Karapatan: Marcos Jr., NTF-ELCAC’s counterinsurgency program endangers workers’ lives, rights

The counterinsurgency program that is being implemented by the Marcos Jr. administration, which it continues from previous regimes including the Duterte government, through the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) has resulted in gross violations on the working people’s right to life and to their freedom of association and right to organize, human rights alliance Karapatan said.

“We urge the High Level Tripartite Mission of the International Labor Organization to take the Marcos Jr. administration and the NTF-ELCAC to task for having gravely endangered the lives, security and liberty of workers, including trade unionists and labor rights advocates, and strongly recommend the abolition of the NTF-ELCAC,” said Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay, as the mission is scheduled to meet officials of the NTF-ELCAC and other government agencies this morning.

Karapatan has documented at least 62 extrajudicial killings of both public and private sector workers from July 2016 to December 2022, where many of the victims were severely threatened, harassed, intimidated and red-tagged prior to being murdered by suspected State forces. These killings were conducted in line with the government’s counterinsurgency campaign. UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Mary Lawlor has considered red-tagging as a context-specific death threat in the Philippines, in her report to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2021.

The NTF-ELCAC’s vicious red-tagging spree against union activists in the Philippines has had dangerous consequences, often serving as prelude to killings, arbitrary arrests and imprisonment, torture, abductions and other serious violations of civil, political and economic rights, said Palabay.

“Perhaps the most notorious extrajudicial killings of union leaders under the Duterte regime are those of Emmanuel “Manny” Asuncion and Dandy Miguel,” said Palabay. “Asuncion was killed in a police raid on March 7, 2021 at the satellite office of the Workers’ Assistance Center in Cavite, after a court in the city of Manila issued numerous search warrants containing false allegations that Asuncion and 21 other activists and peasants from Southern Tagalog region were communists. Nine activists, including Asuncion, were killed allegedly after resisting arrest, but they are widely believed to have been summarily executed,” said Palabay. “Worse, their killers will most likely be exonerated, especially now that government prosecutors have dismissed the murder complaint against the 17 policemen involved in Asuncion’s killing,” she decried.

Trade union leader Dandy Miguel, who served as a paralegal in the Bloody Sunday cases and spoke at a press conference at the Commission on Human Rights a week after Asuncion’s murder, was himself gunned down after he got off work on March 28, 2021. He was shot eight times.

“Many government and teacher-unionists who had been previously red-tagged have also been arrested and detained on trumped-up charges based on planted evidence and perjured testimonies,” said Palabay.

“Just last week, Dyan Gumanao, coordinator of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers in Cebu, and Armand Dayoha, coordinator of the Alliance of Health Workers in the same province were abducted by men claiming to be police officers and interrogated, tortured and detained illegally for six days. They had previously been red-tagged and subjected to intense surveillance.”

Numerous cases of union interference, through harassment of trade unionists to coerce them to stop union activities and sign documents indicating they are rebel surrenderees, have been documented by workers’ groups.

“There is a very clear pattern of tagging and labelling unionists as terrorists or enemies of the state prior to their killing or arrest for manufactured cases,” said Palabay. “These threats are designed to create a chilling effect on those who advocate for workers’ rights, as they seek to stigmatize and delegitimize labor activists and their organizations, coerce the latter’s members to disaffiliate and dissuade others from joining unions. This policy and practice remains to this day.”

“There are no stark deviations on the framework of the government’s counterinsurgency program since 2009, when the ILO last held its mission in the Philippines, to this current Marcos Jr. regime, especially on the non-distinction of civilians and combatants and other pertinent points in relation to international humanitarian law, as well as the militarist approach that is used in suppressing political dissent and the exercise of workers’ freedom of association and right to organize,” Palabay added.

“We call on the ILO mission to hold the Marcos Jr. administration and NTF-ELCAC accountable for these gross violations of working people’s rights. Aside from the NTF-ELCAC’s abolition, we strongly demand that the counter-insurgency program should be junked and that ILO supports or recommends an independent international investigation by the UN Human Rights Council,” Karapatan said. #