As part of the Council of Global Unions (CGU), UNI is standing with trade unions from around the world on Human Rights Day to demand an end to violence against union activists in the Philippines. This 10 December marks the third consecutive year the global union movement has focused Human Rights Day efforts on abuses in the Asian nation.
“We stand in solidarity with the Filipino people to combat violations of workers’ rights, violence against trade unionists and attacks on human rights defenders,” said Christy Hoffman, General Secretary of UNI Global Union and Vice Chair of the CGU.
She continued, “The trade union movement there is fighting for justice in the face of threats, assassinations and repression. We are with them, and we demand that the Duterte administration end the impunity and cooperate with international bodies like the ILO. The world is watching.”
Since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office in 2016, there have been at least 50 extrajudicial killings of trade unionists. An investigation by the ILO in September of this year noted that the government has not made any tangible progress to halt the attacks on union leaders.
The repression of the right to freedom of association worsened under the Anti-Terrorism Act, adopted in 2020. The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), championed by President Duterte, often works to bust legitimate workers’ organizations.
One particularly egregious practice is that extremist groups “red-tagged” peaceful, workers’ rights activists—labelling them as communist enemies of the state. Under the Anti-Terrorism Law, red-tagging puts civil society leaders in danger of detention without charge, under surveillance, and causes the freezing of bank accounts and other assets, even when the claims are without basis.
According to the CGU Philippines, at least 17 union leaders have been red-tagged by state security agents or the police for leading trade union activities; 16 have been criminalised, with trumped-up charges; and 12 trade unionists remain incommunicado.
On 10 December, the CGU Philippines will hold protest rallies in Manila to press the government to:
- Immediately consult with trade unions for a time-bound road map to implement the conclusions of the ILO virtual exchange report on the Philippines;
- Accept a high-level tripartite mission of the ILO to the Philippines, without delay;
- Expedite the investigation of the extrajudicial killings of trade unionists and end impunity; and
- Commit, with concrete policies and practices, to ending the red-tagging of trade unionists and their legitimate activities.
Sharan Burrow, ITUC general secretary, said: “The Philippine government has failed to protect its citizens, has violated basic human and unions rights, has allowed the killings of union activists to continue with impunity.
“As a first step, it must engage with the unions to negotiate a time-bound plan of action and accept a high-level tripartite mission of the ILO without delay to enforce the conclusions of the 2019 ILO Committee on the Application of Standards. But ultimately, we want to see this regime changed. We want to see a government that stands up for democratic rights and freedoms.”
The ITUC and GCU are mobilizing workers around the world to defend human rights in Philippines. Find out what you can do here.