Agricultural workers file complaint vs Philippine government before ILO

Rhodina Villanueva - The Philippine Star
Agricultural workers file complaint vs Philippine government before ILO
The Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA-Federation of Agricultural Workers) and National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) led the filing of the complaint against President Duterte’s administration.
Andy G. Zapata Jr., file

MANILA, Philippines — Agricultural workers have filed a formal complaint at the International Labor Organization (ILO) headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland against labor rights violations allegedly committed by the Duterte administration since 2016.

The Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA-Federation of Agricultural Workers) and National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) led the filing of the complaint against President Duterte’s administration.

“As anti-communist witch hunts by state armed forces intensify, so do false accusations against labor unionists spread,” UMA chairman Antonio Flores said.

For his part, NFSW secretary-general Butch Lozande said “agricultural workers are framed as guerrilla fighters, for which we are vilified, harassed, arrested and even killed. The assault on our freedom of association has been an assault on our lives and our livelihood.”

UMA and NFSW’s complaint noted that the most unjustly accosted and extrajudicially murdered workers in the Philippines came from the agricultural sector.

The groups said peasants still make up the majority of the population and their status as low-wage agricultural workers was a direct result of land-grabbing facilitated by bogus land-reform programs such as the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program that Duterte continued to implement.

“The struggle of the Filipino agricultural worker is two-fold: one, for living wages and better working conditions and two, for land withheld from them. In pursuit of these, agricultural workers form unions and associations, availing themselves of political rights – especially the right to unionize as guaranteed by the Philippine Constitution to help them secure their economic rights,” said Flores.

“But the Duterte regime has gone full fascist on agricultural workers’ organizations, scheming to maintain slave wages and landlessness for landlords and corporations to make the most of their misery,” he said.

The complaint noted that of the political killings among workers, agricultural workers numbered the most.

“Agri-worker unions and associations have been surveillanced and red-tagged as fronts of the New People’s Army. State agents would go as far as accuse members of UMA and NFSW as terrorists, fabricating legal charges against them on the strength of evidence planted by the police and the military themselves. Leaders have been suppressed while members are coerced to disaffiliate, if not killed,” Lozande stressed.

“We have deemed it urgent to lodge our complaint at the ILO. Complaints filed in local courts are met not only with inaction, but with violent retaliation by local authorities,” Flores said.

“We urge the ILO to consider our complaint with the same urgency with which we have gathered the necessary data to write it. As the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigates Duterte’s crimes against humanity in the conduct of his fake war on drugs, may the ILO find him culpable of labor rights violations that have resulted in the irretrievable loss of lives,” the two groups said.

Beyond reproach

Meanwhile, Sen. Imee Marcos said Filipinos would be naive to believe that the ICC is beyond reproach, citing the way the court accepts funding and selects its judges.

“If the ICC decides to investigate President Duterte, it will not be free of foreign meddling. The court is largely European-funded at a time it is short on funding, and has so far decided mostly on cases involving Africans. Less economically and politically powerful nations are at a disadvantage,” Marcos said.

She cited the Washington-based think tank American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI) which identified the ICC’s major funders as the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Spain, Croatia, Japan, Mexico and Australia.

Pressure by the United States could also be applied on countries that it continues to defend militarily, despite its not being a state party to the Rome Statute that established the ICC, the AEI said.

“It is interesting to note that before she retired last week, former chief prosecutor (Fatou) Bensouda pushed to investigate President Duterte at the heels of his announcement that the suspension of the Visiting Forces Agreement would be extended,” Marcos said. – Cecille Suerte Felipe

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