salary levels in the Philippines are legislated. Upon coming into power, the Arroyo government froze the salaries of all public sector workers’ from 2001 to 2006. ACT worked with its allied elected-members in the Senate and House of Representatives to demand a $9,000 peso ($200 CND) increase per month over 3 years for teachers working in public schools (this represented a 70% increase). At the beginning of the campaign average teachers’ salaries were $12,000 peso per month. The progressive, left-wing Gabriela Women’s Party offered a bill in the House of Representatives for debate proposing the wage increase for teachers. ACT also organized several mass demonstrations/marches on the House of Representatives involving thousands of teachers. Finally, in July 2009, the final law approved involved a $6,500 peso wage increase over 4 years. This increase was not the same as the original demand, but involved a substantial gain for teachers in the context of neoliberal reforms, diminished public education funding and ongoing repression of mass movement organizations.

ACT Chairperson Tinio also highlighted the ongoing harassment, repression and violence experienced by his members. Two former ACT National Council members have been murdered in recent years. In January 2009, young school teacher Rebelyn Pitao was murdered by military agents in Davao (in the southern part of the country). ACT members, including its former National Chairperson, have been subjected to military surveillance. Recently, in the area of Tarlac (region north of Metro Manila) the Philippines Armed Forces has been conducting seminars with local teachers where they’re being told not to get involved with ACT because it is an alleged “communist” front. This is a very serious form of intimidation in a country in the midst of an armed conflict in which in the last 9 years (during the current Arroyo administration) there have been a total of 1,118 extrajudicial killings attributed primarily to the country’s security forces and which have primarily targeted social movement activists belonging to organizations like ACT.

Finally, Brother Tinio gave an overview of the impact on public education during the last 9 years of the Arroyo government. The 1987 Constitution implemented in the post Marcos dictatorship period mandated compulsory elementary education and free high school education. This year the Arroyo government imposed substantial budget cuts in education in response to the global economic crisis. The Deped’s (Department of Education) budget for capital outlay was cut by 15%. Meanwhile, further cuts have been imposed on next year’s education budget as well. He explained that reduced spending on education has been characteristic of the Arroyo administration for most of the past decade.

The result of reduced public spending and failure to address poverty more generally by the government has resulted in an unprecedented increase in the number of drop-outs and out of school children throughout the decade. In September 2009, the Department of Education acknowledged that there were 5.6 million out of school children—some 2.2 million children between the ages of 6-12 years and 3.4 million between the ages of 13-15 years. Tinio concluded that in the last decade basic public education has suffered substantial setbacks and priority as the government has instead prioritized on debt servicing and debt payment. Thirty-percent (30%) of the national budget has been used to pay interest on the country’s national debt which stands at approximately 58 million US dollars.

When one begins to understand the scope of the formidable challenges facing mass movement organizations like ACT in the Philippines—everything from politically-motivated repression and sustained neoliberal restructuring of public services like education—as a CUPE member the need for reciprocal solidarity becomes much more urgent.

DAY 2: Labour Rights are Human Rights

January 6, 2010

With human rights organization Karapatan

Tuesday, January 5

Stuart Ryan, CUPE 4600:

It has been quite a couple of days.

Today we met the families of those killed and disappeared in the government campaign to eliminate the Communist insurgency by the time that Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) ends her term this June. The campaign targets leaders of legal organizations who criticize the government policies as Communists; and that their organizations are front groups and therefore legitimate targets for eliminations, either by extrajudicial killings, disappearances, or charging them in courts with trumped-up-charges.

Lorena Santos, from the group Desaparecidos, described the ordeal of having both her parents abducted. While her mother, Elizabeth Principe, has surfaced alive and has just recently been released from jail on trumped-up charges of rebellion as a Communist sympathizer, she has not heard a word about her father, Leo Valasco. She has gone public about her case, and still holds out hope that he is still alive.

We met one torture victim, Raymond Manalo, who managed to escape after 18 months of various forms of mental and physical torture. He implicated a key general, General Jovito S. Palparan known as the butcher, as the key person orchestrating the government campaign. The retired general is now a congressman. A Filipino court case against the General was dismissed on a technicality, but his  testimony of the victim to the UN has led briefly to a reduction of extrajudicial killings and a new anti-torture law.

The human rights group Karapatan asked us to find people to come as International Observers for the May Presidential elections, as they are afraid that more killings will occur during the buildup to the election. It wants the end of impunity for the military

We then visited the dumpsite where some 180,00 poor people live in the largest slum in Manila. We visited a monument to hundreds of victims who died in July, 2000 when a landslide of garbage buried homes during a period of torrential rain.

We met and witnessed people scraping out a living sorting through the garbage and cleaning plastic bags for sale to factories who turn the plastic bags into shoes. The women sorted through the garbage while men cleaned the plastic and piled them into piles for shipment to the factories.

At Plastikan, where community members recover, wash and sell plastic for recycling.

While we were guests of organizers in the ghetto, we were quite a spectacle, and gathered a crowd wherever we went. It is not often they get white, well-off Canadians visiting them.

As everywhere else in the Philippines, the big sport is basketball. We saw two pickup games. Two members of our delegation joined one game.

Our hosts were representatives of KADAMAY, a national organization of the urban poor. They fight with the people in a campaign for living wages for their work, jobs and social services for  the poor, including housing.

A touching moment was the invitation of a single mother into her house where she brings up her 3 children. One is going to high school nearby. All the students, even here, wear uniforms, while most of the children we saw wore shorts and T-shirts.

Tomorrow we meet teachers, members of ACT, while they are in  the classroom and then two of our delegation make a report on the issues facing workers and students in the post-secondary education sector in Canada to a forum at the University of the Philippines.