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‘Exhibit A’–gunshot scars–shocks ILO team

By Nikko Dizon
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 06:14:00 09/25/2009

Filed Under: Labor, political killings, Strike, Human Rights

MANILA, Philippines ? ?Exhibit A? was labor leader Joel Ascutia?s scars from gunshot wounds he sustained on July 13 during a strike by public transportation drivers in Bicol.

Panel members of a high-level International Labor Organization (ILO) fact-finding mission were ?shocked? during the hearing they conducted on Wednesday night, Elmer Labog, chair of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), told the Philippine Daily Inquirer Thursday.

Laced with dark humor, Labog referred to Ascutia?s 15-centimeter wound on the right side of his stomach as ?Exhibit A? at the hearing, proof of how the attacks against labor leaders and workers had gone on with impunity in the country.

Ascutia is the chair of the Pinag-isang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Opereytor Nationwide (Piston), an affiliate of KMU.

Daybreak shooting

It was daybreak and Ascutia was in the midst of preparations for a transport strike in Bicol, part of a nationwide mass action, when a man on a motorcycle shot him five times in front of a gas station in Daraga, Albay.

Ascutia miraculously survived.

?I think it was for this reason that the hearing took all night. The panel members asked for details from every witness. My evaluation, based on their facial expressions, was they were shocked at the revelations of the witnesses,? Labog said.

Closed-door hearing

With 19 witnesses who each presented more than one case, Labog said the closed-door hearing that was scheduled for only two hours stretched to almost six, from 6:30 p.m. to midnight.

The three-man ILO team is in the country to investigate the murders of trade union leaders and labor rights advocates and other labor issues in the country after trade union organizations like KMU filed a complaint in 2006 at the ILO over the various cases of killings and abuses.

Garments worker

Labog said that it was ironic that on Sept. 21, the day the ILO team arrived in the Philippines, a garments worker in Mindanao was arrested.

Declard Cacmaong, 36, was picked up by the military on claims that he was a member of the New People?s Army (NPA) with a P1.2-million reward on his head.

Cacmaong remains detained at Camp Crame, according to Labog.

ILO Convention 87

Labog said the majority of the cases heard on Wednesday focused on violations on ILO Convention 87, which upholds workers? right to organize.

A witness, Jeangie Andrino, who worked as a supervisor at a large bakeshop in Cebu, recounted how the management vilified her and her coworkers after they protested the contractualization of employees.

?They called us terrorists. They also put up our pictures on the bulletin board telling their workers not to associate with us because we were troublemakers,? Andrino told the Inquirer.

Andrino added that the management also warned its employees against associating with KMU.

Extrajudicial killings

Trade union leaders and members have fallen victim to extrajudicial killings as much as political activists during the Arroyo administration, according to Labog.

From the 64 trade union-related killings KMU reported to the ILO in 2006, the figure has risen to 92 in 2009, Labog said.

?We are hoping that the ILO team will issue a strong statement calling on the government to stop the attacks [against labor leaders and workers],? he said.

Fight for land

By virtue of ?command responsibility,? Labog said the government should also be held accountable even for attacks carried out by goons of landlords against farmers fighting for the land that should have been given to them through the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

Ronald Ian Evidente, the head of KMU-Negros who also testified at the ILO hearing, told the Inquirer that farmers in the province had become victims of ?political killings.?

To date, 12 peasant leaders of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) have been killed ?in relation to CARP,? Evidente said.

Moreover, the farmers have also lost their right to organize after the CARP essentially dissolved the employer-employee relations of landowner and farmers, Evidente added.

Banana plantation workers

In a statement, KMU narrated how Vicente Barrios, president of the union in Suyafa Farm banana plantation in Compostela Valley in Mindanao, survived after being shot by unidentified men in 2006.

Barrios? fellow union member, Jerson Lastimoso, was killed.

Barrios had also reported that armed men continue to trail him to this day.

Nicanor Briones, the Camarines Norte president of NFSW that is affiliated with KMU, sustained five gunshot wounds after two motorcycle-riding men attacked him.

Dangerous place

?The Philippines is really one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a labor leader, an active union member, and a labor advocate,? Labog said in his speech before the ILO fact-finding mission.

In a separate statement, Anakpawis Rep. Joel Maglunsod was hopeful that the ILO investigation would bring to ?international attention the cases of trade union and human rights violations committed with impunity against Filipino workers.?

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