Sentro lauds Walden Bello for his ‘consistently principled politics, integrity, courage and dignity to fight the crooked powers that be’

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Rep. Walden Bello

WALDEN Bello is now an ex-member of the House of Representatives or the lower house of Congress, the state institution known for its trappings of power and privileges, which he did not indulge in, anyway, when he was still a congressman. He could have finished his third and last term until June next year either by constantly praising and blindly obeying President Aquino or by just keeping quiet while enjoying the perks of his office, even when he sees something wrong with the P-Noy government.

But, no, Walden is not a political leech nor a lapdog of anyone who does not have or no longer have the moral high ground to govern the nation. He belongs to a still very rare breed and very small group of public officials – hopefully, their tribe will increase sooner – who truly think and act for the good of the people. It is a genuine concern for the “masa” – not the perfunctory “kayo ang boss ko” label repeated ad nauseam in live TV broadcasts, not the pretentious pledge of “dating mahirap, kaya makamahirap,” and not the deceitful “makamasa” slogans that politicians routinely use during elections to win votes.

Walden does not look and speak like a “masa” but his politics and advocacies are certainly for the “masa” as his grassroots, activist and principled politics attest to. It is oceans apart from the prevailing elite politics as well as the politics centered on party bureaucrats and politics of expediency, a euphemism actually of opportunist politics.

Thus, not surprisingly, but with a heavy heart, Walden withdrew his support for Aquino last March 11 by irrevocably resigning as the principal Akbayan party list representative in Congress. While the immediate trigger was Aquino’s speech a day before in which he brazenly washed “his hands of responsibility of (the Mamasapano) mission he planned and executed” – there were also a series of earlier events that piled up which made that Jan. 25 tragedy the proverbial last straw for Walden, an erstwhile staunch but critical supporter of Aquino.

These include his vigorous appeals to Aquino not to lose the moral high ground of his administration’s much vaunted “tuwid na daan” drive and “reform agenda” by sacking Director General Alan Purisima, who was still then the PNP chief and not yet suspended, for his several plunder and graft cases. In the same vein, Walden implored Aquino to fire at least four of his Cabinet members who are mired in anomalies or incompetence: Vice President Jejomar Binay, the government’s housing czar and presidential adviser on OFW concerns for even large-scale and decades-long corruption; Budget Secretary Florencio Abad of the PDAF and DAP infamy; Agrarian Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes for his dismal failure to fulfill CARPER; and Proceso Alcala for being a lame duck agriculture secretary.

Walden likewise suggested the shaking up of other executive departments including the DOTC, DOE and DFA as part of the needed revamp and improvement of the bureaucracy. The goal of these and other related efforts is good governance or where the government is able to honestly and effectively serve the people (whom Aquino claims to be his “bosses”) and to institute necessary measures to achieve the elusive genuine inclusive growth – amid the successive GDP “growths” under Aquino but still do not benefit the vast majority of the Filipinos.

But lo and behold! Bello was instead castigated, ostracized and disowned by the President and the government he sincerely wanted to succeed, as well as by his party leadership he thought shared his passion and commitment to truly serve the people and advance progressive agenda.

Sentro expresses its unequivocal and unwavering support to Walden Bello’s well-intentioned proposals and constructive criticisms – emphasizing that no amount of rebuking or disowning him will prevent Sentro from expressing its support to him – as long as what he conveys is for the benefit of the vast majority of people, and not a few privileged ones. Walden should have been thanked for all his efforts.

Indeed, prior to the Mamasapano tragedy, Walden honestly and persistently believed – even amid the growing doubts – in Aquino’s credibility and big potentials. Even at present, he considers Aquino as “a decent fellow untainted by corruption,” but this has been “overwhelmed by his pigheadedness, loyalty to and tolerance of corrupt and incompetent subordinates, inability to appreciate the urgent need for massive social reform, and his allowing the United States undue influence on our foreign policy and internal security policy.”

Walden said that it “seems that the President’s idea of an ally is someone who follows Malacañang’s line without question and without hesitation. It seems that an ally raising legitimate questions and criticisms is seen as sleeping with an enemy.” This is despite his unflinching support to the administration’s core legislative agenda, including the now controversial Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

Hence, Walden’s decision to quit his congressional post and privileges – as indignation to Aquino’s intransigent stand against meaningful social change as well as Aquino’s double standards and self-righteousness; and, unfortunately, in deference to the continued and unwavering support to the Aquino administration of his party’s leadership – is a paragon of statesmanship, consistently principled politics, integrity, courage and dignity to engage his adversaries head on.

Sentro and its member organizations are firmly behind you, Kasamang Walden. Mabuhay ka! Mabuhay ang prinsipyadong pulitika!

Congressional investigation puts Citra Mina in hot water; More exposes likely as the investigation continues

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Yesterday, 18 March 2015, the fighting workers of Citra Mina marked another milestone after they succeeded in forcing the company to face a congressional inquiry about what Congressman Walden Bello termed as its “criminal behavior”.

Citra Mina is now facing strong pressures not only from government agencies, but also from its fellow fishing and fish processing companies in Gensan. These companies fear of being dragged into the mess which Citra Mina itself has created.

Josua Mata, Secretary-General of Sentro, emphasized that the labor conflict could potentially undermine the country’s privileges under the EU GSP Plus that was recently approved. This privilege – mainly in the form of free tariff for fish products in the member nations of the European Union – being enjoyed by the fishing companies in Gensan will be jeopardized if they are found violating the required labor standards in the course of the ongoing congressional investigation.

No less than Gensan Councilor, Brix Tan, scion of Marfenio Tan, a tuna magnate in General Santos and a former president of the Socsksargen Federation of Fishing Associations and Allied Industries Inc. based in General Santos, who attended the congressional investigation had expressed alarm over the gravity of the impact of this inquiry on the entire fishing industry.

This congressional investigation could expose the evils of a long-time customary practices of labor only contracting, blacklisting, lack of required social protection for the fishing workers and the enslaving sacada system, among others, by the fishing industry in Gensan. These illegal activities are being undertaken by the fishing companies in Gensan with impunity.

Usec Rebecca Chato has already announced that DOLE is now preparing a department order to correct this unjust customary practice in the fishing industry.

The House of Representative Labor Committee held its first public hearing on the House Resolution No. 1746 “directing the Committee on Labor and Employment to conduct an inquiry, in aid of legislation, on the alleged violations of labor laws by the Citra Mina Group of Companies management that infringe on the workers right to self-organization and management’s failure to observe existing occupational health and safety standards in work place.” Rep. Walden Bello and Ibarra Gutierrez III, both of Akbayan, filed the resolution last 4 December 2014.

The hearing succeeded in accomplishing the objective of exposing Citra Mina as a violator of the labor laws and in getting the commitment of the committee on labor to continue with the hearing sometime in May or June this year. Congressman Walden Bello, during this same hearing, described Citra Mina as a criminal corporation.

In addition, the union had managed to convince the Chair of the Labor Committee that the fishing industry’s “customary practice” of having “joint ventures” – a euphemism for the cabo system which has been outlawed by the Labor Code – needs to be investigated further.

***

The hearing started at 3:00 PM with Walden Bello lambasting Citra Mina for its “criminal behavior” – its systematic violations of labor rights, labor standards and even maritime rules.

This was followed by Father Rey Ondap of General Santos City, representing the Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez of Marbel, who reminded the Labor Committee that “the unions are a mouthpiece for the struggle of social justice” (Laborem Exercens). And true enough, he said that the workers of Citra Mina who are trying to build their union are present in the hearing to explain a whole litany of human rights violations of Citra Mina: violation of freedom of association; violation of labor standards; rampant use of precarious work including the cabo system; slave- like condition in boats; deaths on high seas; and blacklisting.

Atty. Emil Paña, the legal counsel of the union, explained how Citra Mina systematically disguises its employee-employer relations. He used the case of Love Merben II to illustrate how Citra Mina uses dummies that act as “owners” of fishing vessels that it uses, even if such “owners” do not really have the means to run a multi-million peso enterprise.

Usec Rebecca Chato of DOLE made it perfectly clear that the DOLE maintains its position that both the fishing vessel owner and the fishing company are solidarily liable for all labor standards violations. She further explained that it is precisely why DOLE is now crafting a new DO that would develop an inter-agency approach in enforcing labor standards in fishing vessels. (Note: The drafting of this DO was initiated after we asked DOLE to investigate the deaths on high seas.)

Only 2 of the union’s 4 leaders were able to give their testimonies. Clyde Batelante, one of the 43 Citra Mina fishers we rescued from Ternate Island last February, spoke about his experiences in detention after his boat, Love Merben II, was captured by the Indonesian Navy. Jumary Arevalo, the union president, explained how Citra Mina violated their freedom to self-organization when they were illegally terminated to bust the union.

However, the chairman of the Labor Committee had pledged to allow them to give their testimonies during the next hearing.

In the next hearing, the Chair said that the boat captain of Love Merben II would be invited. The heads of MARINA and BFAR will also be invited.

The Chair also explained that in the next hearing, Rep. Raymond Mendoza of TUCP Party List will take the cudgels for the Citra Mina workers as Rep. Walden Bello has resigned as the Akbayan representative.

The Philippines Should Stop Being US’s Pawn and Warfront

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Statement on International Women’s Day:

Today, over five hundred (500) women gathered early in front of the University of Sto. Tomas to mark the International Women’s Day. This was the starting point of their march towards Mendiola where women affiliated with the World March of Women (WMW)-Pilipinas demanded accountability of the highest in command of the recent tragedy in Mamasapano.

The women’s march was joined by human rights groups Amnesty International, the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA), labor groups such as SENTRO and Partido ng Manggagawa, all calling for peace and self-determination in Mindanao and an end to the intervention in national affairs by the United States.

“The death of transwoman Jennifer Laude in the hands of a US soldier and the death of the child Sarah Panangulon in Mamasapano, are in the same context of US wars,” stated Jean Enriquez, Philippine Coordinator of the WMW. “Olongapo murder suspect Joseph Scott Pemberton’s ship USS Peleliu ensures amphibious US presence in the Western Pacific, while the PNP SAF operation responsible for Sarah’s murder was clearly sponsored by the US war on terror,” she added.

The group underscored the economic interest of the US in Mindanao in particular, the Philippines and the region in general, as the US “pivot to Asia” strategy started in 2011, or the transfer of military resources to the region, coinciding with a Trans-Pacific Partnership Economic agreement. As a result, “women, children, the environment are considered collateral damages,” according to the WMW statement.

“Jennifer’s murder is a hate crime committed by a US soldier who enjoys the protection of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA),” declared the group. “Even in court, the unequal relations manifest in allowing the attendance of several US military personnel while limiting Jennifer’s side to only her immediate family and her lawyers,” said their statement.

Carrying roses to symbolize their call for peace, the women also wore pink shirts with the slogan “Pagkain, hindi Bala.” They were demanding that President Benigno Aquino III be also held accountable for his role in the tragedy, as reports clearly pointed to his direct knowledge of the operation, beginning with the appointment of suspended PNP Chief Alan Purisima and strengthened by their correspondence. “Evidently, the only consideration of this operation was the US’s desire to get Marwan and show a positive development in its war on terror, without regard for the Muslim communities that would suffer as well as the peace process that would be compromised,” stated Virgie Suarez, Chairperson, of KAISA KA.

The WMW and supporting organizations lamented that the ongoing military offensive already displaced 8,130 families, with women bearing the most of the hardships and dangers that go with the need to evacuate. Young women and children become more prone to trafficking and prostitution.

They called for a political and economic solution, not war, to resolve the problems in the area. WMW also called for an end to the VFA and all agreements that “tie the country to an unequal defense relation with the US and make the government an accomplice to the US war crimes in its unending quest for world dominance.”

The program in Mendiola ended with the women’s movement’s emblematic song “Bread and Roses” as the women leaders demanded justice for all victims of US militarism. Similar marches were conducted by WMW members in Cavite, Cebu, Davao, and Gen. Santos City.

Participating organizations included Focus on the Global South, Freedom from Debt Coalition, Partido Lakas ng Masa (PLM), LBT groups, anti-trafficking groups Action against Violence and Exploitation, Inc. (ACTVE) and CATW-AP, prostitution survivor groups Bagong Kamalayan and Buklod, migrant groups such as Center for Migrant Advocacy (CMA).

Women’s organizations present were Kababaihan-Pilipinas, KAISA-KA, KAMP, the indigenous women’s group LILAK, Piglas Kababaihan, Pambansang Koalisyon ng Kababaihan sa Kanayunan (PKKK),SARILAYA, Transform Asia, WomanHealth Phils., Women’s Legal and Human Rights Bureau (WLB), Welga ng Kababaihan, Women’s Crisis Center, Youth and Students Advancing Gender Equality (YSAGE), and World March of Women – Pilipinas.

SENTRO brings home 43 fishermen left by Citra Mina in Indonesia; demands compensation for all the ‘abandoned’ as Congress sets to investigate Citra Mina

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43 fishermen detained in Indonesia arrive in Manila airport

 

WELCOME home and let the “fight” begin.

After almost six months of being abandoned by their employer – the giant fishing firm Citra Mina – and left to rot in a detention facility in Ternate Island, Indonesia, the 43 fishermen are now in Manila before going back to General Santos City.

The “abandonados” arrived onboard Cebu Pacific flight 5J 760 at 5:30 a.m. today in NAIA from Jakarta bringing with them harrowing experience following the seizure of their boat Love Merben II off the coast of Indonesia for alleged illegal fishing last Aug. 26.

“Mission accomplished,” Herbert Demos, SENTRO staff who went to Indonesia as part of the rescue team, announced. “All Filipino crew of Love Merben II accounted for,” he reported.

The rescue campaign was led by the national labor center SENTRO and the global union IUF, and in coordination with the Department of Foreign Affairs DFA).

Demos arrived in Ternate Island on Feb. 20 to ensure that all 43 fishermen are issued their tickets and travel documents. What he witnessed in the island shocked him.

“I am poor, and was raised in poverty, but I cannot eat what our compatriots were eating in Ternate. The rice they ate had more rice weevils (lice) than rice grains, but they had no choice. I learned that sometimes they quarreled over food because of extreme hunger. What is painful, too, is that they were never visited by our consulate personnel in Manado,” Demos said.

SENTRO asserted that ultimately Citra Mina is to blame for all that the fishermen have gone through.

“Citra Mina should compensate all the fishermen for the whole time they were stuck in Ternate Island,” Josua Mata, SENTRO secretary general, stressed, adding that “Citra Mina should also be investigated for its alleged involvement in illegal fishing.”

Rep. Walden Bello of Akbayan has pushed for a congressional inquiry on Citra Mina’s alleged labor and human rights violations and its culpability in what had happened to the 43 fishermen. A hearing was set on March 18.

This morning, the repatriated fishermen are scheduled to meet with Jesus Yabes, DFA’s Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs.

They are set to fly to General Santos tomorrow morning where a big welcome celebration awaits them.

SENTRO is the national labor center Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa.The Geneva-based IUF is the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations. Its Asia-Pacific regional office extended much needed help in the rescue efforts.

The 43 abandoned fisherfolk are Felix G. Ababon Jr., Reynaldo A. Ano-os, Joemer G. Ababon, Dennis A. Ave, Clayde G. Batelante, James D. Bermil, Julie A. Curay, Jonald B. Caliso, Arnel Ariel D. Cezar, Aries S. Cezar.

Marjun S. Columnas, Alvin S. Flora, Jovanie S. Flora, Warren S. Flora, Leonardo L. Flores, Marcelino E. Gumera, Eugene S. Hunan, Loreno B. Ignacio, Jhon James Q. Inantay, Adonis A. Janohan.

Cecilio S. Lerin Jr., Antonio B. Robledo, Joe Michael F. Maambong, Jomer S. Mongosera, Edsel M. Mamugay, Jerwin T. Mahinay, Carl Philip S. Maybuena, Edilito G. Maybuena, Alberto S. Pasco, Leopoldo P. Poliquit Jr.

Antonio R. Quiban Jr., Harry A. Redoble, Joey R. Robledo, Jojo S. Ricafort, Archie S. Senina, Noel S. Walog, Kevin Mark R. Saturos, Emmanuel S. Senina, Roberto C. Senina, Edimar S. Sinena, Edgar S. Sigudan, Rolando S. Sayson, and Rodel D. Toyco.

43 Filipino fisherfolk abandoned in Indonesia by Citra Mina to be rescued

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Citra Mina workers in Indonesia

 

FORTY-THREE Filipino fishermen who were abandoned by Citra Mina when their boat, Love Merben II were apprehended off the coast of Indonesia last year, will be repatriated next week after an intense “rescue campaign” led by SENTRO and IUF.

Families and co-workers of the imprisoned fishermen bemoaned that Citra Mina, who they believe financed the fishing expedition of Love Merben II, did not even lift a finger to assist the hapless workers.

Citra Mina is the giant General Santos City-based fishing firm and the country’s second biggest tuna exporter under the Philfresh and other brands. It is notorious for not respecting workers’ rights. Owned by the wealthy Lu family, the company started to hog the headlines when it illegally terminated 237 of its workers in August 2013 as part of its effort to bust the union.

Josua Mata, Secretary General of SENTRO, described the mass termination as a “brazen and illegal move to bust the fledgling union – a blatant violation of the workers’ right to organize.”

The cases against the Citra Mina management are still pending.

The SENTRO also accuses Citra Mina of perpetrating alleged “human rights violations,” including purported “disappearances” of workers who complain of company abuses.

The Love Merben II was seized by Indonesian authorities last Aug. 26 and the crew members, who were reportedly undocumented or with no IDs and passports, were brought to a detention facility in Ternate Island, Indonesia. The plight of the forsaken fishermen only surfaced when their families and friends began asking help to locate them. Some union members in Citra Mina later learned about it and requested assistance from SENTRO, to which the local union is affiliated. SENTRO, in turn, relayed the information to the international union IUF.

SENTRO and the IUF’s Asia-Pacific regional office then launched a campaign to free the Filipino fishermen, including urging the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to appeal to the Indonesian government for the immediate release of the fishermen.

After nearly 6 months the fishermen will finally return home to the Philippines. Their return poses the question of why Citra Mina, whose massive profits rely on fishing crews like the crew of the Love Merben II, abandoned them for half a year and failed to take any responsibility.

“This demonstrates a pattern of abuse of workers’ human rights throughout the Citra Mina supply chain from fishermen to fish processing workers,” Dr. Hidayat Greenfield, Acting Regional Secretary of the IUF Asia Pacific, said.

SENTRO is the national labor center Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa; while the Geneva-based IUF is the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations.