July 5, 2007
(Toronto) A group of Canadian church, human rights and trade union organizations is calling on Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to immediately launch an impartial and independent investigation into alleged armed attacks and death threats against striking workers at the Chong Won Fashion garment factory, now known as C. Woo Trading.
The Canadian organizations include the Canadian Auto Workers’ Union (CAW), KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives, the Maquila Solidarity Network (MSN) and the United Steelworkers (USW). They are also calling on the Philippine president to take immediate steps to ensure the safety of striking Chong Won workers and an end to any further violence or threats of violence against the workers and labour rights organizations providing them advice and support.
On the night of June 10 and morning of June 11, a group of seven picketers was attacked inside the Cavite Export Processing Zone (EPZ) by groups of men armed with knives and M-16 rifles. According to the picketers, the attackers threatened them at gunpoint saying that they would be killed if they did not abandon the strike. The picketers also reported that the attackers bragged of being paid 2 million pesos (Can $45,700) to destroy the strike and challenged them to go to the police.
According to the picketers, they did attempt to report the incidents at both the PEZA police station that polices the EPZ and at the national police station in nearby Rosario, but were told that the incidents would not be investigated.
“We are extremely concerned about these reports of violent attacks by unknown armed men on a small group of workers picketing peacefully outside the Chong Won factory,” says Carol Phillips, Assistant to the President of the CAW. “We are particularly concerned about reports that the armed men threatened to murder the workers if they did not abandon their strike. In the current climate of extra-judicial killings, such threats must be taken very seriously.”
Working with Canadian churches, KAIROS, a church-based nongovernmental organization dedicated to social justice, has paid particular focus over the past year on raising awareness of concerns about extra-judicial killings in the Philippines.
“The fact that groups of armed men could apparently enter and exit the well-guarded Cavite Zone without being stopped or questioned by PEZA police raises serious questions about the role of the PEZA police in these incidents,” says Dale Hildebrand, KAIROS Team Leader for Human Rights and Peacebuilding. “That the police reportedly later refused to investigate the incidents makes it all the more imperative that the president immediately launch an impartial and independent investigation.”
According to Lynda Yanz, Coordinator of the Maquila Solidarity Network, a Canadian human rights organization, this is only the latest in a series of attacks and other acts of intimidation against the Chong Won workers who have been on strike for nine months for the right to negotiate with their employer for better working conditions.
“Workers who are only asking that their internationally recognized labour rights be respected should not be subjected to mass firings, harassment and discrimination, physical assaults and death threats,” says Yanz. “President Macapagal-Arroyo’s recent appeal to foreign businesses to invest more in the country to enable the Philippines to attain first world economic status in 20 years will go unheeded by companies sensitive to human rights abuses unless her government puts a stop to these attacks on union leaders and human rights promoters.”
The international community is increasingly questioning why serious and persistent human and labour rights violations go unpunished in the Philippines.
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