No guarantee of rights

Same as last year

The Philippines is one of the 10 worst countries in the world for working people

  • Violence and murders

  • Arbitrary arrests

  • State repression

Workers and their representatives in the Philippines remained particularly vulnerable to violent attacks, intimidation and arbitrary arrests. Trade unionists, maliciously red-tagged by President Duterte with even extra judicial killings sanctioned in his speeches, remained under immediate threat of the police and the army, which conducted targeted raids against them. Twenty-eight union representatives were illegally arrested and detained in March and December, and seven union leaders were killed between March 2020 and April 2021

The situation was likely to worsen for workers as the Anti-Terrorism Act, which came into force in July 2020, granted even more extended powers to the police and the military to attack and harass workers and trade union activists.

Workers' rights violations


On 7 February 2021, Leonardo Escala, president of the union for dock workers at ICTSI’s Manila terminal, NMPI-ICTSI, and his four-year-old niece were shot multiple times by assassins outside his home in Tondo, Manila. His murderers escaped on scooters. Escala died an hour later at a hospital, where his niece remained for treatment after being shot at in the back.


On 17 August 2020, 39-year-old Zara Alvarez was shot dead. Alvarez was coordinator in Bacolod City for Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT). She was among the 600 individuals tagged as “terrorists” in the proscription case filed in Manila Regional Trial Court in 2018. Her name and photo appeared in posters in the streets of Negros as one of the alleged ranking officials of the Communist Party of the Philippines. Alvarez and many others were stricken off the list in 2019. However, those on the list were still threatened or vilified by alleged state forces. To this day, no arrest has been made in relation to the murder.


State violence against trade unionists is endemic in the Philippines as President Duterte condones and even orders targeted attacks to arrest and kill them. In early March 2021, he pronounced in a public speech his “desire to kill all communists”. On 7 March 2021, state forces launched coordinated raids against trade union leaders and activists in the provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas and Rizal (Southern Tagalog). Five trade unionists were killed by the police, including Manny Asuncion and Michael Dasigao.

Right to civil liberties

On 10 December 2020 at dawn, simultaneous raids were conducted by the Philippine National Police in various residences of trade union organisers in Metro Manila, Philippines. With search warrants on hand issued by a city executive judge, the police forced their entries into the residences and planted pieces of firearms, ammunition and explosive devices. Six trade union activists were arrested: Dennise Velasco of Defend Jobs Philippines; Romina Astudillo, deputy secretary-general of Kilusang Mayo Uno-Metro Manila; Mark Ryan Cruz of the Regional Executive Committee of KMU-Metro Manila; Jaymie Gregorio Jr of KMU-Metro Manila; Joel Demate of Solidarity of Labour Rights and Welfare (SOLAR); and Rodrigo Esparago of Sandigang Manggagawa sa Quezon City (SMQC).

They were all charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives. While a local court issued a decision of dismissal of the charges against Esparago, to date the police are still blocking his release.

Right to civil liberties

In 2021, the Filipino government increased repression against the independent union movement, illegally arresting and arbitrarily detaining twenty-eight trade union leaders in total.

On 7 March 2021, police forces raided unions’ offices and trade unionists’ homes in separate operations in the provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas and Rizal, arresting eight, including Steve Mendoza, executive vice-president of the Organised Labour Association in Line Industries and Agriculture (OLALIA KMU) in Cabuyao, and Elizabeth Camoral, former union president of F-Tech and current spokesperson of Bayan-Laguna.

Right to civil liberties

On 4 March 2021 at 4:30 a.m., the Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group raided the residence of Ramir Edriga Corcolon and abducted him and brought him to Camp Vicente Lim in Laguna. Corcolon is the president of the San Pablo City Water District Employees Association (SPCWDEA) and the Water System Employees Response (WATER) secretary general.

The residence of Arnedo Sanggalang Lagunias, secretary of the Honda Workers Union, was raided on the same day at 6:00 a.m., and he was forcibly taken to the same camp. The police alleged to have found a handgun and explosives during the search.

Right to justice

On 3 July 2020, the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, signed the Anti-Terrorism Act, a law that gravely undermines civil liberties and endangers rights at work by placing workers, trade union activists and other human rights actors and defenders under pressure from the police, the military and other security forces and exposes them to more arbitrary arrests, indiscriminate and baseless attacks, harassment, intimidation and extrajudicial killings.

Under the Act, an “Anti-Terrorism Council” appointed by the president can order the arrest of anyone designated a “terrorist” without a warrant or due process and hold them for up to 24 days. The law applies as well to alleged “incitement” "by means of speeches, proclamations, writings, emblems, banners or other representations tending to the same end", opening the way to even greater suppression of all forms of dissent and civic and social activism. Conviction under the law carries a penalty of up to twelve years' imprisonment.

Prosecution of union leaders for participating in strikes

On 30 November 2020, police dispersed an indignation rally staged by Cebu workers at the Mactan Economic Zone to commemorate Bonifacio Day and denounce the government’s red-tagging of trade union activities. Five workers were arrested when police broke up the gathering: Dennis Derige, Myra Opada, Joksan Branzuela, Jonel Labrador and Cristito Pangan, all affiliated with Sentro ng Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (Sentro) and Partido Manggagawa (PM). They were detained for alleged violation of quarantine guidelines and disobedience. The five labour activists were freed after paying a fine of P1,000 (US$20)

Twenty-eight union representatives were illegally arrested, and seven union leaders killed in the Philippines, making it one of the worst countries for working people.Maria Tan / AFP

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