Arrest of Seven Union Activists on International Human Rights Day

Dear friends,

The global union organisation the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) marked this year’s December 10 International Human Rights Day with a call for the Philippines Government to stop it’s wave of attacks against trade unions.

The Philippines Government marked the same day with the dawn arrests of seven union leaders and labour rights defenders.

According to the ITUC-affiliated Kilusang Mayo Unon (KMU) union centre, simultaneous raids were conducted by the Philippine National Police on the homes of trade union organizers in Metro Manila. In each case, according to KMU, the police planted firearms, ammunition and explosive devices and arrested six trade union activists and a journalist.

The planting of weapons during raids is a long established practice of the police in the Philippines but has greatly increased under President Duterte. This has been confirmed in two recent reports by Human Rights Watch (March 2020) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (June 2020).

On 21 November the UK Minister for Asia Nigel Evans met with officials in Manila and announced that next year the UK Government would launch an “Enhanced partnership” with the Philippines. Examples of what this might mean included to “strengthen our links on defence, security and counter-terrorism.” The UK Government chose to issue this statement exactly a week after Ronnie Villamor, a freelance journalist covering a land dispute, was shot dead by soldiers in Milagros, on the island of Masbate. There have been an estimated 30,000 extrajudicial killings in the Philippines since 2016

CHRP condemns any relationship involving cooperation between the UK and the Philippines on counter terrorism when the Philippines government equates counter-terrorism with arresting and shooting journalists, trade unionists and others involved in peaceful democratic activities. The UK has previously exported surveillance equipment to the Philippines.

The Campaign for Human Rights in the Philippines (CHRP) has been campaigning against human rights abuses in the Philippines since 2006. We are particularly concerned with the current attacks by the Duterte Government on journalists, trade unionists, and environmentalists, with its long established practice of tagging people as terrorists and planting weapons during house raids.

Those arrested on 10 December were:

Dennise Velasco of Defend Jobs Philippines
Romina Astudillo, Deputy Secretary-General of Kilusang Mayo Uno-Metro Manila
Mark Ryan Cruz, Regional Executive Committee of KMU-Metro Manila
Jaymie Gregorio Jr. of KMU-Metro Manila
Joel Demate of Solidarity of Labor Rights and Welfare (SOLAR)
Rodrigo Esparago of Sandigang Manggagawa sa Quezon City (SMQC)
Lady Ann Salem, Communication officer of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT), and editor for online news site Manila Today

Last September Ramon Rescovilla, national vice-president of transport federation Piston and Jose Bernardino, organizer of zone workers and drivers of Workers’ Alliance in Region III (WAR 3 KMU) were also arrested.

CHRP is supporting the call of the KMU for trade unionists and labour rights defenders across the globe to:

1) Issue statements of support for the HRD7, calling for their immediate release and the dropping of all charges against them; Urge union members to sign the petition here.
2) Write to the Secretary Menardo Guevarra, Department of Justice to appeal the release of the HRDay7 and all detained unionists in the Philippines
3) Lobby the UK government FCDO to take action to urge the Duterte Administration to respect human rights in the Philippines.

We would like to request the British TUC to support this campaign and inform its affiliates about it.

Yours sincerely

Stuart Howard