DAVAO CITY – More than 300 banana plantation workers in Pantukan town fear for their safety as an ongoing smear campaign against them attempts to link their union to the New People’s Army (NPA).
In a statement on Wednesday, February 17, Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) alleged that the Army’s 46th Infantry Battalion “have been actively campaigning against our affiliate union, Musahamat Workers Labor Union.”
The Musahamat Workers Labor Union (MWLU) is a 321-member group that is currently securing a certificate of election in Musahat Farms 2, a banana plantation located in Barangay Kingking, Pantukan, Compostela Valley province.
Romualdo Basilio, regional coordinator of the National Federation of Labor Unions (NAFLU) under KMU said, they are alarmed with the threats against the lives of trade unionist after the latest spate of killings in Pantukan town involving anti-mining advocates.
“(They are) launching a vilification campaign against the federation, our labor center, KMU and our leaders,” he said.
Basilio said this smear campaign jeopardizes the union’s bid to become the sole and exclusive bargaining agent (SEBA) in behalf of the rank and file workers in Musahamat Farms Inc.
Spying, black propaganda
Earlier on January 23, Esperidion Cabaltera, president of the MWLU, said there were soldiers who conducted a census in Purok Bag-ong Sugbo, near their union office.
“Soldiers asked the residents where the KMU members lived and where they maintained their headquarters,” he said.
He said the soldiers’ “peace and development outreach programs (PDOP)” included lectures to discourage workers not to support the KMU during the upcoming certificate of election.
“They are campaigning not to vote for our union. They said it will not be beneficial to the workers,” he said.
On February 14, soldiers from the 46th IB requested permission from the Purok Chairman of Bag-ong Sugbo, Roger Albopera to conduct another PDOP meeting with the locals, but launched another vilification campaign against KMU, said Cabaltera.
After three days, field workers of the plantation noted that unidentified men “ferried by a white Toyota Hi-Lux” mounted the following signs along the highway:
- KMU Suportahan aron kita matabangan –NPA-NPA
- Ihunong ang ilegal (sic) suspension sa mga trabahante! –KMU-NPA
- Iboto ang tinuod nga tinuod nga (sic) unyon KMU! –NPA
- (Support KMU. They will help us – NPA
- Stop illegal suspension of workers – KMU-NPA
- Vote for the genuine union KMU – NPA)
Cabaltera told Davao Today that, originally, their union was a “company union”.
“But later on, we noticed that the union is not for our interests so we affiliated with NAFLU-KMU on August 2013,” he said.
Cabaltera has been working at the plantation for seven years, and said it isn’t the first time that they were vilified.
Complaint before the ILO
On February 26 last year, KMU filed a complaint before the International Labor Organization to report the harassment against the MWLU officials including Cabaltero, Richard Genabe, Dionisio Gonazales, Jovito Socias, Geraldine Suico, Cenon Arcepulo and Bernardita Almero.
The complaint was addressed to ILO Program Officer Diane Lyn Respall, and was received by the Department of Labor and Employment Region 11.
It cited violations of the ILO Convention 87 on Freedom of Association, specifically on Articles 3 and 5, and on ILO Convention 98, on the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining.
The report read: “The officers of the Musahamat Farm 2 Workers’ Labor Union of Pantukan, Compostela Valley were harassed and made to pose as rebel surrenderees on August 29, 2014. This incident occurred following a torching incident at the Musahamat Farm 1 premises on August 22, 2014 by members of the New People’s Army.”
“The military connived with the company management to call the union to a meeting where five heavily armed soldiers of the 71st Infantry Battalion were waiting for them and interrogated them for four hours. Paraphernalia and tarpaulin of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) were placed in front of the union officers and they were videotaped and audiotaped while undergoing questioning by the soldiers led by a certain Lt. Arnaiz. Until present, soldiers are seen inside the company compound of Musahamat Farms, Inc,” it added.
Basilio said the military’s intervention of union-related affairs “deserve condemnation”.
“The conduct of the military is violative of the “Guidelines on the Conduct of the DOLE, DILG, DND, DOJ, AFP, and PNP Relative to the Exercise of Workers’ Rights and Activities”. In particular, Article VIII of the Guidelines provides for the respect for workers’ rights during AFP Internal Peace and Security Operations or operations of the police.
The said document reads: “In the conduct and exercise of AFP internal peace and security operations/PNP operations, the workers’ rights and civil liberties must be respected, protected and advanced at all times.”
Basilio said they are calling on the DOLE officials to immediately intervene and order the Army not to conduct any activity related to trade union affairs.
Cabaltera said they have 321 members of the union and hopes to win the certificate of elections.
Musahamat Farms Inc. was established in the Philippines in 2008 and is a subsidiary of Kuwait-based Sabel International Group W.L.L. (davaotoday.com)