Union worker’s death pinned on military harassment

May. 17, 2023
Trade unionist Susano Echavez Labora (Photo courtesy of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan – Southern Mindanao)

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – A labor union and community organizer in Davao died of a stroke in which his family blames army personnel who had interrogated and coerced him two days prior that triggered his stroke.

Susano Echavez Labora, 60 years old, a trade unionist who had organized banana plantation workers in Davao de Oro, died on May 6 after his family rushed him to the Southern Philippines Medical Center after suffering a stroke. He had already survived a previous stroke that forced him to work part-time for the labor movement.

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) Southern Mindanao in their statement said Labora was visited in his home in Barangay Tigatto on May 4 by three persons who claimed to be “admins” of the Philippine Army.

The three allegedly interrogated Labora for an hour asking about his work and whereabouts in the past three years as a union and community organizer.

Family members later heard their conversation as Labora was coerced Labora to act as their intelligence asset to get information from Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), a labor center that has been red-tagged and attacked by state forces.

Labora was asked to meet them again the next day, May 5, for further questioning.

“Ang sulti sa family sa atoa, napugos sya nga kitaon balik ang tulo sa may Buhangin asa gipick up sya og puti nga van para ipadayon ang questioning og clean up sa iyang pangalan. After ana, pagkahapon nagpansin na nila nga nagluya na siya ug hinay na mukaon,” said Rauf Sissay, coordinator of the urban poor group Kadamay in which Labora has also been involved in organizing work.

(The family told us that he was forced to meet the three people in Buhangin where he was picked up by a white van to continue the questioning and clean up of his name. That afternoon, we noticed he turned weak and did not want to eat.)

On that day, Labora was led into a van where he stayed for an hour. He was made to alight on a corner near his house and was given a half sack of rice and canned goods.

Sissay said the family noted that Labora felt distressed by the incident, and on May 6 he was suffering from chest pains and headaches that prompted his family to rush him to the hospital where he died.

Colleagues said that Labora has already alerted them as early as 2021 that his house has been frequented by suspicious individuals and vans.

KMU-Southern Mindanao spokesperson Paul John Dizon blamed the state security forces, who are “really capable and are doing groundwork” to silence progressive groups and labor unions.

Dizon said the harassment and attacks on union organizers and members have been intense since 2019 led by the government’s anti-insurgency campaign of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).

“Actually, before pa ni nahitabo kang Labora, duna nay daghang kaso nga susama ang pamaagi sa iyang experience no, naa tay mga workers nga ginapatawag sa mga barangay or sa kampo mismo aron kuno limpyohon ang ilang mga pangalan, or apil sa ipangutanan ang mga detalye sa organization. Sa among experience, kung di ka mu-cooperate magpadayon gyud ang mga pagpanghasi maong daghan sa mga member nato ang inactive tungod sa kahadlok,” Dizon explained.

(Before what happened to Labora, there have been several cases similar to his experience. Workers were summoned to the barangay office or straight to the military camp to ‘clear’ their names, or be subjected to interrogation about details of their organization. In our experience, if one does not cooperate at first, they will continue to harass you and that is why many union members turned inactive out of fear.)

The KMU-Davao office was recently alerted when a van parked outside of their office for over an hour and later a police auxiliary alighted from the vehicle.

Human rights groups have condemned the government’s red tagging and harassment of activists, labor groups, and other groups as part of the suppression of democratic rights. (davaotoday.com)

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