Less than a week prior to the highly-political union elections in Dole Philippines set tomorrow, February 22, Lt. Col. Joel Alejandro Nacnac, commander of 27th Infantry Battalion in Polomolok, South Cotabato was replaced by Col. Ricardo Visaya. The sudden change came two weeks after Lt. Col Joel Alejandro Nacnac signed the Social Accord stating that the military will not interfere and will avoid its presence in areas where contending local unions at Dole Philippines facilities are conducting activities and to “act as a stand-by peace-keeping force in case untoward incidents will occur.”
The Social Accord facilitated by Department of Labor and Employment,(DOLE) is aimed at helping ensure that the highly contested union election in multinational giant Dole Philippines (Dolefil) will be clean, fair and workers can vote their choice freely.
Col. Visaya appointment as the new commander of the 27th Infantry Battallion on February 16 just in time for the union election alarms the incumbent union, AMADO-KADENA-NAFLU-KMU, as well as other labor rights groups who are tightly observing the union elections and implementation of the Social Accord. The alarm is not without basis.
Around 9pm on February 18, a night following Visaya’s appointment, troops’ movement around the area which temporarily lain low following the signing of the Accord, resumed. A group of ten armed and uniformed military men riding a 6×6 military truck was seen roaming around the communities of Dolefil. The military vehicle passed in front of AK-NAFLU-KMU’s office twice that night. The rounds happened after a grenade was thrown but did not blow in Brgy Pulutana. Residents and members of AK-NAFLU-KMU however, suspect that the incident is contrived to justify the military’s continued presence in the area.
In Barangay Asuncion, the village nearest to the polling areas, the Barangay Defense System (BDS)—the combined civilian and military non-uniformed unit trained and commanded by the military— is encamped in a day care center. The 6×6 military vehicle is parked just outside the day care center, in full view of residents and workers living in the village. BDS elements replaced the regular military forces stationed there previously but pulled-out after the Accord.
“The mere presence of a military vehicle much more armed men roaming around the community can be very dreadful to the villagers and workers,” says Daisy Arago, Executive Director of labour and human rights organization, Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR). “Workers and community residents of Dolefil particularly those who are sympathetic to the incumbent AK_NAFLU-KMU had been complaining of military harassments for five years. This problem is a subject of complaint filed at the ILO, and at the Social Accountability International (SAI). Both mechanisms had recommended withdrawal of troops in the workplaces and noted that military presence constitutes violations of freedom of association. Dolefil management is incorrigible and does not abide by the recommendations. Having signed the Social Accord they are bound to stop any acts that may prejudice the workers’ exercise of their rights to choose their representatives freely. The military is no party to union affairs. It is only correct that they abide by the Social Accord which they signed, even if they argued that Dolefil requested their presence. The Philippine military is bound to serve the interest of Filipino people, workers included, instead of narrow and selfish interest of multinational corporation” Arago added.
Trail of gross human rights violations
Col. Ricardo Visaya used to head the 69th Infantry Batallion-Philippine Army based in Pampanga at the height of implementation of Oplan Bantay Laya II in Central Luzon under the command of the notorious Gen. Jovito Palparan. During his term, trade unionists particularly those who were identified to be progressive and militant whether or not they were affiliated with KMU in Pampanga had been hounded, `invited’ and threatened to resign from the union or disaffiliate with KMU. Strings of other human rights violations, apart from those mentioned is vilification of progressive and militant organizations were recorded and in fact became the subject of numerous complaints filed at various national and international human rights bodies.
After Central Luzon, Col Visaya headed the Civilian Military Operations of Philippine Army (CMO-PA) in Quezon city-National Capital Region which paved the way for the militarization of urban Metro Manila at the even of 2007 national election. Church, civil society as well the Commission of Human Rights at the time heavily criticized and called for immediate withdrawal of the military presence for its intimidating effect, vilification and reported harassments against members of militant partylist organizations.
Center for Trade Union and Human Rights expressed its wary and deep concern over the sudden change in Army leadership Polomolok, South Cotabato can be detrimental to the objectives of the Social Accord signed by the parties to ensure a clean, fair, and honest union elections this February 22. The resumption of active military movement is a clear violation of this Accord, and we call on DOLE to step in to preserve the purpose and spirit of the Accord. The Accord, first in the history of union election is important, and failure of the Accord because the company and military simply refuse to abide by it, can set a dangerous precedent in any attempt to restore democracy in the workplace.
“We are wary that Col Visaya, being a new commander and himself not a signatory to the Accord, may simply ignore the agreement. The military can use this as an excuse to pursue campaigns that will malign AK-NAFLU-KMU. Any acts in violation of the agreement must be stopped immediately,” Arago explained.
The Social Accord was signed on January 31 by the participating unions, AK-NAFLU-KMU and LEAD-PH), the Dolefil management, the director of Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Region XII Atty. Gloria and the Regional head of the Commission on Human Rights and the local government officials. A tripartite industrial peace council (TIPC) headed by the DOLE Region XII director was formed to monitor the situation and compliance of all signatories to the Accord.
The Accord was a product of complaints and dialogues that CTUHR, KMU and Washington-based International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) held with the DOLE and the CHR aimed at building an independent monitoring body to ensure a free and fair elections in Dole Philippines. The move was prompted by the long-standing harassment, intimidation, and union discrimination against the democratically-elected union, AK-NAFLU-KMU experienced under the management and the military since 2006.
Other violations and vilification intensify
Other than the military, the company-backed union Labor Employees Association in Dole Polomolok Hourly’s (LEAD-PH) has violated the Accord. The Accord instructs each union “to refrain from giving statements that may ruin the reputation of some persons…” But in February 17, an open letter using AK-NAFLU-KMU’s letterhead circulated thanking the mayor for his P2.5 million and 500 sacks of rice donations to AK-NAFLU-KMU and the CPP-NPA. Members of AK-NAFLU-KMU denied having released such a letter and filed a complaint at the Tripartite committee.
In last ditch of effort to pre-empt victory for AK-NAFLU-KMU , Dolefil management cancelled the work on days allotted for AK-NAFLU-KMU’s campaign (Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays) and implemented double shifts on days allotted to LEAD-PH’s campaign (Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays).
On February 19, Saturday an emergency meeting of the TIPC was held upon the request of AK-NAFLU-KMU’s regarding the violations of the Accord. Dole management and LEAD-PH however did not attend the meeting. The tripartite resolved to issue a communication to the parties reminding them of the Accord and promised to dispatch monitoring teams beginning Sunday, February 20.#
CTUHR warns about the possibility of a final blow of the military and Dolefil management to frustrate another win for AK-NAFLU-KMU night before the elections.. “The workers and every labour rights’ advocate following up this case should not let their guard down. This condition reminds of 2007 national election in Metro Manila where residents are pre-empted and threatened to campaign and vote for militant partylist Anakpawis, Gabriela and Bayan Muna until the very last minute of voting. AK-NAFLU-KMU holds the record of being the sole democratically-elected union in all of DOLE Foods facilities all over the world, and frustrating them is a direct attack not only to Filipino workers at Dolefil but also to workers in other parts of the world slaving for Dole Foods.#