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PHILIPPINES: Nineteen striking workers laid with fabricated charges continuously detained

August 21, 2009

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION - URGENT APPEALS PROGRAMME

Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAC-102-2009

21 August 2009
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PHILIPPINES: Nineteen striking workers laid with fabricated charges continuously detained

ISSUES: Freedom of association; right to liberty and security; inhuman treatment; arbitrary arrest and detention; administration of justice
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) writes with deep concern regarding the continued detention of 19 workers who are facing fabricated charges for holding a strike two years ago. They were, at the time, protesting the illegal termination, demanding payment of minimum wages and other lawful benefits from their employers. One of the workers has already died after contracting tuberculosis which was aggravated by poor prison condition.

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

On May 2, 2007, the workers and members of the newly formed local chapter of the Congress Labor Organization (CLO) went on strike. They held their picket to protest against the illegal dismissal of their fellow workers, non-payment of holiday pay, 13th month’s pay, night differential and salary. They are only paid Pesos 160, half of the Pesos 320 (USD 6.6) mandated as the daily minimum wage in the said area. The striking workers had left the gate open, allowing the company to operate and did not interfere with the movements of the other staff.

On May 9, 2007, their employer, the Karnation Industries and Export, Inc., and Pansy Accessories, another company operating in the same compound as Karnation (believed to have been also owned by Karnation), alleged that the strikers padlocked the gate of the compound. The said incident, they claimed, has resulted in the detention of other people inside the compound for eight days. The workers vehemently denied the accusations.

On May 10, 2007 the workers were arrested and taken to Hill Top Police Station where they were immediately detained without undergoing preliminary investigation. They were charged with Serious Illegal Detention, Grave Coercion, Malicious Mischief, Alarms and Scandal, and Resistance and Disobedience to a Person in Authority.

The workers sought the assistance of a private lawyer. However, after the lawyer received payment for the service he had rendered from the workers, he did not show up for several hearings. The person who had organized the workers' union also abandoned them and did not even visit them after they were detained.

In one of the hearings the complainants, Willy Sia, Ma. Teresa Costales, Milo Guido, and Elly Carsula of Pansy Accessories Corporation, presented the pictures of the gate they claimed the workers had padlocked. The pictures showed workers on strike outside the compound. The workers, however, argued that the pictures and the persons in the said picture are not known to them and, in fact, did not resemble any of them.
 
On June 15, 2007, Esperanza G. Arceo-Paras, the 4th assistant provincial prosecutor, issued a resolution which held the workers criminally liable for illegal detention. She also ruled that in the case at bar "no employer-employee relation exists between the complainants and respondents justifying the former as ‘innocent bystanders.’"  The crime of Grave Coercion, according to her resolution, should also be absorbed into the Serious Illegal Detention and that no bail is recommended for the case. She dismissed the charges of Malicious Mischief and Alarms and Scandal, for lack of evidence.

One of the two complainants is attached to the Pancy Accessories Corporation. Although he claimed to have no involvement with the Karnation Industries and Export, Inc.; however, the location of his office and that of the Karnation Industries is the same. They are all holding offices at 350 Irma St., Marick Subdivision, Cainta, Rizal.

The workers alleged that Karnation Industries and Export, Inc., uses the name of Pancy Accessories Corporation when dealing with their business partners in other countries. The salaries of employees from Pansy Accessories Corporation and the Karnation Industries and Export, Inc., come from same department. The company rules being imposed in Karnation Industries and Export, Inc. are also similar to that of the Pansy Accessories Corporation.

The relation between the complainants to the worker's employer illustrates that, contrary to the prosecutor's findings, there exist 'employer-employee' relationships between them.

On September 26, 2007, Gregorio A. Arizala, provincial prosecutor, issued a resolution contrary to Prosecutor Arceo-Paras' findings. In his resolution, Prosecutor Arizala had given consideration to the Batas Pambansa Bilang 227, a law which states that “before any case (arising out of a labor dispute) is filed with, or before the same is submitted to the courts, the labor dispute should be allowed to be ventilated before the Ministry of Labor or the office of the President as the case may be, in order that we may attain the industrial peace which is primordial objective of this law.” 

This prompted Prosecutor Arizala to issue a decision granting the Motion for Reconsideration that the workers had filed and the information in the instant case had been ordered to be withdrawn. He also ordered the detainees release from detention. But on October 20, 2007, Regional Trial Court (RTC) Judge Ma. Teresa Cruz San Gabriel, where the case is pending, denied the Motion to Withdraw Information and upheld Prosecutor Arceo-Paras' resolution.

After being detained for four months at the Hill Top Police Station, the workers on strike were then transferred to the Karangalan Police Station, Cainta, Rizal, where they are all presently detained.

Since October 2007, the case dragged on until July of this year, when Atty. Remigio Saladero took over the case following the CTUHR’s intervention. Although there had been lawyers who had represented the workers in court; however, due to the workers failure to pay them for the services they have rendered as they themselves had no financial resources, there has not been any progress to their case in court. The jail visits of the workers relatives had also became less frequent, as they too ran out of finances.

On December 2008, one of the detainees, Melvic Lupe, died of tuberculosis while in detention after his condition was aggravated by poor prison conditions. The detention center, to which they are presently held, is a small prison cell, measuring about a four meters square room, with more than 20 inmates occupying it.

The living conditions of the detainees is appalling. All of them could not even lie down to sleep at the same time as the detention cell is small. Thus, others had to sleep in a sitting position. Not only is their food scarce there are occasions when the food ration is served late. And even if the visiting relatives would bring food for the detainees to eat, the jail guards would take some portions of the food they were carrying before it reached the detainees.

The case has been pending for over two years; however, the court where the case is pending has not been able to reach to a conclusion. It was only on July 2009, following the intervention labour lawyer Remigio Saladero had filed, that the court held a weekly hearing. However, it was postponed again to October because the judge had taken a leave of absence.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION:

The workers registered their union, the Congress Labor Organization (CLO) – Karnation Industries and Export, Inc. chapter in the first quarter of 2007. Prior to the registration, the workers had been paid below the minimum wage, deprived of any benefits due them from the company. But even after they had their union registered, there has not been any significant improvement to their working condition.

It was on May 1, 2007, when the workers (particularly the union officers and members) were told that they should stop from reporting to their work as the company is shutting down its operation due to significant losses. Strangely though, only those union members who are complaining of the unfair labour practices had been prevented from working while the other workers were allowed to carry on.
 
The workers are formerly employed by Karnation Industries and Export Inc., a company engaged in the business of manufacturing and exporting goods such as handicrafts and of trade on wholesale and retail basis. The company exports their products to different countries, such as Taiwan, Singapore, United States, Italy and Canada. The workers' place of work is at 350 Irma St., Marick Subdivision, Cainta, Rizal.

The listed incorporators of the Karnation Industries and Export Inc. are different from the recognized owners of the company. One Karnation Industries owners, Willy Sia, is also one of the incorporators of the Pansy Accessories Corporation, a company that Karnation Industries and Export Inc., uses to transact business with buyers from overseas.  Willy Sia is also one of the complainants of the case against the workers.

Further, the workers also stated that the company often changes its name such as Bagong Anyo Multi-Purpose Cooperative, FAFPHIL, and Pinoy Handicraft Manufacturing Corporation. They also testified that there were different identification cards being issued to them, each with different names and addresses of the company. One of the detained workers, Melanio Delovino, said that three Identification Cards (IDs) had been issued to him despite the fact that his job description and his place of work had not.

The company started its operation in 2000 with different company name. It only used the Karnation Industries and Export Inc. on 2006, and is using another different company name at present.

SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please write letters to the authorities below requesting for their intervention to ensure the immediate conclusion of the case filed against the detained workers. Should there be no sufficient evidence the charges must be withdrawn unconditionally. The detainees' appalling condition inside the prison facility where they are held must also be looked into.

The AHRC is also writing letters to the Special Rapporteurs on the question of torture, human rights defenders and the independence of judges and lawyers.

To support this appeal, please click here:

SAMPLE LETTER:

Dear ___________,

Re: PHILIPPINES: Nineteen striking workers held over questionable charges

Names of the worker presently detained:
1. Sonny M. Batuyang, 39, married, of Banaba Extension San Mateo, Rizal
2. Claro M. Claridad, 28, married, of Nangka Marikina City
3. Romeo M. Amit, 36, married, of Barangay San Isidro Taytay, Rizal
4. Leo C. Paro, 25, single, of Parang, Marikina City
5. Andy S. Salarson, 29, single, of Concepcion, Marikina City
6. Jessie A. Bergona, 22, ofBanaba Extention, San Mateo Rizal
7. Rodolfo D. Mendoza, 30, of Village St., Cainta, Rizal
8. Melanio A. Delovino, 29, of Villa Tupaz, San Juaquin, Pasig City
9. Renato B. Lopez, 33, of J. Pasig, Cainta, Rizal
10. Crisanto D. Sabaten, 18, of Banaba Extention, San Mateo, Rizal
11. Emuel Vergara, 25, laborer, of Fairview, Quezon City
12. Richard P. Sabuco, 27, of Abnay St., Sitro Lupang Arenda, Barangay Sta. Ana, Taytay, Rizal
13. Joseph M. Atienza, 34, of Marikina Heights, Marikina City
14. Julius S. Alcantara, 36, of Barangay San Isidro, Taytay, Rizal
15. Pulido I. Baguno, 30, of Kabisig Floodway, Cainta, Rizal
16. Bobby A. Maglay, 30, of Tomana Concepcion, Marikina City
17. Jason T. Alvarez, 22, of Loveros, Antipolo City
18. Robert B. Camagay, 23, Barangay San Isidro, Taytay, Rizal
19. Leo D. Sabaten, 20, of Banaba, San Mateo, Rizal
All of them are presently detained at the Karangalan Police Station, Cainta, Rizal
Name of person who died while in detention:
20. Melvic C. Lupe, 29, of Parola, Cainta, Rizal. He died in detention on June 2008 due tuberculosis and various complications he had acquired during his incarceration.
Name of their company:
Karnation Industries and Export, Inc., a company engaged in the business of manufacturing and exporting goods such as handicrafts and of trade on wholesale and retail basis.
Name of the complainants:
Willy Sia, Ma. Teresa Costales; Milo Guido and Elly Carsula, of the Pansy Accessories Corporation.
Status of the case:
The charge filed against the workers for Serious Illegal Detention remains pending at the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 80, in Morong, Rizal. There had been needless delays in the conclusion of the case due to, for instance, the judge takes leave of absence.

I am writing to express my deep concern regarding the continued detention of 19 striking workers after they had been laid with questionable charges over two years ago. The workers went on strike on May 2, 2007; but instead of their employer, Karnation Industries and Export Inc., addressing their demands they were laid with questionable charges.

Under the Batas Pambansa Bilang 227, cases or complaints arising from labour dispute should have been the primary jurisdiction of the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE), instead of the complaint being filed to regular courts. In this case, however, even though the case is arising from a labour dispute, the prosecutor and the court judge had arbitrarily taken jurisdiction on pretext that 'there is no employer-employee relation that existed between complainants and the striking workers'.

The complainants involved, as mentioned above, have had connections with the company to whom these striking workers are complaining about. Willy Sia, is also one of the incorporators of the Pansy Accessories Corporation, a company that Karnation Industries and Export, Inc. uses in transacting business with buyers from abroad. The location of office and place of work by these two companies are also the same; thus, giving proof that they owners are one thereby clearly establishing a 'employee-employer' relationship between them.

This case, therefore, should have been under the jurisdiction of the DoLE as, according to information made available, arose from a labour dispute. In this case, not only the public prosecutor did, by way of taking jurisdiction over the hearing of this case, usurp the jurisdiction of the DoLE's functions, but the local court also undermined its authority.

However, despite questions as to the legality to the right of the court where the case is presently pending, to take jurisdiction of the case, the court judge hearing the must nevertheless ensure the immediate conclusion of the case. It is unfortunate that these continued delays, apart from the questions to the court's jurisdiction to hear the case, has left these detainees no other legal remedies. The provision of the Speedy Trial Act, which requires a certain length of period upon which cases are resolved, must be strictly observed.

Thus, for these detained workers to force themselves into living in a crowded and poor prison facilities, which is the result of the prosecutor and the court's arbitrary action, is unacceptable. The needless delay to the conclusion of their case is also disappointing.

Also, it is shocking that that the local court where the case is presently pending, appears to have not been aware of the condition of the detention facilities where detainees are held. One of the detainees have already died after contracting tuberculosis; and those who remained in detention have since been suffering from lack of food, crowded and poor prison facilities.

It is unacceptable for this local court has failedto look after the welfare and living condition of these detainees as required under Section 25 Rule 113 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure. This law stipulates that court judges must "exercise supervision over all persons in custody." They are obliged to conduct personal visits to jails and to take a monthly inventory of detainees.

Lastly, I urge you to ensure that an inquiry is conducted into the death of one the detainees while in detention. There should be an inquiry into the condition of the detention facilities where these detainees are held. These perpetual reports of over-crowding of prisons, the lack of food, and poor jail condition must be addressed at once not only in this case but throughout the country.

Yours sincerely,

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 PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

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

2. Ms. Leila De Lima
Commissioner
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
E-mail: mtm_rodulfo@yahoo.com

3. Deputy Director General Jesus A. Verzosa
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: ruth_cossid@yahoo.com

4. Ms. Agnes Devanadera
Secretary
Department of Justice (DoJ)
DOJ Bldg., Padre Faura
1004 Manila
PHILIPPINES
Fax: +63 2 521 1614
E-mail: raulgonzalez_doj@yahoo.com

5.  Mr. Marianito Roque
Secretary
Department of Labor and Employment (Dole)
7/F DOLE Building, Intramuros
Manila NCR 1002
PHILIPPINES
Tel: +63 2 527 2131
E-mail: sec_art_brion@yahoo.com.ph 

6. Ms. Ma. Teresa Cruz San Gabriel
Presiding Judge
Branch 80, Regional Trial Court
Morong, Rizal
PHILIPPINES
Tel: +63 2 691 5535


Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (ua@ahrc.asia)


Document Type :
Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID :
AHRC-UAC-102-2009
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Extended Introduction: Urgent Appeals, theory and practice

A need for dialogue

Many people across Asia are frustrated by the widespread lack of respect for human rights in their countries.  Some may be unhappy about the limitations on the freedom of expression or restrictions on privacy, while some are affected by police brutality and military killings.  Many others are frustrated with the absence of rights on labour issues, the environment, gender and the like. 

Yet the expression of this frustration tends to stay firmly in the private sphere.  People complain among friends and family and within their social circles, but often on a low profile basis. This kind of public discourse is not usually an effective measure of the situation in a country because it is so hard to monitor. 

Though the media may cover the issues in a broad manner they rarely broadcast the private fears and anxieties of the average person.  And along with censorship – a common blight in Asia – there is also often a conscious attempt in the media to reflect a positive or at least sober mood at home, where expressions of domestic malcontent are discouraged as unfashionably unpatriotic. Talking about issues like torture is rarely encouraged in the public realm.

There may also be unwritten, possibly unconscious social taboos that stop the public reflection of private grievances.  Where authoritarian control is tight, sophisticated strategies are put into play by equally sophisticated media practices to keep complaints out of the public space, sometimes very subtly.  In other places an inner consensus is influenced by the privileged section of a society, which can control social expression of those less fortunate.  Moral and ethical qualms can also be an obstacle.

In this way, causes for complaint go unaddressed, un-discussed and unresolved and oppression in its many forms, self perpetuates.  For any action to arise out of private frustration, people need ways to get these issues into the public sphere.

Changing society

In the past bridging this gap was a formidable task; it relied on channels of public expression that required money and were therefore controlled by investors.  Printing presses were expensive, which blocked the gate to expression to anyone without money.  Except in times of revolution the media in Asia has tended to serve the well-off and sideline or misrepresent the poor.

Still, thanks to the IT revolution it is now possible to communicate with large audiences at little cost.  In this situation there is a real avenue for taking issues from private to public, regardless of the class or caste of the individual.

Practical action

The AHRC Urgent Appeals system was created to give a voice to those affected by human rights violations, and by doing so, to create a network of support and open avenues for action.  If X’s freedom of expression is denied, if Y is tortured by someone in power or if Z finds his or her labour rights abused, the incident can be swiftly and effectively broadcast and dealt with. The resulting solidarity can lead to action, resolution and change. And as more people understand their rights and follow suit, as the human rights consciousness grows, change happens faster. The Internet has become one of the human rights community’s most powerful tools.   

At the core of the Urgent Appeals Program is the recording of human rights violations at a grass roots level with objectivity, sympathy and competence. Our information is firstly gathered on the ground, close to the victim of the violation, and is then broadcast by a team of advocates, who can apply decades of experience in the field and a working knowledge of the international human rights arena. The flow of information – due to domestic restrictions – often goes from the source and out to the international community via our program, which then builds a pressure for action that steadily makes its way back to the source through his or her own government.   However these cases in bulk create a narrative – and this is most important aspect of our program. As noted by Sri Lankan human rights lawyer and director of the Asian Human Rights Commission, Basil Fernando:

"The urgent appeal introduces narrative as the driving force for social change. This idea was well expressed in the film Amistad, regarding the issue of slavery. The old man in the film, former president and lawyer, states that to resolve this historical problem it is very essential to know the narrative of the people. It was on this basis that a court case is conducted later. The AHRC establishes the narrative of human rights violations through the urgent appeals. If the narrative is right, the organisation will be doing all right."

Patterns start to emerge as violations are documented across the continent, allowing us to take a more authoritative, systemic response, and to pinpoint the systems within each country that are breaking down. This way we are able to discover and explain why and how violations take place, and how they can most effectively be addressed. On this path, larger audiences have opened up to us and become involved: international NGOs and think tanks, national human rights commissions and United Nations bodies.  The program and its coordinators have become a well-used tool for the international media and for human rights education programs. All this helps pave the way for radical reforms to improve, protect and to promote human rights in the region.