Pasig Mayor Vico Sotto urges food company to drop charges vs striking workers

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Pasig Mayor Vico Sotto urges food company to drop charges vs striking workers
In this November 11 photo posted on Defend Job Philippines' Facebook page, Regent Food Workers Union leaders meet with Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto and Rep. Roman Romulo (Pasig City). Union supporters held an indignation rally outside Pasig City Hall.
Facebook / Defend Job Philippines

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 4:08 p.m.)  — Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto on Sunday called on Regent Foods Corp. to rethink following through on charges filed against striking workers arrested earlier this month, saying he will do everything in his power "to help these 23 regain [and] maintain their liberty." 

On his personal Facebook page, Sotto called on the corporation to rethink its stance on pushing through with the cases if they want to remain on good terms with the city. 

He said that 12 of the 23 arrested on November 9 when private security and police dispersed the striking workers' picketline have already posted bail. He said he talked to the 11 still in custody on Saturday, "and assured them that I will personally make sure that they are out on bail by Monday."

In his post, Sotto said the 20 members of the Regent Food Workers Union, two members of Defend Job Philippines and one bystander "who just went down to see what was going on" were "deprived of liberty as they fight for their rights as workers."

Sotto said that he asked the company to withdraw their charges filed against the 23 and that owners Irwin and Susan See said they needed time to consult their board. He said that after numerous follow-ups they would not drop their charges, opting instead to "trust the judicial process."

He also said that although the complaints were technically filed by private security hired by the company, Regent Food management have implied that the complaints were their decision. 

"[T]he people they have sued have recently lost their main source of income and are now even torn away from their families," he said.

"These people are not criminals; they do not have the goal of hurting you. They are fighting for what they believe to be just."

Defend Job Philippines, Regent Food Workers Union and the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Regent Food Corporation, in a statement on Sunday afternoon, welcomed Sotto's statement, saying his support would be "instrumental and beneficial in proving the justness of the aired grievances of the labor unions as they mounted their strikes in Pasig City and Taguig City."

They said that aside from the complaints filed against the 23, the company plans to file more cases against leaders and members of the unions.

"We will not be cowared and will continue the struggle until those who abused us for the longest time will not be prosecuted," they said.

"It is them that must be held accountable over their long list of abuses against their workers including decades-long of contractualization, low wages, unpaid benefits, unfair labor practices, violation on their rights to union and strike, runaway shop attempts, among others," they said.

November 9 dispersal

Defend Job Philippines, an alliance of labor unions, workers associations, urban poor groups and sectoral organizations, said in a separate statement that the November 9 dispersal at the "picketlines of the RFWU in Barangay Kalawaan in Pasig City and Barangay Tipas in Taguig City" was "illegal, violent and overkill."

It said "100 combined forces of goons, security guards, and Philippine National Police" violently apprehended them in the RFC compound, leaving some of the union members injured.

Sotto said he saw videos of security forces kicking union members on the ground. 

According to Defend Job Philippines, the following were arrested in the dispersal: 

1. Melanie Dela Cruz
2. Laarni Gabriel
3. Enrico Ramos
4. Christopher Distor
5. Virulyn Vesuyan
6. Aileen Batanon
7. Alex Batso
8. Gemma Alvarez
9. Aldo Sanchez
10. Crisanta Lagrisola
11. Benjamin Israel
12. Arnel Ocampo
13. Edmund Timbal
14. Cyril Pumaren
15. Generoso Soliven
16. Christopher Arañas
17. Basilio Cudiamat
18. Romel Agcaoili
19. Antonio Regacho Jr.
20. Bonifacio Ramirez
21. Gerardo Gaddi (Defend Job Philippines)
22. Carlo Levanta (Defend Job Philippines)
23. Ronald Montilla (tricycle driver)

It said a complaint of grave coercion, resistance and disobedience and slight physical injury was filed against the 23.

In an earlier statement, Defend Job Philippines said the workers went on strike to protest physical and verbal abuse of Regent Foods Workers Union officials.

It said workers also went on strike over the alleged contractualization of workers who have been working for the company "for almost 20 years now."

They also also complained of "low wages, non-implementation of Collective Bargaining Agreement and the non-recognition of the Regent Foods Corporation owners to the new leadership of the recognized labor union in the company."

Sotto said he would do everything in his power to assist the workers still in detention. Defend Jobs Philippines also said they intended to file charges "against the Regent management, PNP, security agency, and other individuals responsible."

Personally addressing the corporation's management, Sotto said: "You can continue with the labor dispute without sending the poor and powerless to jail! I condemn the misuse of your privileged position to suppress the rights of your protesting workers. If you want to have a healthy relationship with our city, I highly suggest you rethink your position."

In July, Sotto also called on a pearl shake company to respect the rights of its striking workers.

"This strike would not have happened if you didn't have employees who have been with you for more than 10 years but are still contractuals," he said in Filipino.

"There would not have been a strike if there were proper negotiations. Follow the law, respect the rights of your workers," Sotto also said then.

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