Karapatan renews calls for release of trade unionist Maoj Maga, asserts that unionism is not a crime

The Free Maojo Maga campaign has designated May 28, 2019 as the global day of action to call for the release of trade unionist Maoj Maga of the Kilusang Mayo Uno. Maga is set to face judgment for trumped-up charges of illegal possession of firearms on June 3, 2019. He was illegally arrested in February 2018 while playing basketball in his neighborhood. 

Karapatan joins the call for the dismissal of trumped-up charges against Maoj Maga and echoes the call that unionism is not terrorism.
“All areas of civic space are being constricted by the Duterte government, in its obsession to silence forms of dissent. Trade unionists who continue to assert workers’ rights, among other civil and political rights, are facing trumped up charges. Worse, unionism is being equated to terrorism. The case of Maoj Maga is that of political persecution, indicative of the weaponization and subversion of the law to go after human rights defenders. Maoj Maga stood for the right to unionize and an end to contractualization – both of which are fundamental and necessary to improving the quality of life of workers,” said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay.

Maga is currently imprisoned at the Metro Manila District Jail in Camp Bagong Diwa, Bicutan, Taguig City. Apart from Maga’s illegal possession of firearms case, he is also facing trumped-up murder charges in Agusan del Norte. Maga has never been to Agusan del Norte. The circumstances of his illegal possession of firearms cases are likewise ludicrous. Maga was accosted by operatives while playing basketball, as was the former’s routine after accompanying his 8-year-old son to school. The police are insinuating that Maga was carrying a 45-caliber gun while dropping his son to school and while playing basketball.

“This scenario is a bit of a stretch, and is consistent with the brand of lies and ridiculous stories being concocted to justify illegal arrests and planting of evidence,” Palabay explained.

Palabay raised that the case of Maga is an apt example of how economic rights are inevitably linked with the people’s civil and political rights. “Maga stood against economic policies that undermine workers, subjecting them to harsh work conditions and compensating them with the minimum, sometimes even less. Maga and his fellow trade unionists called for the prioritization of workers’ rights, instead of profits. These are realized through the formation of unions, support for workers’ collective bargaining, strikes and widespread protests. To demonize all these as acts of terrorism and a detriment to the economy are exactly the narrative of those who continue to peddle contractualization schemes and deny decent and living wages to workers. In sum, the Duterte government and his economic advisers are siding with companies who skimp on workers’ rights on twisted rhetoric,” she added.

The Karapatan official said that Maga is among 532 political prisoners in the country as of March 2019. “The Duterte regime keeps on adding to this number, with agencies such as the Inter-Agency Committee on Legal Action (IACLA) working to put dissenters and activists in jail. We are observing a continuous pattern of activists being charged with illegal possessions of firearms and explosives, as this is the easiest to manufacture. IACLA is piled on top a set of repressive policies, including the government’s counterinsurgency program Oplan Kapayapaan,” Palabay said.

“We join Maoj Maga’s family, friends, and colleagues in calling for his immediate release and the dismissal of the trumped-up charges against him. Workers and trade unionists are already bearing the brunt of economic policies that further the worsening poverty in the country. When they strike, companies and governments should listen and resolve the ongoing incessant economic, civil and political rights violations against workers and advocates,” Palabay ended.