November 5, 2019
Hon Michelle Bachelet
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
Palais des Nations
CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Condemn mass arrest of 57 unionists and social activists in Bacolod City, Negros Occidental
The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines was launched at a conference in Quezon City, the Philippines in July 2013. ICHRP has over 90 member organisations outside the Philippines.
Around 9pm on October 31, 2019, 57 rights defenders including leaders of the National Federation of Sugar Workers, BPO Industry Employees Network (BIEN), Kilusang Mayo Uno Labor Center, and other civil society organizations were arrested in simultaneous raids conducted by combined forces of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine national Police, SWAT, and CIDG (Criminal Investigation and Detection Group) in Bacolod City, the capital of Negros Occidental.
Among the labor rights defenders illegally arrested and forcibly detained are John Milton “Ka Butch” Lozande, former fourth election candidate of Anakpawis Partylist and the Secretary-General of National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW); Danny Tabura, another leader of NFSW; Aldrin Dela Cerna, organizer of the peasant movement (Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas – Negros – KMP Negros); Noli Rosales, labor leader of Kilusang Mayo Uno Labor Centerr; Romulo Bito-on, Jr., leader of Bayan Muna Party-list and his wife Mermalyn; community journalist May-anne Krueger of Paghimutad Media group and organizer of the BIEN-Bacolod Chapter; members of Teatro Obrero and the Teatro Bungkal cultural group. There were six minors among those arrested.
Using search warrants issued in Quezon City, the security forces raided the Gabriela office, and the offices of NFSW and Bayan Muna. Michael dela Concepcion, Krueger’s partner and former National Coordinator of BIEN, was also named in the search warrant at the Gabriela office, together with four others who were not present at the time of the raid.
Witnesses are adamant that firearms and ammunition were planted in the offices by non-uniformed men after the residents were arrested and removed.
Krueger is currently being held at the Bata police station in Bacolod City, and is facing charges of illegal possession of firearms.
On Sunday November 3, 2019, formal non-bailable charges were made against 41 of those detained, and one was charged with a bailable offence. The other 17 were released, including the minors.
Clearly, this is part of the Duterte government’s crackdown on unionists and activists. It follows a similar pattern of attacks wherein unionists, organizers and activists are arrested with the aid of faulty warrants and planting of evidence during raids. Unions are campaigning for a wage increase, secure jobs and resumption of peace talks.
The sustained spate of attacks in Negros exposes the anti-peace and anti-people platform of the Duterte government. President Duterte’s Executive Order No. 70 Whole of Nation Approach, the anti-peace talks Proclamations 360 and 374, Memorandum Order 32 placing Negros, Samar and Bicol in a State of Emergency, enable state-sponsored violence and a culture of impunity.
Since Duterte came to power Negros island alone witnessed 85 victims of extra-judicial killings mostly farm workers and their families who have been fighting for their land.
ICHRP calls on the United Nations Human Rights Council to pursue its special investigation of the human rights abuses taking place in the Philippines, to call on the Philippine government to immediately and unconditionally release the 42 union leaders and political activists arrested on October 31 in Negros, to cancel Executive Order No 70 and Memorandum Order 32 and Proclamations 360 and 374.
Peter Murphy, Chairperson, Global Council,
International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines