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Violence against unions in the Philippines has been increasing rapidly in recent years. In 2005, the Centre for Trade Union and Human Rights reported 226 cases of anti-union violence including killings, assault of workers on picket lines, threats, intimidation and the filing of legal charges against union activists. This figure represents an increase of 86 percent from 2004. Acting within a climate of impunity that is its own creation, the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and its agencies have condoned attacks on union leaders and members, as well as other human rights activists, by failing to investigate or hold people accountable for the killings and abductions and other violence against union leaders and members.

For example, on November 16, 2004, seven labor activists were shot dead by a combined force of Philippine Army and Philippine National Police (PNP) officers in what is commonly known as the Hacienda Luisita Massacre. The activists had been taking part in a strike of thousands of sugar mill workers led jointly by the United Luisita Workers Union, a farm workers' union, and Central Azucarera de Tarlac Labor, a mill workers' union. After a protracted standoff, the police and army trained tear gas and water cannons on the strikers and shot at the strikers and their supporters. Among the dead was Jessie Valdez, a farm worker who was shot in the thigh. Rather than being taken to the hospital, he was put in a military camp, where he died of blood loss. An inquiry by the Philippine House of Representatives found that the police and army were responsible for the carnage "directly or by reason of command responsibility."

In January of 2002, workers at the Nestle Philippines Cabuyao factory went on a strike led by Diasdado "Ka Fort" Fortuna, the President of Pagkakaisa ng Manggagawa sa Timog Katagalugan (PAMANTIK) Union, after collective bargaining negotiations stalled. Throughout the organizing, Ka Fort was constantly under surveillance and the police set up a station near the Nestle facility to track the activities. On September 21, 2005, weeks after the union started planning for a major mobilization for October, Ka Fort was killed on his way home from the picket line after being shot by two men on motorcycles.

On October 23, 2008, the GRP arrested one of the attorneys for the union representing Dole’s workers, Remigio Saladero. Later the GRP released a list of 71 other people, which is who’s who list of labor and political activists from trade unions, progressive political parties, and human rights groups in CALABARZON, with myriad charges stemming from two incidents, the burning of a cell phone tower allegedly by the New People’s Army (NPA) and an attack by the NPA on government troops in a different province in March 2006. More on this case you be found here.  In addition, ILRF has worked to support the efforts of the union on the Dole Philippines plantation and more information about this struggle is available here.

These are just three of many cases of violence that trade unions face in the Philippines. A number of violent cases occur in Export Processing Zones (EPZs) where the prevention of strikes is sought by local government officials in order to attract and keep foreign investors interests in cheap labor. Multinational corporations who operate or source from facilities where workers have been harassed in the Philippines include Nestle, Toyota, Dole, Coca-Cola and Wal-Mart.

View the latest news on the USTR's review of the Philippines after a petition was filed under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program on our News Archives page