Philippines: Government Crackdown Targets Unions

The ITUC has condemned a new wave of police repression of Philippine trade unionists. The offensive was launched when police simultaneously raided three premises of human rights and trade union organisations, arresting and detaining 57 people members of labour and civil society organisations. Repression operations are ongoing.

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.

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.

“Under the cover of being tough on crime, this government is targeting human and trade union rights defenders as part of a deliberate political strategy that relies on the suppression of people’s rights and freedoms,” said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow.

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 launched 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 these reports as well as those of repression of trade-unions and their members.

While in a meeting with the ITUC in August the government pledged to investigate separate cases of 43 murdered trade unionists, 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 Burrow.

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