Namasufa president Vicente Barrios, in a picture taken during the International Labor Solidarity Mission (ILSM) fact-finding in May this year. He had earlier reported a threat to his life. (Contributed photo)

The president and three members of a union in Compostela Valley were shot by unidentified men on Friday, the latest in the series of attacks against activists, peasants and unionists in the Philippines. The shooting, according to a report by Davao Todays Cheryll D. Fiel, is likely related to the victims struggle to improve the wages and conditions of workers in one of the countrys largest banana-exporting companies.

DAVAO CITY — Four trade unionists were shot by still unidentified gunmen at around 5:30 a.m. today on their way to work at a banana plantation packing plant in Compostela town, Compostela Valley Province.

One of the victims, Vicente Barrios, is the president of Nagkahiusang Mamumuo sa Suyapa Farms (Namasufa). In June, Barrios disclosed the threats to his life, which he believed was the result of his and his union’s campaign for better wages and working conditions at the Fresh Banana Agricultural Corporation (FBAC), one of the countrys major banana producers.

Namasufa president Vicente Barrios, in a picture taken during the International Labor Solidarity Mission (ILSM) fact-finding in May this year. ( photo by Barry Ohaylan)

Barrios and three other members of the union — Jerson Lastimoso, Aldren Cortez and Donie Glen Sondon were wounded in the attack. They were brought to the Davao Regional Hospital in Tagum City two hours after the shooting.

Karapatan, the human-rights group that immediately responded to the attack, said at least two of the victims were in critical condition.

Namasufa is the union of workers of FBACs Packing Plant 90 in Compostela. It is an affiliate of Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), the leftist labor group. The victims are also members of Anakpawis, the party-list group.

“It is most unfortunate that what Boy Barrios has been fearing to happen for a year has finally came to pass, said Omar Bantayan, secretary-general for Southern Mindanao of the KMU. Do workers need to suffer the same fate as Barrios before this government listens and takes active action in protecting not only the workers democratic and political rights, but ultimately, their lives? he asked in a statement today.

We call on people to help in the campaign to protect the workers, the most productive sector in Philippine society,” Bantayan said.

Kelly Delgado, a spokesman for Karapatan in Southern Mindanao, described the attack as a frustrated massacre and one in the series of harassments, grave threats and intimidation of union leaders in the banana plantations of Compostela.

The banana plantations of New Alegria, Compostela Valley, have been wracked by conflict after workers complained of unfair labor practices. The workers held protests, such as this one, but the military came in to harass them. ( photo by Barry Ohaylan)

Delgado said his group holds the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo responsible for the attack on the unionists, which is just the latest in a series of killings and assaults on political activists, unionists, peasants, church workers, journalists and human-rights advocates.

The group said nearly 800 of these people had died allegedly in the hands of state security forces ever since Arroyo came to power in 2001. These killings, administration critics said, are part of the governments Oplan Bantay Laya designed to eliminate the Left, whether they operate legally and above-ground or not. The government has consistently denied this.

Delgado said Karapatan is organizing a fact-finding mission to the site of the assault early tomorrow, Saturday.

On June 10, armed men broke into Barrioss home in Valencia, in the village of New Alegria, Compostela town. Barrios and his wife and other family members were in the house when a masked man with a long firearm barged inside their house while another was waiting outside.

The men did not harm anyone but the victims panicked, Barrios said at the time.

The facade of Fresh Banana Agricultural Corporation (FBAC) Packing Plant 90, the plant were the four victims were headed early Friday morning. ( photo by Barry Ohaylan)

This incident is one in a series of harassments, grave threats, and intimidation of our union leaders, particularly in the banana plantations of Compostela managed by the Soriano-owned Fresh Banana Agricultural Corporation, Omar Bantayan, secretary-general of the KMU in Southern Mindanao, said in June.

Wherever new unions are formed and workers are asserting their rights, this pattern of harassment emerges in a futile attempt to discourage the workers from organizing, he said, adding that the Armed Forces themselves have engaged in union busting activities.

In September last year, the military summoned Barrios, accusing him of organizing for the communist New Peoples Army, a charge the unionist denied.

Bantayan said Barrios was being harassed for his work organizing workers at the plantation. The workers had been complaining of unfair labor practices by FBAC, which exports top-grade bananas to such countries as Japan. They accused the company of assigning contractors as employers of the plantation workers so FBAC can evade paying for its obligations to the workers, such as appropriate wages and benefits.

Barrios said he and the union had incurred the ire not just of FBAC but of the contractors as well. One of them, he alleged, had allegedly planned to have him killed.

The Department of Labor and Employment later ordered FBAC, not the contractors, to pay the workers their back wages but the company refused to pay its obligations, prompting the workers to hold protests against FBAC.

Namasufa had likewise complained that the military, specifically the 36th and 28th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army, was used by the company for union-busting activities.

Barrios (left) and Namasufa members have also demanded the release of Rep. Crispin Beltran of Anakpawis, who remains in jail in Manila after the Arroyo regime arrested him for rebellion charges. (Contributed photo)

One time, he told delegates of the International Labor Solidarity Mission in May, soldiers came to the plantation and tore down the protest banners the union had mounted in the company premises. The soldiers warned them that putting up the streamers were a violation of Presidential Decree 3000. The unionists only learned later, after consulting with their lawyers, that there was no such thing as PD 3000.

In September last year, at the height of the workers protests, elements of the 28th Infantry Battalion led by a certain 2nd Lt. Leoner, gathered all the workers to a meeting inside the FBAC Packing Plant 90. There, the soldiers accused Namasufa as having been organized by rebels and that the union was likewise recruiting members of the New Peoples Army.

Barrios told in an earlier interview that the harassments, the death threats against him and other union members were meant to destroy their union. “They are trying their best to intimidate us so we cannot continue with organizing work, he said. But our union is strong.”

Namasufa is one of the more successful unions in Southern Mindanao, if not the whole country. Largely through its negotiations and advocacy, it managed to raise the salaries of the workers of FBAC Packing Plant 90. Today, these workers receive the highest wages in the banana plantations in Compostela Valley province.

Their success has likewise encouraged other unions in other packing plants and banana plantations to form their own.

Because of this, according to Bantayan of the KMU, Namasufa is being considered a threat. But all Namasufa has been doing is to assert what is due its members under the law, Bantayan said in August. (Cheryll D. Fiel/

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