Labor unions in Comval struggle to secure lives amid military harassments

Sep. 16, 2014

DAVAO CITY – Two years ago, mining worker Roselio Cañabano secured benefits from his employer, Apex Mines to help his family that was struck hard from Typhoon Pablo in Maco, Compostela Valley.

This he got after joining a newly-formed union that demanded the company to give to over 1,000 workers assistance such as housing and schooling needs.

But now, Roselio wants to secure his life after being threatened by soldiers in the past two months.

The union leader told Davao Today that the threats came in the form of four soldiers who first entered his house on August 7 to interrogate him on union activities.

“They came in with their firearms, and took photos of me and the house, and asked who my fellow officers are,” he recalled.

“When I told them that they can find our information at the provincial government office, they refused to listen. ‘You’re hiding that list,’ one of them said,” he said.

Roselio, who joined the union Bigkis ng Nagkakaisang Manggagawa ng Apex Mines (BINA-ALDO) under Kilusang Mayo Uno), was recently appointed as the union’s vice president.

Roselio was worried especially that the sight of the soldiers’ firearms caused fear on his four children, the youngest who is now aged eight.

The soldiers, belonging to the Army’s 71st Infantry Battaliion, left his house after the interrogation. But they came back thrice in the next three weeks.

He recalled one time the soldiers came and asked him to go to their camp, which he refused.

He was also asked if he led the series of protest rallies against Apex.

“I told them that the group that led the rally (Indug Kauwatan) was a different group,” he explained that Indug had a different agenda as they were asking for damages as farmers who were hit by the company’s mining operations.

But the soldiers insisted that he was part of the group of protesters, and told him to cooperate to clear his name.

The last time the soldiers came to their house, Roselio’s wife got angry and confronted the soldiers.

“What do these soldiers want? Why do they want me to admit something I did not do?” Roselio asked.

But he sensed that these questions had to do with his being a leader of the union.

Offer to leave

Roselio remembered that early this year, company managers called him to their office and informed him they were concerned with what the military told them about the union.

“The management said the soldiers told them I was supporting the New People’s Army. And then they asked me to take a leave from the company to cool off,” he said.

Roselio said he did not take the company’s offer, and continued working.

He recalled that other officers like their union president were also confronted by the management and offered to go on leave.

Last week, Roselio opted to take his problem public by coming to Davao and talked to media, and to asked for advice from the labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) Southern Mindanao chapter.

Attacks on trade unions

The KMU criticized the Armed Forces’ Eastern Mindanao Command over the incident.

KMU Southern Mindanao Romualdo Basilio said Roselio’s case is not alone as they noted there were “sustained and successive attacks on trade unions and its leaders” in Compostela Valley.

This included the case of union farm workers under the Musahamat Farms who were interrogated last August 23 by soldiers inside the company office over the union’s alleged involvement in a torching incident in the plant committed by the New People’s Army.

Two officers of the union in Dole Stanfilco,namely Artemio Robilla (president) and Danilo Delegencia (board member) were slapped with murder charges over the death of their company supervisor. These union leaders told Davao Today that it was impossible to them to commit the crime since they were at the farms and the murder took place in another town.

Basilio blamed these harassments as part of the counter-insurgency campaign of Oplan Bayanihan, as he said the military’s campaign impinged workers’ rights to form unions and assert their rights.

“Harassment and threats are counter-insurgency techniques designed to diminish dissent in trade unions, where the right to protest against unfair working conditions and all manner of oppression is visibly exercised. This is a violation of the workers’ right to organize and freedom of association,” he said.

Eastern Mindanao Command spokesperson Colonel Lyndon Paniza rebuffed the labor group’s statement.

“It is better if they file cases in the proper bodies, and not just go out and make noises like rallies,” Paniza said in a television interview.

The 10th Infantry Division has not returned an e-mail inquiry by Davao Today on the 71st IB’s security policy in the mining area.

55 cases

The Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR) revealed there were 55 cases of trade union and human rights violations from January to June this year, consisting of attacks on civil liberties of some 164 workers.

The group cited that the most prevalent violation was fabrication of criminal charges with a total of nine cases against 20 unionists and union organizers. The charges were filed by either the companies or state forces. Four out of the nine charges have been dismissed.

CTUHR also noted some 15 unionists and organizers were arrested or detained on eight instances.  Some 138 others were threatened, harassed or intimidated by management or state police.

CTUHR coordinator for documentation and monitoring Arman Hernando said the figures showed that government’s term of industrial peace does not exist.

“The persistence of TUHR violations belie the government’s claim that industrial peace has been achieved.  Rather the continuing violation on civil liberties and rights at work, whether these are right to regular jobs, to organize themselves or right to collective bargaining, only show that the current government perpetuates and embeds an anti-union atmosphere,” Hernando said.

KMU’s Basilio said the only way for workers under threat is to remain undaunted.

“As millions of poor Filipinos confront low wages, rising unemployment, contractual and insecure work, coupled with dwindling social services, workers need genuine trade unions who will defend their interests now more than ever. We will resist Oplan Bayanihan and thwart all attempts of the capitalists in cahoots with this fascist state to attack our trade unions and our human rights as workers,” Basilio said.(

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