2008-2009: Philippine Labour Lawyer Held on Trumped up Charges
In October 2008, Labour lawyer Remigio Saladero from the Pro-labour Legal Assistance Center (PLACE) was arrested on a number of trumped-up criminal charges, including conspiracy to commit rebellion and participating in murder. He was also accused of being a member of the New Peoples’ Army (NPA), which had allegedly torched a Globe Telecom mobile (cell) phone tower in Lemery, Batangas. But Saladero had an alibi: He was in his office in E. Rodriguez Quezon City meeting with a client at the time.
Shortly thereafter, the government issued arrest warrants for 71 labour and human rights activists who stand accused of murder and attempted murder in their alleged ambush of Philippine police in Mindoro Province in March 2006. The accusations are based on the statement of one sole witness whose testimony is considered highly questionable. To date, there have been no follow-up investigations.
This clearly demonstrates the government’s harassment of people like Saladero who take on controversial labour cases on a pro bono basis such as the Hacienda Luisita and Nestlé Philippines cases.
PLACE handles countless labour, human rights, criminal, civil and administrative cases on a pro bono basis. PLACE staff and trade union clients have been regularly harassed and monitored by the police since 2006.
Saladero works at PLACE and serves as chief legal counsel for Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), an independent trade union that the government considers a Communist front.
The government’s draconian measures seem designed to cripple the country’s labour movement by prohibiting strikes and making union organising even more difficult. But President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s government has come under increased international and domestic criticism for the hundreds of assassinations and enforced disappearances of leftist activists, journalists, lawyers and clergy members by the army and national police.
Increased criticism of the government has led to a decline in contract murders, although actual convictions have remained rare.
On 17 December 2008, the CCC called for the protection of Philippine labour organisers in support of Saladero and the 71 labour and human rights activists from a variety of trade unions and labour organisations, including the Workers Assistance Center in Cavite, the transportation unions, and the workers unions at Nestle, Toyota and Honda who stand accused of murder. It also includes some 15 labour leaders who worked for years in Philippine export processing zones.
Meanwhile, the Employers Confederation (ECOP), which represents corporations like Nestlé, Toyota, and Honda, blocked an ILO investigation, which was responding to a complaint filed by a Philippine labour organisation. The ILO demanded a high-level investigation into the killings and harassments of union leaders and other violations. But the government steadfastly refused. ECOP has for years confronted democratically elected unions in their factories.
On 5 February 2009, the regional courts in Mindoro declared a mistrial and Saladero and five other detainees were released from jail. This was a positive outcome, which was facilitated by the CCC’s Urgent Appeal efforts in conjunction with various other international actions.
But barely a week after Saladero and the five others had been released; they were rearrested on new murder charges, sending a clear signal that Philippine authorities have yet to throw in the towel.
This new case involved the murder of Ricky Garmino, a member of the paramilitary Civilian Auxiliary Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU), in Rizal on 29 July 2008. Witnesses allegedly recognized 64 of the 72 labour and human rights activists named in the Mindoro case, and suspiciously were able to name them in the exact order as they appeared in the Mindoro case deposition.
Saladero ended up filing a protection order against unlawful acts including intimidation and denial of due process by public officials with the Supreme Court.
In early 2009, the CCC urged supporters to demand that the government and ECOP, which has actively opposed any ILO investigations of the violence against labour leaders, immediately stop the persecution of labour and human rights activists and drop all criminal charges against the accused in both cases.
In April 2009, the CCC warned that the government continued to actively repress labour strikes and union activities, using tactics such as police violence and the filing of frivolous lawsuits.
On 13 November, the government dropped its charges against the union activists due to the prosecution’s “failure to establish probable cause.” The chief prosecutor also noted “serious inconsistencies” in the complainants’ sworn statements and affidavits.
This meant that Saladero and 60 other activists were unconditionally released. This is a clear victory for the labour and human rights movement in the Philippines.
For more information: http://labourrightsblog.typepad.com and http://freeattysaladero.wordpress.com/