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ICHRP-Canada Statement on the Human Rights Day Mass Arrest of Union Organizers

Reference persons:
Patricia Lisson, Chair, ICHRP-Canada
Doug Booker, Secretary-General, ICHRP-Canada

December 15, 2020

ICHRP-Canada strongly deplores the mass arrest of trade union organizers, Dennise Velasco of Defend Jobs Philippines, Romina Astudillo, Deputy Secretary-General of Kilusang Mayo Uno-Metro Manila, Mark Ryan Cruz, Regional Executive Committee of KMU-Metro Manila, Jaymie Gregorio Jr. of KMU-Metro Manila, Joel Demate of Solidarity of Labor Rights and Welfare (SOLAR), Rodrigo Esparago of Sandigang Manggagawa sa Quezon City (SMQC). Also picked up in these raids was journalist Lady Ann Salem, Communication officer of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television, and editor for online news site Manila Today.

These most recent raids happened dawn on December 10, International Human Rights Day, which allegedly generated an armory of high-powered rifles and explosives in each of the residences searched. Velasco, Esparago, Astudillo, Cruz, Demate, Gregoria Jr and Salem may be facing obviously manufactured charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives on this account –the same criminal charges filed against trade union activists who were arrested before them. Just a few days before Human Rights Day, Jose Bernardino of Workers Alliance in Region III (WAR III-KMU), an organizer of workers in industrial zones and jeepney drivers, and former President of the Young Christian Workers, was also arrested on the same made up criminal charges. Since the Anti-Terror Law in came into effect in September 2020, it has been an open season for arrests of activists, and it will not come as a surprise that these trade union organizers will be labelled as communist-terrorists.

This is yet another blow to the trade union movement in the Philippines. Trade union activists are being criminalized, illegally arrested and detained, as the government’s way of preventing them from organizing workers into unions and associations, and depriving them their freedom of thought and expression as translated into their activities among the workers. The intensified crackdown is precisely aimed at stifling dissent and organized action among the people. Killings among activists and rights defenders, as a way of instilling fear and silencing the people, have not ceased.

The arrests are further evidence of the increasingly fascist and tyrannical Duterte regime and its military and its ongoing campaign of repression and violence against the people of the Philippines. The regime has murdered journalists, lawyers, environmental, labour, peasant, indigenous and political activists, it has turned the judiciary into a political weapon jailing hundreds of opposition activists, it has harassed and jailed journalists and shut down the main opposition television station, impeached the chief justice of the supreme court. For all intents and purposes, the Duterte Regime is a military dictatorship.

ICHRP-Canada calls on the Duterte regime to immediately release the HRD7 workers and journalist, drop the bogus charges against them, and stop this detestable practice of filing manufactured criminal charges against unionists and activists.

We likewise call on supporters of democracy and social justice in Canada to join us and support the people of the Philippines in their continuing fight for trade union and human rights in the Philippines. We shall hold to account all those responsible in these brazen human rights violations. Together we shall continue our struggle for justice, for the rights and freedoms of the Filipino People.

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