An international fact-finding mission says the military is being used by plantations in Southern Mindanao to harass and intimidate workers from forming or joining unions.
DAVAO CITY (davaotoday.com) – A fact-finding mission composed of delegates from several countries questioned on Friday the Philippine military’s participation in union-busting and intimidation of workers in plantations in Southern Mindanao.
The delegates, who completed on Friday a four-day fact-finding mission in a banana plantation in Compostela Valley province, said the military is being used by plantations to harass workers, particularly when the workers’ union is engaged in campaigns to improve wages and work conditions.
“We’ve heard complaints by the workers about soldiers present during union negotiations,” said Holly Patterson, a delegate from Australia. At one point, she told reporters in a press conference on Friday, soldiers confiscated the original copy of the union’s collective bargaining agreement.
The mission, called the International Labor Solidarity Mission, is part of a nationwide investigation by labor groups worldwide to look into the killings and harassments of leaders and members of labor unions in the Philippines. Separate teams went to provinces in the Visayas and Luzon.
“Workers told us how the military called them to a meeting inside the (banana) packing house, and that they were told not to join the union, that organizing a union was the act of rebels, that they should not ask for higher wages lest the company would close,” said Kelti Cameron, a delegate from the Immigrant Workers Center of Canada.
“Why is the military intervening and trying to deny the workers’ basic rights?” she asked.
“It was shocking to see such poor working conditions on the plantations, and at the same time hear the stories of workers who face intimidation and threats by the military just because of their efforts to organize unions and better their situation,” said Cameron.
Several workers from four banana packing plants owned by the Fresh Banana Agricultural Corporation told the delegation of several instances of military abuses in 2004 and 2005. The delegates uncovered seven human-rights violations cases, with as many as 670 victims belonging in four communities.
The mission identified the perpetrators as the 36th Infantry Battalion and the 28th Infantry Battalion, which were assigned in Compostela Valley province from 2004 to 2005.
These violations, the mission said, include threats, harassments, intimidation, and restriction, denial and prohibition of the right to form union and the right to strike.
“Workers were interrogated by soldiers who would ask them why would they want higher wages when they didn’t even finish college,” said Danny Jacinto, president of the Nagkahiusang Mamumuo sa Osmena (Namaos), the union of FBAC’s Packing Plant 98 which is affiliated with the Kilusang Mayo Uno. At one point, Jacinto said, soldiers harassed him very early in the morning; they went to his house, asked him questions, and pasted posters on his house that depicted party-list groups, one of them the KMU-backed AnakPawis, as demons.
Labeling Namaos and the KMU as communist fronts was a common accusation by the military, Jacinto said. The military have accused Namaos of giving its union dues to the New People’s Army, a charge the union vehemently denied.
Romualdo Basilio, a delegate who is also the chairman of the KMU for Southern Mindanao, said the pattern of military harassment was clear. “Whenever workers begin to organize themselves into genuine, militant trade unions, the military steps in to threaten and intimidate workers into not organizing,” he said.
Namaos is considered one of the most successful unions in the region. Mainly because of the strong union, which successfully prevented attempts by the company to break it up, its members in Packing Plant 98 receive the highest wages and the most benefits compared to workers in other banana plantations, most of whom receive a measly 150 pesos per day compared to the 217 pesos Namaos workers are receiving.
“The military acts as the goons of the plantation owners,” said Jacinto of Namaos. “They are being used to destroy our union so that the capitalists will gain more profit.”
The bananas produced by FBAC’s Packing Plant 98 are sold to Dole, which in turn sells it in Japan, the country’s biggest banana exporter.
The military in Southern Mindanao has tagged the KMU as a communist front. It has, in the past, denied allegations of abuses committed against plantation workers. When reached for comment, Mayor Rey Castillo of Compostela town, in Compostela Valley procince, told davaotoday.com that the allegation of military harassment of workers is “mere rumor.”
Last year, 31 leaders, members or sympathizers of labor unions were murdered, allegedly by state security forces. Activists have been complaining about the spate of killings and harassments directed at peasants and workers.
Most of the country’s bananas for export are produced in Southern Mindanao. The Philippines is among the top five producers of bananas in the world. (davaotoday.com)