The Philippines: Unionism Is not Terrorism

published 23 November 2020 updated 30 November 2020

Trade union and other leaders and activists from the Philippines recounted stories of repression in the Philippines in a Council of Global Unions Webinar on the Quest for Justice held on 23 November 2020. Vivid accounts were given of killings, threats and intimidation, red-tagging, and police abuses across private and public sectors.

Labelling somebody as a terrorist, including through “red-tagging” is a part of a strategy to crush independent activity and dissent since the arrival of President Duterte. It is not always possible to trace such threats back to the government, but participants seemed to agree that there are likely to be links. For example, a “Wanted” poster for “recruitment of terrorists” against a figure of the opposition was shown, but there was no identification of its origin. The Anti-Terrorist Act adopted in July of 2020 will enable authorities to detain people for extended periods without charge and will expand arbitrary arrests and other legal abuses.

There were several reports of false charges backed up by “evidence”, often weapons or explosives, planted by police. Accusations of terrorism have long been used to criminalise and destroy trade union and other independent activity. A major police operation was described where over 50 workers were arrested on a single day with false accusations based on planted evidence.

Serious abuses were reported in Mindanao, where martial law was declared. The reason given for its imposition was the need to fight Maoist terrorists. However, attacks were made on trade unionists and others without ties with terrorist groups. In other words, it had become a wide-spread excuse for repression.

The webinar was addressed by Manuel Bompard, Member of the European Parliament from France. Bompard is from “La France Insoumise” party and is a member of the Group of the European United Left - Nordic Green Left in the Parliament. He emphasised that a resolution on the human and trade union rights violations in the Philippines had broad support from parliamentary groups and was adopted by an overwhelming majority. It included a call for a review of EU trade preferences for the Philippines under the GSP+ programme.

Sue Longley, General Secretary of the International Union of Food Workers (IUF) and EI General Secretary David Edwards, spoke on behalf of the Council of Global Unions. There was also a message of support from Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the ITUC.

Longley stressed the importance of the unity shown by the trade union movement in the Philippines on fundamental human and trade union rights issues. She said that strong global union support would continue and that it would focus on concrete practical action, including organised and coordinated interventions with the ILO and other UN bodies, and the European Union.

Edwards also spoke of the interdependence of national and international action and pledged that Global Unions would coordinate their work so that coherent and effective action was taken at the Global level, including with international bodies. Referring to the action by the European Parliament, he cited the importance of economic pressure, including through the GSP+ conditions of the EU. He mentioned that global solidarity on the Philippines had the strong support of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC).

Trade unions from all regions will be called upon to contact embassies of the Philippines and take other solidarity actions to mark the Global Day of Action on the Philippines on the 30th of November.