Unity Statement of the Labor Rights Defenders Network Calling for the Immediate Release of the #HRDay7
Condemn the intensifying crackdown on unionists and human rights defenders in the
Philippines! Free the Human Rights Day 7!
While the world commemorated and honoured International Human Rights Day, six labor organizers and a
journalist in the Philippines were arrested for obvious trumped up charges of illegal possession of firearms and
explosives after simultaneous raids of their residences at the dawn of December 10th. The seven — Dennise
Velasco, Lady Ann Salem, Mark Ryan Cruz, Romina Astudillo, Rodrigo Esparago, and Joel Demate — are being
unjustly and wrongly treated as criminals by the government, when all they have done is dedicate their time and
commitment to defend labor and human rights.
We condemn, in the strongest terms, the illegal arrests and criminalization of the Human Rights Day 7. The fact
that the illegal arresting spree of labor rights defenders by the police happened on International Human Rights
Day is a blatant mockery and an outright declaration by the Philippine government under Duterte’s regime of its
complete disregard for human rights. Instead of fulfilling its role to protect, respect, and realize human rights as
the principal duty-bearer, the Philippine government has further reinforced itself as the country’s leading
violator and abuser of human rights.
Since the passage of the Anti-Terror Law, the number of reported incidents of state-sponsored harassment, illegal
arrests and detentions, and killings of activists in the past months has reached staggering heights.. The threats
and terrors created by the Anti-Terror Law are real and not imagined; they are manifested in the intensified
crackdown and red-tagging of activists and labor rights defenders who help in amplifying the voices of the poor
and the workers through organizing, bargaining, and other legitimate forms of dissent.
The series of harassment, red-tagging, illegal arrests, and killings of activists and labor rights defenders in the
past months is not new. For the fourth consecutive year, the Philippines was tagged by the International Trade
Union Confederation as one of the top ten worst countries for the working people. Meanwhile, according to the
report of the Global Witness, the Philippines is the deadliest country in Asia and second deadliest in the world
for land and environmental defenders. The same report also noted the unbridled militarization in indigenous
communities as well as the rampant criminalization of activists, including the Lumad, to delegitimize their
communities’ concerns. Moreover, the Philippines also ranked seventh among the most dangerous countries for
journalists, according to the 2020 Global Impunity Index of the Committee to Protect Journalists. The attacks
against activists are happening across sectors, and in the past months, such abuses are alarmingly becoming
more frequent and intense. Much recently, the International Criminal Court has found “reasonable basis” to
believe that crimes against humanity have been committed in Duterte’s bloody war on drugs.
The attacks against labor rights defenders are not just attacks against individuals, but general attacks against
workers and human rights. The economic crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic has driven millions of
working people to poverty, joblessness, and suffering, resulting in growing discontent about the way the crisis is
being incompetently addressed by the government. Yet, when this discontent by the marginalized and
impoverished is transformed into collective fights for their rights and survival, their pleas and actions are
silenced, trampled, or in some cases, met with violence. The criminalization and red-tagging of labor rights
defenders are -ways to instigate fear among the workers and the poor and to prevent them from exercising their
right to organize, mobilize, and collectively express their demands.
Despite the efforts of the state to suppress the voices and resistance of the oppressed and the dissenters, we will
strengthen our fights for labor rights and human dignity. We will not be silenced in condemning the government
as long as workers, activists, and rights defenders are being vilified and attacked. As labor rights defenders, we
will continue to hold the government accountable for its trade union and human rights violations. We urgently
demand the Duterte government to:
● Free the Human Rights Day 7 as well as the other political prisoners and drop the trumped-up charges against
● Stop the attacks, criminalization, and red-tagging of activists and labor rights defenders!
● Defend labor rights and uphold human dignity!