No guarantee of rights

Same as last year

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

  • Violence against trade unionists
  • Arrests of trade unionists
  • Union busting

Workers and their representatives in the Philippines remained particularly vulnerable to red-tagging, violent attacks, abductions and arbitrary arrests. Workers across many sectors still faced significant obstacles when attempting to form trade unions.

Workers' rights violations

Violent attacks on workers

Alipio “Ador” Juat, a workers’ rights advocate and an organiser of the workers’ union Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), and Elizabeth “Loi” Magbanua, also a full-time organiser for KMU, disappeared in Manila, the Philippines, on 3 May 2022. They had a meeting in Barangay Punturin, Valenzuela, with other labour organisers. They left after the meeting ended at around 7pm and have not been seen since.

Loi and Ador had recently helped organise a campaign for the immediate payment of 10,000 Philippine Pesos (US$182) unemployment assistance for displaced workers and had been building a network to fight demolition threats in the Parola Compound in Tondo, Manila.

Two more prominent organisers of labourers went missing on 3 July. Elgene “Leleng” Mungcal and Ma. Elena “Cha” Cortez Pampoza had both been subject to red tagging, which refers to harassment and persecution because of suspected communist tendencies, death threats and surveillance because of an individual’s activism.

Family members of Ador and Loi filed a petition for a writ which was granted on 22 August by the Supreme Court. The two were believed to be victims of extrajudicial arrest and detention, and the military were thought to be behind their disappearance.

In September, the Court of Appeal ruled that some military officers and other officials were “accountable for the enforced disappearance and continued disappearance of Elizabeth ‘Loi’ Magbanua and Alipio ‘Ador’ Juat”.

Violent attacks on workers

Dyan Gumanao and Armand Dayoha were abducted on 10 January 2023 at a port in Cebu, the Philippines, and were detained by state security forces in a resort before they were rescued on 16 January 2023.

Gumanao and Dayoha were forced into an SUV and blindfolded by suspected elements of state security forces. According to the victims’ accounts, while they were being detained, they underwent interrogation and questioning about their political activities.

On 15 January, Dyan Gumanao was able to send information on where they were being held. On 16 January, family members and colleagues of the couple were able to rescue them.

Dayoha, 27, is an instructor at the University of the Philippines Cebu and organiser for the Alliance of Health Workers, while Gumanao, 28, is the project coordinator of the Community Empowerment Resource Network and regional coordinator of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers.

Weeks before the incident, both had confided to their families and colleagues that they were under surveillance and had been harassed by people they believed were state agents.

Right to civil liberties

On 27 September, Kara Taggaoa and Larry Balbuena were served an arrest warrant and pre-trial order by the Quezon City Regional Trial Court in the Philippines for the alleged robbery of a police officer during a July 2020 rally. Kara Taggaoa was then the spokesperson of the League of Filipino Students and at the time of her arrest was the international affairs officer of Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU). Larry Balbuena was president of the Pasiklab Operators and Drivers Association (PASODA).

On 10 October 2022, the two trade unionists were arrested on criminal charges of “direct assault and robbery”. They pleaded not guilty and were granted bail.

They were re-arrested when leaving the court under a fresh charge of direct assault against a police officer during the same rally in 2020. Both were taken to the custodial facility at Camp Karingal, where they were presented with an un-served arrest warrant, issued on 7 December 2021, and their ID cards were confiscated. Both complaints were filed by Police Chief Master Sergeant Feliciano Evangelio of Quezon City Policy Department who had accused the 2020 protesters of inflicting injury and robbing police officers. They were released on bail on 11 October. Their trial dates have not been scheduled at the time of writing. The charges entail long prison terms.

Union busting

The United Rank and File Employees of J&T Express-FFW (URFE-J&T-FFW) in Laguna, the Philippines, staged a three-day strike beginning on 4 June 2022 to protest the illegal suspension and subsequent dismissal of the union’s president, Jesher Fariñas, based on trumped-up charges. J&T Express is a global logistics company that provides personal delivery services.

Prior to the union president’s dismissal, workers at the enterprise had complained of the non-payment of overtime and the night differential, and a reduction in benefits. The union followed all legal procedures, including due notice and a strike vote, before staging the strike on 4 June in which 300 union members took part.

A heavy police presence and interference marred an otherwise peaceful strike. This was despite existing labour laws that prohibit the presence of state security forces within 50m of the strike area. The union leaders were also badgered by police, who demanded rally permits from the striking workers, even though these were not a legal requirement.

The country’s National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB) eventually intervened and tried to mediate between the two parties.

On 6 June, after six hours of dialogue, the union and the company agreed to a speedy voluntary arbitration process to determine whether the union’s president was illegally dismissed. Both parties also agreed to technical assistance to settle the issues relating to unpaid overtime and the night differential, the reduction in benefits, and unpaid allowances.

Management agreed to welcome back all striking workers and to refrain from retaliatory action.

In the Philippines, trade unionists faced attacks, abductions and arrests, making it one of the 10 worst countries in the world for working people.Ten Aljibe / AFP

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