Labor groups slam violent dispersal, detention of striking workers in Caloocan

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Labor groups slam violent dispersal, detention of striking workers in Caloocan
Ten members of the Cosmic Enterprises Independent Labor Union are in detention after police and security forces dispersed their picket line.
Facebook / Solidarity of Unions in the Philippines for Empowerment and Reforms

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 3:15 p.m.) — Two labor groups on Thursday slammed the detention of ten striking workers of Cosmic Enterprises in Caloocan City who had been in detention since Wednesday.

Bukluran ng Manggagawa sa Pilipinas said Thursday afternoon that the workers have already been ordered released.

"As of 2:30 p.m. today, the Caloocan Fiscal's office has issued a release order for the Cosmic 10," a representative of BMP told Philstar.com in a text message.  

"They were ferried back to Neo Barugo PNP Station in Camarin to process their release."

Dispersal and detention

According to an account from labor group Defend Jobs Philippines, the month-long picketline of members of the Cosmic Enterprises Independent Labor Union was violently dispersed by the police and the company security personnel. 

This resulted in the workers being detained for "violent assault" and "grave coercion" despite the workers peaeful protest, they said.

Several workers and labor organizers were also injured in the ensuing struggle. 

"The lawyers are working on [it] para mapalabas sila today," Defend Jobs Philippines told Philstar.com in an online exchange earlier Thursday.

"[But] none so far."

Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino said that the that the incident should have been under the jurisdiction of the Department of Labor and Employment and not the police.

'That's harassment'

In a phone call with Philstar.com, a representative of BMP said the workers were detained and were only brought before a prosecutor late on Wednesday night. 

"The prosecutor arrived past 10 p.m. na kagabi. We believe may problema na hindi sumunod sa proper procedure," the BMP representative said. 

(The prosecutor arrived past 10 p.m. already last night. We believe there is a problem with the fact that they did not follow the proper procedure.) 

Although regular office hours are from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., complaints can be filed before a prosecutor past office hours in inquest proceedings.

According to an explainer on inquest proceedings by BusinessWorld, "inquest investigations may be conducted at any time of the week, but only during the hours of the designated assignments of the assigned inquest prosecutors. They may be conducted at the police station or at the office of the inquest prosecutor."

In an earlier statement, BMP-Negros also called for accountability on the part of the Philippine National Police "for their violent course of action and for the immediate release of the illegally detained union members and labor organizers."

BMP also told said that the dispersal was not only harassment, but against the Labor Code of the Philippines as it violated the rule that police should stay at least 50 meters away from picket lines.

"All labor disputes are under the Department of Labor. Ibig sabihin no other state agency, no lower court  or even a higher court ay puwedeng makialam pagdating sa mga labor disputes. So yung interference ng pulis, [ay labag] sa regulations na iyon," BMP also said.

"That's harassment," they added.

"The strike was legitimate, the demands were legitimate, so dapat sa legitimate court."

What does the law say?

As for the "grave coercion" tag, Philippine jurisprudence holds that the elements of grave coercion under Article 286 of the Revised Penal Code constitute:

  • that a person is prevented by another from doing something not prohibited by law, or compelled to do something against his will, be it right or wrong;
  • that the prevention or compulsion is effected by violence, threats or intimidation; and
  • that the person who restrains the will and liberty of another has no right to do so, or in other words, that the restraint is not made under authority of law or in the exercise of any lawful right.

Article 264(d) of the Labor Code also reads: 

No public official or employee, including officers and personnel of the New Armed Forces of the Philippines or the Integrated National Police, or armed person, shall bring in, introduce or escort in any manner, any individual who seeks to replace strikers in entering or leaving the premises of a strike area, or work in place of the strikers. The police force shall keep out of the picket lines unless actual violence or other criminal acts occur therein: Provided, That nothing herein shall be interpreted to prevent any public officer from taking any measure necessary to maintain peace and order, protect life and property, and/or enforce the law and legal order.

"We are now waiting for final resolution from Caloocan fiscal whether a release order will be issued. Last night we argued with the fiscal that the case arose from a labor dispute and DOLE has sole jurisdiction," Luke Espiritu, BMP national chairperson, told Philstar.com in a text message. 

Workers detained

The ten workers were detained at the Judicial Complex of the Caloocan City Hall. 

According to Defend Jobs Philippines, the following were arrested in the scuffle: 

  1. Gilbert Benlot
  2. Hernani Abirina
  3. Arrius Bocal
  4. Dominic Dilao
  5. Alvin Jimenez
  6. Lorenzo de Vera
  7. Chadli Sadorra
  8. Rafael La Vina
  9. Richard Christopher Kahulugan
  10. Roy Bacalso

BMP said they "definitely" intended to file counter-charges.

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