Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Soldiers Harass, Threaten Union Leader, Workers: AHRC

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has learned that soldiers continuously threatened and harassed a union president and her fellow workers. The workers, presently holding a picket line in front of their factory, were questioned in separate occasions about personal details of their president.

The soldiers were falsely accusing their leader as leftist; thus, anyone who associates with her would also be pursued. Two of the workers had been briefly taken into soldiers' custody where they were questioned in absence of their legal counsel about their union's activity. The soldiers have had their detachment set up close to their picket line.

CASE DETAILS: (According to information received from the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR)).

On 10 March 2008, some elements of 7th Infantry Division (ID), Philippine Army, had established a detachment at the Barangay (village) Hall in Cruz, Guiguinto, Bulacan. Though the municipal mayor has admitted giving consent to the soldiers' deployment supposedly for maintaining peace and order, one of the councilors in the area claimed this was not coordinated with them. Also, the soldier's presence is questionable as maintenance of peace and order should have been a police duty, not by soldiers.

Even before the soldiers established their detachment, there have been similar military deployments in different parts of the province of Bulacan where the soldiers have likewise set up detachments. Some observers testified that the deployments could be part of Oplan Bantay Laya, the government's counter-insurgency program. Since it was implemented, the province of Bulacan had its communities become one of many provinces nearly entirely militarized.

The 7th ID's detachment in Cruz, Guiguinto is about few meters away from where the picket line of the union Nagkakaisang Samahan ng Footjoy (United Association of Footjoy) is located. On the same day the soldiers setup their detachment, at around 2pm to 3pm, an unidentified soldier wearing camouflage pants and T-shirt was seen roaming close to the picket line.

The following day, March 11, at 9am another unidentified soldier accompanied by a certain Carlito, a villager whose house is close to the picket line, also visited at the picket line purportedly to conduct a census. Upon reaching the picket line, Carlito had introduced the military man to Satur Maraganas, one of the workers of Footjoy.

The military man then asked another worker Edgardo Hernandez, some details about their union president, Mercy Santomin. The soldier asked her last name, her address, when she usually visits their picket line and what her activities are when she's at the picket line. They were also asked if there are other groups or organization which provides support to their union.

Edgardo has confirmed that Mercy is their union president. He, however, told the soldier that he does not know her place of residence; that Mercy only visits when she has updates about their case to tell them and that there are no other organizations providing them support. But despite Edgardo's explanations, the military did not believe him.

The soldier insisted that there should be other organizations that provide support to their union and their strike. Edgardo told the soldier that they were not actually on strike but rather were forced to form a union and set up a picket line because their company, Footjoy Industrial Corporation, where they were formerly employed, had been slowly taking out the machines from their factory without paying their separation pays and other benefits. The factory is owned by Antonio Tan.

Mercy is indeed the union president; however many of her fellow workers and union leaders had to either conceal or deny this information as they fear for her own safety. Her colleagues had also refused giving personal details about her. The denial by some of the workers' that they are holding a strike was also purposely done to avoid being questioned further by the soldiers.

On March 12, at around 10am another four soldiers had come to the picket line. At the time, only two of the workers were present at the picket line; they were Aldrin Lipa and Erlando Ricohermoso. The soldiers then asked Aldrin to produce his identification card (ID) with picture.

As Aldrin was busy looking for his ID card in his wallet, one of the soldiers suddenly grabbed his ID card from Anakpawis. Anakpawis is a political party actively involve in social, economic and political issues in the country.

When the soldiers saw Aldrin's Anakpawis ID, they asked him who had given it to him. They, once again, also questioned Aldrin and Erlando about the details of their president, Mercy and why they are on strike.

Aldrin then patiently explained to the soldiers the reason why they are on strike. Meanwhile, Erlando also intervened and asked the soldiers a hypothetical question whether they would allow him to pay them only Php50 (USD 1) per day had he been their employer. The soldiers however did not pay attention to Erlando's question and instead left but without returning back Aldrin's ID card.

At about 12nn, the soldiers came back and asked for another worker, Enrico Lastimado. When asked about their identity, the soldiers refused to give their names.

On March 13, another three soldiers came to the picket line again at around 9am purportedly to conduct a census. There they questioned another worker, Rosalinda Villavicencio. Once again, the soldiers asked her about their union president and the whereabouts of another union leader, Rolando Nicol (a.k.a. "Teng-Teng").

To avoid being questioned further, Rosalinda played dumb denying their union has a president. The soldiers likewise asked her if Mercy stays at the picket line. Rosalinda however told them that Mercy is living in Barangay Tuktukan and that if they wanted to confirm if she's telling the truth, she could accompany them to her house.

Another worker, Jovy Isid, who was also in the picket line at that time, was also questioned by the soldier. Jovy said the soldiers asked her name, age, civil status, job and her group affiliations. Jovy told the soldier they do not have any affiliations but they instead forced them into admitting that they have. One of the soldiers asked her if she knew someone whose house is located close to the picket line. Jovy told them that her sister-in-law's house is close by and that if they have questions about her, they could ask her instead as she is busy with her job at the time. The soldiers then asked Jovy about Mercy. When Jovy asked why they were looking for Mercy, the soldiers told her Mercy is a leftist.

On the same day at around 11am, another worker, Elena Hernandez, also said that a soldier she had described as tall, dark, and tough looking had also interviewed her and her husband supposedly for census purposes. Elena and her husband were both at the picket line at that time. The soldier had asked their names, ages, birthplace and their organization and the reasons for their strike.

Elena, however, like Edgardo told the soldiers they are not actually on strike. The picket line that they have set-up was purposely to prevent their employer from taking the industrial machines out from the factory. Elena also told the soldier that she and her husband had no other choice but to stay in the picket line because they could no longer afford to pay rent should they decide to occupy an apartment.

The soldier then asked Elena whether there are other groups that instigated them into going on strike. She told him there was none and it is their own decision to form their union for lack of other choice when their employer started taking out some of the machines and transferred them to another place.

In the Philippines, it is the practice of some owners of factories to close down unannounced and without properly informing their employees. The employees, too, are not being paid their separation pays, salaries and other benefits. Thus, what the workers could only do is to prevent industrial machines inside the factory from being taken outside by setting up picket line in front or close to the factory. They closely monitor the activities of the factory to prevent the machines from being taken out or transferred. This serves at least as the workers' de facto collateral until their employers pays them what is due them.

The soldier then asked Elena if she knows Mercy, whether she is living in Sta. Rita, Guiguinto, and that if she still comes to the picket line. Elena told him that Mercy only comes at the picket line when she has any updates to tell them about their case. The soldier then asked her if she knew Rolando Nicol (a.k.a. "Teng-Teng").

The soldier then told the workers to cooperate with them in maintaining the peace and order. The soldier also added that it is common that when the communists know that a certain business is doing well, the communists would do anything to ensure its bankruptcy as that is what makes them happy.

Thus, it is for these reasons they are not convinced that the Footjoy workers have no supporters. Additionally, the soldier also asked if their union is a member of Kilusan ng Manggagawa sa Bulacan (KMB or Bulacan Workers' Movement) or Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU or May One Movement).

Then, at around 12nn to 1pm, a soldier now identified as Yonel dela Cuesta, had returned to the picket line telling Rosalinda that they wanted to speak to Mercy because they are going to give her a house and lot. However, before they could do so they wanted to question her and take her to Fort Magsaysay. Yonel also warned Jovy that anyone who is seen with Mercy would also be pursued. The soldiers have since visited the picket line almost everyday looking for Mercy.

On March 23, Edgardo had a conversation with one of the soldiers who had introduced himself as commander of the 7th ID. He, however, could not recall his name. It is in Shoetown, a branch of Footjoy, where this conversation took place, which is located in the same village.

According to this soldier, they have a list of their union members which was given by the factory's keeper, Domingo Obal. Leading on the list was the union's president, Mercy. The existence of the supposed list though is yet to be confirmed.

This soldier also claimed that whether the workers admit or not, they have been surely infiltrated by the communists. He also mentioned that the workers knew where Mercy is but they hid her from them. Edgardo told him it's up to them whether they want to believe the workers. Edgardo told him that it just so happened that Mercy is the one who always speaks during their meetings because she could grasp easily what their lawyer wanted to say. The soldier also mentioned that they are wondering why Mercy was also always present in rallies.

Edgardo's experience was then followed on March 25 when two soldiers entered the Footjoy factory and asked him to accompany them inside around 4:45pm. While Edgardo was accompanying them, the soldiers asked him whether he has anything to say about Domingo.

Edgardo however answered that Domingo was the keeper of their employer's fish pond. The soldiers then corrected their own question and asked him again about Domingo's involvement in their case. Edgardo answered that his co-workers were mad at Domingo because he had colluded with the factory owner in taking the machines out from the factory.

In another incident, on March 24 at around 3pm four soldiers visited the house of other Footjoy workers, Zenaida Magabo and her husband, Ronaldo, in Barangay Tabe, Guiguinto, Only Ronaldo was at their house at that time. According to the accounts of Ronaldo relayed by Zenaida, the soldiers asked her husband if he knows Mercy and the other officers of their union.

They also confronted Ronaldo for being a speaker in some rallies. But Ronaldo reasoned out patiently answering their questions but never believed him. Instead, they quoted a line from the bible stating that Judas was killed because he was a liar. They then told him that he and his wife should report to the detachment the following day, March 25, and if they fail to do so it would mean that they are hiding something.

However at around 11:30pm on the day, while Zenaida and Ronaldo, were asleep the soldiers arrived and pounded their gate. They also forced them to report to their detachment. When they arrived at the detachment, a certain Major Barnas/Vargas introduced himself telling the couple that he is the second high-ranking official in Bulacan. He also claimed that the barangays in Bulacan and Pampanga are under his command. He also told them that they had already given lecture to the "mother leaders" of their barangay--referring to the coordinators in the village--telling them that union organizing is Mercy's way of money making.

This military major also said that Mercy is Satur Ocampo's disciple and that communists wants to undermine the country's economy that is why they are urging the workers to go on strike. He also claimed that it is their way of recruiting members of New People's Army (NPA), a rebel group.

The soldier also added that with regard to the Php10 million (USD 2.3 million) monetary awards for the workers, the Php 2 million (USD 47,000) have been already taken by Mercy that is why their case is not making any progress and that there is no assurance if the workers would be able to get their share. He also added that even if the workers get their separation pay, some of them would still die. The couple was interrogated for about an hour and a half.

On March 25, at 1pm, Ronaldo and his wife Zenaida were again told by the military to report to the detachment and ordered Ronaldo to fill-up a form with a heading address of Panasahan, Malolos. He was then offered to become a member of Barangay Intelligence Brigade (BIB), but they were able to refuse by making excuses reasoning that they are very busy with their tiangge business (store of surplus products being sold with lower prices).

The couple also said the soldiers also visited their fellow workers living in Barangay Tabe. Like them they were also questioned about Mercy. On March 26, at around 1pm to 2pm, a man who introduced himself as a buyer from Shoetown had come asking workers Chito Ibardolaza and his fellow worker Satur to accompany him going to the Footjoy's building. However, upon reaching the place, the man, whose movement was seen suspicious, did not get out from his car. He instead gave Chito and Satur food to eat telling them he would come back some other time.

After a while, as the two were together with a neighbor Boyet having a rest under the tamarind tree near the picket line, when a man, carrying a gun, approached them introducing himself as an NPA member. He then asked who are the strikers and their president, and how long they have been holding their picket line. They told the said man that they have been on strike for seven years.

The man then commented that Antonio Tan, the owner of the company, has already left outside the country. He then asked if there are any "pulahan" (leftist) in their group. He also asked them about Mercy's whereabouts and told them that she was evil. After that, he left and went straight to the soldiers' outpost nearby.

Up until now, the threats and harassment perpetrated by the soldiers against the workers is still continuing. The soldiers also continue to pursue Mercy. During the incidents, Mercy was not at the picket line, but her fellow workers had immediately informed her once they are being threatened and harassed. For the time being, Mercy has since gone into hiding and could no longer be located. She was last known to have worked as a laundrywoman.

The Footjoy Industrial Corporation, owned by Antonio Tan, is a company that produces shoes and slippers. It began its operation in 1991 in Cruz, Guiguinto, Bulacan. It has almost 15,000 employees including those employees in other branches of Footjoy such as Front Runner/BRC, Shoetown, KTP, Discovery Luggage, Bon Voyage, Cathay Luggage and Pulilan Footwear.

On 2 February 2001, the factory owner claimed they needed to temporarily shutdown their company due to financial losses. The workers, however, noticed that the management had been gradually taking their machines out from the factory which should have not been allowed.

Because of this unannounced closure, the workers had no choice but to hold a strike within the same month. They set up their picket line outside the factory which eventually became the residence of many of the workers after losing their jobs. They could no longer afford to pay for rent should they decide not to stay at the picket line.

On March 19, 2001, almost 505 workers have filed charges of Illegal Closure, Illegal Dismissal and Non-Implementation of the Wage Order No. 8 for underpayment before the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) in Region 3, against the owner of the factory. The NLRC is under the Department of labor and Employment (Dole). On October 2001, the NLRC ruled in favor of the workers granting them a monetary compensation of about Php51 million (contrary to the soldiers' claim of only Php10 million).

The owner, Antonio Tan, appealed the NLRC's decision on 14 December 2001 but was eventually dismissed due to his failure to complete the appeal bond. On July 2002, Antonio then filed another appeal before to the Court of Appeals (CA). On 29 November 2002, the CA ruled in favor of Antonio's appeal and ordered the case to be sent back to NLRC. He was also allowed a Php10 million appeal bond.

On 15 September 2003, the workers filed a Petition for Review before the Supreme Court (SC) with regards to the CA's decision. However, on 27 July 2007, the SC affirms the CA's earlier decision in favor of Antonio. At the present, the workers are still waiting for the SC's Entry of Judgment in order to set a hearing at the NLRC.

SUGGESTED ACTION:Please write letter to the concerned authorities requesting for their appropriate intervention into this case. A credible investigation must be conducted regarding these allegations against the soldiers. The soldiers should also be investigated regarding the actions they are taking against the union leaders and workers and that must be held responsible if found to have committed this violation.

The AHRC has also written to the Special Representatives of the UN Secretary General for human rights defenders; on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. We have also endorsed the union's complaint to the Secretary General of the International Labor Organization (ILO).

To support this appeal, please write:

Dear __________,

PHILIPPINES: Soldiers continuously harass and threaten a union leader and her fellow workers
Name of victims: 1. Mercy Santomin, union president of the Nagkakaisang Samahan ng Footjoy (United Association of Footjoy) and her fellow workers; 2. Rolando Nicol (a.k.a. "Teng-Teng"), union officer 3. Satur Maraganas 4. Edgardo Hernandez5. Aldrin Lipa 6. Erlando Ricohermoso7. Enrico Lastimado 8. Rosalinda Villavicencio 9. Zenaida Magabo and her husband; 10. Ronaldo11. Chito Ibardolaza(All of them are union members and former workers of the factory Footjoy Industrial Corporation) Date of incident: Since 10 March 2008 to presentPlace of incident: Barangay (village) Cruz, Guiginto, BulacanName of alleged perpetrators: Yonel dela Cuesta, Major Barnas/Vargas and several soldiers attached to the 7th Infantry Division (ID), Philippine Army.

I am writing to raise my grave concern regarding the soldier's actions by continuously threatening and harassing a union president, Mercy Santomin, union officer Rolando Nicol and at least nine of their companions mentioned above. Mercy, Rolando and their fellow workers, all are members of Nagkakaisang Samahan ng Footjoy (United Association of Footjoy), had been holding a picket line in front of their factory since February 2001.

I am aware that after their factory shuts down unannounced, the workers were left without choice but to ensure that the factory's industrial machines kept inside would not be taken out until they are paid their separation pays and other benefits. The workers have lost their jobs and their factory closed down without paying their financial obligations due them. Some of them, too, were left without choice but to stay at their picket line despite enormous inconvenience as they themselves are no longer able to pay for a house rent after losing their job.

However, as the workers' compensation claims from their former employer remains pending, I have learned that the soldiers, whose names and unit is mentioned above, have continuously been employing threats and harassment against the union's leaders and members. They also falsely accused Mercy of either being leftist and insinuated they had been influenced by communists to justify their actions; for instance, of questioning them in absence of their legal counsel.

This incident began on 10 March 2008 when the soldiers had come to the village close to where the union's picket line is located and set up their detachment there. The soldiers, without any substantial reasons or explanation, have since been routinely going to the union's picket line and questioning the workers staying there. They have repeatedly questioned them regarding the whereabouts and personal details of Mercy and their union's activities since then. One of the workers was also asked details about Rolando.

Although the soldiers do not have any business with the pending labor dispute between the workers and their former employer, the soldiers nevertheless interfere claiming the workers' decision to go on strike since February 2001 could have been influenced by the communists. In doing so, the soldiers are making justifications to their obviously illegal actions. The civic service and census they are conducting with the workers is in fact a smokescreen in this case.

Also, there have been instances wherein the workers are held and questioned in absence of their legal counsel. This is what had happened to Zenaida Magabo and her husband Ronaldo on March 24. The couple, who are also workers and union members, were briefly held at the soldiers' detachment after having been forcibly taken from their house while they were asleep.

They were questioned regarding Mercy's details and other leaders. The soldiers likewise attempted to employ the couple's service into the Barangay Intelligence Brigade (BIB) organized by soldiers but they refused.

Apart from that, I am deeply concerned with the soldiers' action which is effectively undermining these workers rights to freely associate and to exercise their right to create union in pursuing their labour rights. The soldier's presence in the area, did not only counter the police' duty of maintaining peace and order, but have also threatened the very heart of the union's activity itself.

or soldiers to interfere with union activity on the pretext of civic service and fighting insurgency is completely unacceptable. I could not find any substantial reason that could justify the soldier's continuing actions against the workers.

It is extremely shocking that these soldiers continuously threaten and harass these workers on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations. Their interference with the exercise of the workers' right to freely associate must be stop immediately. The soldier's actions have in fact contradicted the very purpose of their deployment there. The soldiers' intervention into the workers' union activities does neither fall within the civic service nor maintenance of peace and order they supposedly ought to do.

I am deeply concerned by the misrepresentation, misleading and illegal actions taken by the soldiers as they perform their duties there. I therefore, urge you to ensure that the soldiers involved must be investigated to answer the allegations against them. The soldiers must give sufficient explanation as to why they should not be held accountable for continuously threatening and harassing these workers. Their failure to do so should hold them accountable.

Furthermore, I urge you to ensure that the workers affected are also afforded with adequate and immediate assistance. I urge you to consider providing some arrangement to ensure their security and protection.

It is disappointing that some of these workers had to go into hiding for unsubstantiated illegal acts. These workers have long suffered from lost of livelihood and homes due to the failure of their employer to pay separation pay and other benefits. On top of this, they suffer threats as they continue to make these rightful claims.

Yours sincerely,



1. Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, President, Republic of the Philippines, Malacanang Palace, JP Laurel Street, San Miguel, Manila 1005, PHILIPPINES
Fax: +63 2 736 1010 Tel: +63 2 735 6201 / 564 1451 to 80 E-mail:

2. Commissioner Lourdes Quisumbing, Commission on Human Rights, SAAC Bldg., Commonwealth Avenue, U.P. Complex, Diliman, Quezon City, PHILIPPINES
Fax: +63 2 929 0102 Tel: +63 2 928 5655 / 926 6188

3. Deputy Director General Avelino Razon, Chief, Philippine National Police (PNP)
Camp General Rafael Crame, Quezon City, PHILIPPINES
Fax: +63 2724 8763 Tel: +63 2 726 4361/4366/8763 E-mail:

4. Mr. Emilio Gonzalez, Deputy Ombudsman, Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for the Military and Other Law Enforcement Offices 3rd Floor, Ombudsman Bldg., Agham Road, Diliman, 1104 Quezon City, PHILIPPINES
Tel: +63 2 926 9032Fax: +63 2 926 8747

5. Mr. Ronaldo V. Puno, Secretary, Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG)
A. Francisco Gold Condominium IIEDSA cor. Mapagmahal St., Diliman, Quezon City, PHILIPPINES
Fax: +63 2 925 0332 Tel: +63 2 925 0330 / 31 E-mail:

6. Mr. Raul Gonzalez, Secretary, Department of Justice (DoJ), DOJ Bldg., Padre Faura
1004 Manila, PHILIPPINES
Fax: +63 2 521 1614 E-mail:

7. Gen. Hermogenes Esperon, Chief of Staff, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) AFP-GHQ Offices, Camp Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, Quezon City, PHILIPPINES
Fax: +63 2 911 6436Tel: +63 2 911 6001 to 50

8. Mr. Marianito Roque, Acting Secretary, Department of Labor and Employment (Dole)
7/F DOLE Building, Intramuros, Manila, NCR 1002 PHILIPPINES
Tel No: +63 2 527 2131 E-mail:

Thank you.

Urgent Appeals ProgrammeAsian Human Rights Commission (

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