“What Now Mr. President?” Dispatch #2 on the Findings of ILO Mission to the Philippines

There is “very little policy and/or legislative action” taken to address labor rights violations including the killings of trade unionists, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO) High Level Tripartite Mission (HLTM) to the Philippines.

The ILO HLTM held between 23 and 26 January 2023 concluded with an acknowledgement of the persistent violation of workers’ right to freedom of association (FoA), and made a set of recommendations.

The Mission underscored the interference of military and police in trade union activities and labor relations, and the baseless linking of the trade union movement to armed insurgency, both of which caused chilling effects on workers exercising their rights.

The unresolved labor rights violations contribute to the climate of impunity and undermine decent work. The mission calls for a genuine social dialogue, and more importantly, recommended a “presidentially-driven action” to address long-standing violations workers’ right to freedom of association.

During the debriefing meeting of the HLTM last 26 January 2023, leaders of labor groups and business groups presented a joint statement expressing their commitment to respecting workers’ rights to freedom of association, and support for the continuous investigation, prosecution and disposition of labor-related cases affecting freedom of association and collective bargaining.

The bipartite agreement between leaders of the Employers Group (i.e. Employers Confederation of the Philippines, Philippine Chamber of Commerce) and Workers Group (i.e., NAGKAISA) recommended setting up of a Presidential Commission to promote freedom of association, and a Truth Commission for trade unionists victimized by extrajudicial killings (EJK).

With these pronouncements by labor, business, and with the ILO, the resolution of killings of trade unionists and the protection of right to freedom of association now lie with the actions of the government. Unless the government heeds to the recommendations of the ILO HLTM and carries out concrete actions, violations of FoA will persist.

In a press conference held on 27 January 2023, trade union leaders of the Philippine labor movement welcomed the HLTM findings and recommendations as a positive development.

Speaking regarding the Filipino labour movement’s reaction to the ILO HLTM conclusions, Nice Coronacion, Deputy Secretary-General of Sentro ng mga Progresibo at Nagkakaisang Manggagawa (SENTRO/ Center of Progressive and United Workers) said that “the HLTM is favorable for workers [because it recognizes] that a culture of impunity pervades in the Philippines due to the unresolved cases of killings of trade unionists”.

Sonny Matula, President of the Federation of Free Workers (FFW) and currently the chairperson of NAGKAISA Labor Coalition added, “The HLTM concluded that the government mechanisms on freedom of association have been ineffective”.


What’s Next?


The ball is now in the government’s court. Under a huge backdrop, “What Now Mr. President?”, trade unionists are asking the Philippine government how it will address the strong recommendations of the ILO HLTM and to report to the ILO International Labour Conference (ILC) on June 2023. The labor groups started the countdown of 129 days before the 2023 ILC in Geneva, Switzerland.

Regarding the specific recommendations of the ILO HLTM, Annie Geron of PSLink also lauded the HLTM’s proposal to set up a Presidential commission to address FoA issues. However, she also noted that “the presidential commission need to be accountable to [ensure] government’s compliance on FoA rights”.

In a unity statement from all Philippine trade unions, the labour groups further calls the Philippine government to heed and implement the ILO HLTM recommendations foremost of which is to “stop the extrajudicial killings of workers, illegal arrests and detention, threats, harassment and red-tagging” of trade unionists.

The workers likewise call the government to address related labour issues such as “living wages, decent and regular jobs, public services, and respect for labor and trade union rights.”

On the ILO HLTM’s conclusion on the “government’s arbitrary linking of the labor movement with insurgency in the country” leading to violations of freedom of association, the workers vow to intensify their call to “review the government’s anti-insurgency campaign”.

In the Trade Unions Joint Report to the ILO HLTM, the labor groups recommended the creation of a presidential commission to oversee the ILO recommendations on FoA compliance in the Philippines; strengthening of the National Tripartite Industrial Peace Council-Monitoring Body (NTIPC-MB)1 to investigate and monitor the labor-related killings, harassment, intimidation, forced disaffiliation and other serious FoA violations; and to form a truth commission to resolve the pending cases of extrajudicial killings (EJKs) of trade unionists and provide reparation to the victims’ families.

The workers ended the press conference through a joint mobilization outside the building Commission on Human Rights to amplify their call to stop the killings of trade unionists, stop the rampant red-tagging and justice for the victims of extrajudicial killings.

(Photo: Authors)

Extended Reading:

The Thorny Road to Freedom (of Association): A Dispatch from the Philippines

Dare to Win: Food Factory Workers, State Coercion and the Fight for the Right to Organize in the Philippines

  1. The NTIPC-MB is a tripartite body convened by the Department of Labor as a mechanism to investigate and monitor labor-related killings and cases of serious FoA violations such as harassment, intimidation, abduction, etc. of workers.

Verna Dinah Q. Viajar is a scholar-activist and postdoctoral research fellow at the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, Germany. She has worked with Asian and Philippine trade unions and NGOs as an consultant in the last two decades. She previously worked as a Project Manager on the project of Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining for the ILO country office Manila in 2017-2019. Her involvement with the Filipino and Asian labour movement shaped her research and education on labour and migration studies, political economy, democratization and Southeast Asia politics and government.

CJ Castillo is a program coordinator at Labor Education and Research Network in the Philippines.