Category Archives: Human Rights

SENTRO Statement for International Labor Day 2018

“Panahon na ng paniningil.”

Two years after his election, Rodrigo Duterte continues to demonstrate his inability to deliver the promises of change and progress he sold to the Filipino people. The list of his transgressions against the working class is growing: failure to end contractualization, wanton loss of lives thru the war on drugs, more tax burdens via to TRAIN, high prices as inflation rise to new heights, low wages and wholesale destruction of jobs from PUJ phase out, the closure of Boracay and now the possible forced repatriation of 260,000 migrant Filipino workers from Kuwait.

It is time to hold Mr. Duterte to account! It is time to express our indignation and reiterate our demands!

Today, workers under the banner of SENTRO will pour out into the streets of Manila, Cebu, Davao and General Santos to join the nationwide indignation rallies led by NAGKAISA and KMU.

It would be a remiss not to highlight that organized labor’s attempts at public and constructive engagement with the Duterte regime was met with disappointment at nearly every step of the way. The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has already disillusioned us when Labor Secretary Bello issued Department Order No. 174 which legitimized labor contracting even more. Since then, SENTRO, together with NAGKAISA and KMU have been negotiating the issuance of an executive order (E.O.) that would correct DO 174 and realign DOLE policies as well as ‘guide’ the Legislative Branch towards amending the Labor Code to make direct hiring as the norm.

Acknowledging the need for reciprocity, the workers’ draft E.O. has moved “from total prohibition of contractualization to a framework of prohibition of contractualization that would allow certain exemptions for contracting out of work, but subject to the decision of the National Tripartite Industrial Peace Council”. And yet, despite promises to review the draft since February 2018, nothing has been settled to this very day—while Secretary Bello, President Duterte himself and their mouthpieces continue to paint the working peoples’ organizations as “selfish hardliners.” Clearly, the Duterte regime is negotiating with organized labor in bad faith.

SENTRO, together with the whole of NAGKAISA, is unequivocal in this: never in the history of employment relationship in the country has workers enjoying regular employment and implementation of strict rules in labor contracting been detrimental to the economy and job generation.

The only consolation we have, right now, is that House Bill No. 6908, the Security of Tenure Bill, was finally passed at the House of Representatives — the farthest it has reached since the post-EDSA period.

And yet, Filipino society still have very little to take comfort with. The past year has been a continuous string of disappointments and embarrassments not even the worst of our previous presidents will be caught doing red-handed. This has not only compromised the standing of the Philippine government as an institution, it is also starting to diminish the country’s standing as a member of the international community.

SENTRO is gravely concerned over the continuous creeping of authoritarianism in nearly all aspects of our country’s political life. Any semblance of “separation and balance of powers” as designed by the 1987 Constitution has been steadily eroded—with the persistence of a “rubber-stamp” Congress under the leadership of Pantaleon Alvarez and Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III. The unconstitutional ouster attempt against Supreme Court Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno is clearly aided and abetted by her own fellow Associate Justices—not out of visible judicial independence, but clear marching orders from Malacañang. This is once again eroding the credibility of the highest court in the land, something that it has already tried to claw out of the past five years.

Our basic constitutional rights to freedom of organization, freedom of expression and freedom of information are also denied and quashed without a second thought. The harassment of long-standing mass media institutions such as ABS-CBN, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and even independent journalist outfits like Rappler continue unabated and unquestioned. Not only is the Duterte regime not willing to respect the social mandate of the Fourth Estate—it even dares to fabricate its own subservient propaganda machine to an extent not even dreamt of during the Marcos years.

No civil society organization, independent government body or religious organization, as long as they dare to oppose the Duterte regime, is safe. The continued harassment and killing of labor sector, agrarian reform and indigenous tribal leaders, the indignities pilloried against the Commission on Human Rights and the investigations of the International Criminal Court, the deportation of Sister Patricia Fox, and the assassination of Fr. Mark Ventura of Cagayan are likely only to be the first of many more crimes against the people that the Duterte regime will visit upon us.

And yet, even these pale in comparison with the high cost of human life the carelessness of the Duterte administration has wrought over the past two years. The human casualty of his bogus War on Drugs continues to balloon to the twenty thousands. It remains a bona-fide war on the poor, the helpless and those denied due process. The ruins and bakwits of Marawi continue as a mute-yet-loud testament to the failure not only of the leadership of our armed forces to resolve the threat of terrorism and extremism efficiently, but also the dismantling and disillusion of hope for recapturing peace in Mindanao. All of this, under the first Mindanaoan president.

All of our problems have only grown, with their toll becoming only more real and inhuman by the day. It would require not only the efficiency and empathy of our own government, but also the help and good-will of our international neighbors and trade partners. Yet under Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippine state has only built walls, killed without second thought, and destroyed the lives of our countrymen. It embraced not the international community of solidarity, dignity, and freedom, but the Axis of conquest, dominion, authoritarianism and lies, emblematized by imperialist China, the United States, North Korea and Russia.

SENTRO, together with other organizations of the working peoples all over the country, as well as the rest of our country men tired with the bogus and failed promises of a small-town bully, reiterate what we said last year. Workers’ and trade union rights cannot genuinely exist if human and democratic rights are compromised and thrown to the gutter.

As such, SENTRO will march today to demand that Mr. Duterte live up to his promise to end contractualization by issuing labor’s version of the E.O. and certify as urgent a security of tenure bill that would make direct hiring as the norm.

Today we march for human rights – political, economic and socio-cultural! We demand an end to extra judicial killings; a just transition program for all those affected by the phase out of PUJs and the closure of Boracay Island; and, a comprehensive reintegration program for all migrant workers. We demand the strict implementation of “no relocation, no demolition” policy and the prioritization of People’s Plans to resolve the housing crisis. We demand an end to misogyny and the advancement of the protection of women’s rights and welfare, including the passage of the Extended Maternity Leave.

Today, we march as one – a unified labor movement!

Women’s Groups Decry Violence as Women’s Month Opens

On the second day of women’s month, women leaders expressed their opposition to the policies of President Rodrigo Duterte, including Charter Change, which they say aggravate violence against women.

“The killings on account of President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-drug campaign continue and will likely increase if his term is extended when the Charter is changed,” stated Jean Enriquez, Executive Director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women – Asia Pacific (CATW-AP) and Philippine Coordinator of the World March of Women (WMW). Enriquez expressed the group’s vehement opposition to Charter Change or ChaCha as the administration party’s proposals reflect the erosion of the Bill of Rights and Social Justice provisions of the 1987 Constitution. “We are currently helping 118 widows, mothers and orphans left defenseless by the government’s war on the poor, but they will rise,” said Enriquez.

Jelen C. Paclarin, Executive Director of Women’s Legal and Human Rights Bureau stated that: “the Duterte administration has repeatedly disrespected the 1987 Constitution and Magna Carta of Women with his anti-women remarks which are always passed off as “jokes”. These actions only show his deep-seated misogyny that further contributes to the normalization of sexual violence against women and girls. Access to justice has become even more problematic and challenging for women victims of sexual violence especially now that the judicial institutions that are supposed to protect the people and ensure legal remedies for women are also being threatened by this administration. This government has continued to disregard the rule of law and allows blatant discrimination against women without any State sanction.”

Paclarin further added that “no one deserves to be violated and discriminated. We deserve no less!”

The statement is then followed by Lisa Garcia, Executive Director of Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA), “misogyny is also about controlling and punishing women who challenge male dominance. This anti-women culture is very evident in our society wherein women who dare to be vocal are made fun of and insulted by people, and their opinions are disregarded by the President himself as he reduces them to mere body parts. Women are attacked with gender slurs, hateful and vitriolic comments, and even threats of rape as a tactic to intimidate and force them into silence. This culture of misogyny creates a chilling effect on every woman’s freedom of expression.”

Judy Pasimio, National Coordinator of LILAK (Purple Action for Indigenous Women’s Rights), stated that the stature of Senator Leila de Lima as senator did not spare her from the vicious and malicious attacks by the President and his men, and has been imprisioned for standing up for the truth and human rights. “Imagine how vulnerable the indigenous women feel right now as they fight for their lands and their rights?” She added that, “out there in their communities, they face armed groups and big corporations forcing them off their ancestral domains for the minerals and natural resources in there.” She lamented that as indigenous women resist, they are branded as “militants or communist-sympathizers – labels which seek to justify harassments, threats and killings of their leaders.”

“With Duterte saying he himself will pick out mining and plantation companies to enter the ancestral domains, this runs parallel to the effort to remove protection of our environment in the Charter Change and we are afraid that violence will intensify among indigenous communities, who continue to resist land-grabbing by corporations, and wholesale theft of their resources,” added Pasimio.

According to Nice Coronacion, Deputy Secretary General of the labor group SENTRO, “for years, workers have been demanding a shift from taxing consumption (a regressive tax system) to one that is based on income (progressive taxation).” She said that “unfortunately, Duterte’s TRAIN, as it is currently crafted, is taking the wrong way.” Coronacion stated that they welcome the lower tax on personal income but rejects regressive impact of excise taxes.

“The workers’ gain in Personal Income Tax (PIT) will be offset in a regressive manner by the imposition of excise taxes on fuel products and the lifting of VAT exemptions in the sale of specific goods and services,” said Coronacion.

“Meanwhile, feminization of labor is increasing and women are in the vulnerable situation in the world of work, particularly contractualization,” added Judy Miranda, Secretary General of Partido Manggagawa. “It should be highlighted that since most of them experienced the 5-5-5 scheme or ENDO, most of them are already tax-exempted but will bear the cost of increasing prices of basic goods and services.” The labor groups asked, “Is having TRAIN worth it if you are part of the working poor? Even if part of the law is giving subsidies to the poor. Now, we have a more delicate issue: What happens with the poor once the subsidies are stopped 2-3 years from now? And even today, it’s not yet implemented.”

“So the key issues of the working women and of the working people have not been addressed. Yet, we are having an on-going debate to amend the constitution to give way for a new form of government that does not even guarantee inclusive development. Studies have shown that there is no correlation between a federal form of government and inclusive development,” said Coronacion.

To this day, proponents of federalism continue to argue that transitioning to a federal structure guarantees more economic activity. With research done by academics and policy advocates in the Philippines and abroad—and for that matter, even our own in-house researchers in the Labor Education and Research Network (LEARN) and SENTRO—we have found no clear correlation or guarantee whatsoever. The form of government has never guaranteed an automatic shift into equitable economic development. If any, they have only affirmed that government form shifts only normally tend to strengthen already-existing institutional features. “If the nature of Philippine institutions already foster anti-development, are we really planning on strengthening those inequalities at the expense of selling us a promise of change,” said the women leaders.

The group invited the public to their action on March 8, International Women’s Day, which will begin at 8AM in front of the University of Sto. Tomas in España. They will march to Plaza Miranda and hand flowers to survivors of EJKs, and will hold a program. Their main themes are “Kabuhayan, Katarungan, Kapangyarihan sa Kababaihan,” and “Rise, Resist, and Reclaim (our rights, our bodies and territories).”

Martial Law Extension: Not the road to progress and lasting peace in Mindanao

As Congress deliberates the extension of Martial Law, we the Kalipunan ng Kilusang Masa (KALIPUNAN) a union of movements of farmers, workers, urban poor, women, environmental activists, youth, students stand in solidarity with our Mindanawon sisters and brothers in demanding the immediate lifting of Martial Law in Mindanao.

When armed conflict began in Marawi after the botched government operation on Isnilon Hapilon, and then hundreds of thousands of women, children and men were displaced in Marawi and nearby municipalities, the ensuing violence and imposition of Martial Law from above only served to further silence the voice of the people and deepen divides among us. What Martial Law has done is add another painful moment in the conflict-ridden history of the tri-peoples of Mindanao.

With Martial Law, there have been reports of harassment and public humiliation of Moro civilians made to stand beside photos of members of the Maute group, immobility of internally displaced peoples, growing animosity among local populations due to discrimination against fleeing Moros, several forms of violence against women and children[i].

Undeniably, the struggle of the Mindanawon people for peace was made even more arduous and bleak with the declaration of Martial Law in the entire island region. Such declaration blatantly set aside years of peace building by social movements, and one that has done nothing but sow fear among people and suppress their rights.

As social movements, we believe the way towards peace begins not in suppressing the people’s rights as it is labelled as Martial Law— peace begins in listening then responding to the plea of communities and movements working in the grassroots. The peace process is strengthened in the inclusion of local communities, local indigenous and religious leaders, and their movements.

In the face of more conflict and violence, peoples and their movements must stand in solidarity with one another— for the path towards peace in Mindanao is built on the unity of our peoples, not on suppressing our rights and deepening divides among us.

Congress as supposed representatives of the people must answer to the actual conditions of our people: begin by listening to our demands and lift Martial Law in Mindanao! Recognize and uphold human rights!

 

No to Extension of Martial Law in Mindanao

The Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (SENTRO) continues to call for the lifting of Martial Law throughout the whole island of Mindanao. For a policy that has been highly problematic since its inception, the continued subjugation of the citizens of Mindanao under heavy-handed militaristic policy from Malacanang has brought insecurity, further strife and the continuing delegitimation of the rule of law.

Since May 23, Mindanao has been subjected to Martial Law, allegedly in aid of the operations of the Armed Forces and the Philippine National Police to flush out local terrorist elements of the Abu Sayyaf and Maute Groups, who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. While the Battle of Marawi has officially ended last October 23, the costs to human life, cultural heritage, economic productivity, social harmony and political stability in Marawi are near-immeasurable. International humanitarian efforts and standards, as borne out of global practice (and as mandated by the Philippine Constitution, as per Section 18, Art. VII) would require the restoration of civilian authority at the soonest possible time.

And yet, since the early days of December 2017, the Duterte regime continues to insist on the extension of Martial Law throughout Mindanao – bandying the supposed necessity of stamping out remaining terrorist and rebellious elements, without ever being transparent on the extent of such threats. Multiple state personnel – from the Department of Interior and Local Government, the Philippine National Police, alleged “higher up” sources from the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and even the Regional Peace and Order Councils (RPOCs) under DILG – insist on its necessity, supposedly to prevent the Maute and ASG from regrouping, as well as supposedly neutralizing the alleged “tactical alliance” between Islamic extremists and the New People’s Army (NPA).

The rhetoric employed is virtually copied out of the old, Marcos-era scare tactics of the “unholy alliance” of “communists, terrorists and oppositionists” that it beggars being taken seriously. It is also curious to find how the very government office supposed to make considered policy on the crisis at hand, the Department of National Defense (DND), has not been given proper space to air its opinion at all – which is probably unsurprising, considering Secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s tendency to oppose Malacanang’s ill-conceived, gung-ho posturings every step of the way. Moreover, in all this, the opinions of those whose fates are in the balance are continuously disregarded: the refugees from Marawi and other war-torn areas of Muslim Mindanao, whose stories of horror and despair already cry for humanitarian, civilian and legal governance responses. The furthering of war would divorce them from their homes indefinitely.

Learned opinion in the law (such as those of ex-Solicitor General Florin Hilbay and Albay Representative Edcel Lagman) have already pointed out the virtual absence of any further basis for the extension of Martial Law. If the government respects legal tradition, the rule of law and the pleas of its citizen, this should have been the end of discussion. Yet the Duterte regime, continuing to live up to its hallmark of brazen disregard for constitutional supremacy, continues to mobilize its bullies in Congress to vote once more for its extension.

The continuing spate of extrajudicial killings of community leaders throughout the country (plus the recent arrest of activists) continue to belie any benevolent intentions the Duterte regime may continue to claim for its extension of Martial Law. If any, it only affirms what international commentary and predictions fear. The high-handed policy of Rodrigo Duterte, imposed ironically and tragically against his fellow Mindanaoans, will only further resentment, fear and distrust amongst our countrymen. They will only, if left unchecked, provide recruitment grounds for extremist forces, which will prolong the conflict in long-suffering Mindanao.

We in SENTRO continue to call on the government to stop using the self-defeating logic of the gun. We urge it, once again, to stop playing with the Filipino people’s lives and instead, protect it. The displaced and despairing people of Marawi ask for peace and their homes back. By persisting on a military course of action, the government becomes complicit in their continued deprivation and exile.

STOP THE ATTACK AGAINST HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS

The In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement (iDEFEND) condemns in the strongest terms – the continuing attack against human rights defenders (HRDs) in the Philippines which is now compounded by the Duterte administration’s anti-human rights policies and actions that are creating a more hostile environment for human rights work.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte in many instances has repeatedly threatened to kill human rights defenders who are criticizing his bloody “war on drugs” that already claimed more than 13,000 deaths including innocent civilians and children. By recently declaring the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army as “terrorists” and by ordering the immediate arrest, not only of armed rebels, but also of all members of the “legal fronts” supporting them, he just made an open season for further attack against the human rights defenders.

The killing of activist priest Marcelito “Tito” Paez of the Rural Missionary in Nueva Ecija creates a chilling effect that no one is safe and that anyone who gets in his way will be silenced.

The President’s utter disrespect towards democracy and rule of law is showing no pretense to exhibit his authoritarian streak by denying the voices of dissent. His government is destroying the generations of progress on the respect and protection of human rights in the guise of war on drugs and terror.

We therefore hold the Duterte government accountable for the systematic violence against human rights defenders who are carrying out peaceful and legitimate work to make meaningful changes in the country. President Duterte should be reminded that the Philippine Government has a legal obligation to respect human rights of all and to exert efforts to protect all human rights defenders at all times without exemption.

But we all know that a person obsessed with power will never listen. Often the bully takes pleasure in seeing a victim’s fear. The only way to stop a tyrant is by standing up firmly together. The only thing necessary for the triumph of tyranny is for us to do nothing.

We should therefore stand in solidarity with the Filipino people in the fight for democracy, and against the return to authoritarianism. Human rights will never be given to the people on a silver platter, we have to fight for it.

– iDEFEND