NutriAsia workers to company: “You’re inhumane, heartless”

Campus journalist Jon Bonifacio was beaten and dragged by police during the violent dispersal of the NutriAsia picket line on July 30. Screengrabbed from Altermidya.

Members of the Nagkakaisang Manggagawa ng NutriAsia (NMN), along with other progressive groups, held a press conference at the Our Lady of Fatima Church on Tuesday, July 31, to address the violent dispersal of the 2 month-old picketline at the Marilao plant on Monday, July 30.

Alvin Lascano, vice president of NMN, recalled the incident prior to the dispersal, refuting the claims of the Philippine National Police (PNP) that the protesters carried packets of shabu and guns and instigated the encounter.

According to Lascano, the workers and their supporters were finishing up the Ecumenical Service to prepare for the pending dialogue with the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and the company of NutriAsia when armed forces started to throw rocks and pull protesters, leading to the almost 15-minute altercation.

The following is Lascano’s testimony:

Nagkaroon po tayo ng ecumenical prayer bilang payapang paglunsad ng aming panawagan sa mga kahilingan ng mga manggagawa sa NutriAsia. Isa pong mapayapang panawagan para sa negosasyon na nangyayari sa DOLE. Sabi po namin ay wala kaming gagawing gulo. Sinasabi po nilang may dala kaming baril. Wala kaming dalang mga baril. Ang dala lang namin ay mga panawagan. Mga placards na nagbibitbit ng aming kahilingan na maregular at magkaroon ng nakabubuhay na sahod.

Hindi po namin inaakala na ganoon po ang hahantungan ng pangyayari. Nagsimula po ang gulo sa mga guwardiya. Wala po silang sinasanto. Yung mga lider po, pinupuntirya nila. Yung lider nila nag-cocommand na papatayin na raw ako. Pero nandun po ang kapulisan, nanonood. Nandun din po ang DOLE, walang ginagawa. Walang ginagawa ang kapulisan. Iligal na ang ginawa sa amin. Yung mga kasama namin nakahiga na pinapalo pa rin. ‘Yung nakita namin dun, yung mga gwardiya, hindi talaga sila gwardya. Kasi ang mga gwardya, kailangang disiplinado na hindi nila dadahasin ang mga mamamayan. Yung mga gwardiya dun ay galit na galit. Parang naka-droga, amoy alak pa. Kung humampas wala silang pakundangan. Wala silang awa. Yung mga matatanda, nakahanay lang sa tabi pinagpapalo nila. ‘Yung mga sumusuporta pinagpapalo nila. Pati pari hindi nila pinatawad. Ang sabi pa nila kay Father ‘Walang pari-pari dito!’. ‘Yung mga kasamahan namin, nakakulong. Yung mga AlterMidya, pinaghuhuli nila. Yung mga camera na ebidensya namin na wala kaming ginawang masama, sinira nila. Yung mga laptop, sound system sinira nila.

(We were holding an ecumenical prayer to peacefully air out NutriAsia workers’ calls, a peaceful call for the negotiations with the [labor department] to push through successfully. We said we wouldn’t instigate any trouble. [The police] said we had guns with us. But we didn’t have guns. What we had were only our calls, our placards bearing our demands to regularize us and give us decent wages.

We weren’t expecting for this to happen. The guards started the violence. They spared no one. They aimed at the leaders. The head guard commanded his subordinates to kill me. The police were there, watching us [getting dispersed]. The labor department’s representatives were also there doing nothing. What they did to us is illegal. Fellow workers who had already fallen on the ground were beaten. The guards who were there were not really guards. Because guards are supposed to be disciplined and are not supposed to cause harm to the people. The guards there acted very angrily. It seemed they were high and they smelled of alcohol. They beat us mercilessly. They had no mercy. They beat the elderly who were only sitting on the side. They beat our supporters. Even the priest was not spared. “We don’t respect priests here!” they said. Our comrades are detained. Members of the alternative media are also detained. They confiscated the cameras containing evidence that we were doing nothing wrong. [The guards and police] destroyed laptops, our sound system.)

Meanwhile, the President of NMN Jessie Gerola narrated their union’s ordeal with the condiments company who retaliated the establishment of their union with termination of their contracts and two violent dispersals. In a separate statement, NMN lambasted the Permanent Injunction Order given out by the Malolos Regional Trial Court (RTC) which was used as a basis to carry out the dispersal.

“Bakit nakikialam ang RTC sa labor dispute? Bakit hinayaan makalusot ang Permanent Injunction Order?” Gerola manifested.

(Why is the Regional Trial Court meddling with the labor dispute? Why did [the RTC] allow the Permanent Injunction Order?)

Gerola later clarified that the Permanent Injunction Order of the Malolos RTC was given out without prior notice, even when NutriAsia alleged that the RTC called for two hearings prior to the dispersal.

‘System that kills’

The press conference also featured the sectors which supported the plight of the workers and their call for regularization.

Kara Lenina Taggaoa, the spokesperson of the League of Filipino Students (LFS), highlighted the detention of two youth leaders Einstein Recedes, the secretary-general of Anakbayan, and Mark Quinto, the deputy secretary-general of the LFS. Both were nabbed in the scuffle and charged, along with 17 others.

She also blasted the Duterte administration for its inefficiency to alleviate the workers’ situation in the country.

“Ang pagturing po sa mga kabataan na nakikiisa sa mga manggagawa, sa lahat ng naaaping sektor ay mga kriminal. Kung kaya’t sila ay dinadahas at kinukulong. Ganito ang pagpapatakbo ni Duterte. Sa ilalim ng gobyernong Duterte, ang kinikilingan niya ay ang mga kapitalista, ang mga kapwa niya mamamatay-tao, yung ibang mga bayan. Samantalang yung mga ordinaryong mamamayan, yung mga magsasaka at manggagawang bumubuhay sa lipunang ito, sila po ang pinagsasamantalahan at pinahihirapan ng gobyernong ito,” Taggaoa said. 

([The government] treats youths who are one with the workers movement and with the people’s struggles as criminals. They are subject to violence and arrests. This is how the Duterte administration works. Duterte’s government sides with the capitalists, his fellow butchers, and with other countries. While ordinary people, the farmers and the workers who lift this society up, they’re the ones who are oppressed and exploited by this government.)

Taggaoa also slammed the Duterte government for failing to deliver his promise to end contractualization, saying that it instead caused mass layoffs and illegal terminations of contractual workers.

Reynante Gudinez, the Spokesperson for NMN, also echoed Taggaoa’s sentiments, stating that what had transpired in the NutriAsia dispersal yesterday signifies the government and the company’s refusal to honor their right to form a union and recognize their democratic interests. Gudinez elaborated that this denial of their right sends the workers in their graves, a direct manifestation of a system that kills workers and ordinary people.

“Pinapatay na kami ng ganitong klaseng sistema. Ang lahat ng mga manggagawa at mga sumusuporta sa aming laban ay pinapatay ng sistema na ito,” Gudinez emphasized.

(We are being killed by this kind of system. All of the workers and those supportive of our struggle are being killed by this system.)

‘Unwavering resolve’

Despite the recent dispersal, the workers of NutriAsia, as well as the other sectors supportive of their plight, manifests the resolve to continue their campaign.

“Makatarungan ang ating ipinaglalaban na tayo ay maregular. Ang mga taong simbahan, mga kabataan, tutulungan nila tayo kapag nakikita nila ay tayo ay nagkakaisa sa ating hangarin. Lahat tayo, wala na tayong ibang magagawa kundi magkaisa upang baluktutin ang sistema na nagpapahirap sa atin. Mamulat tayong lahat. Kung ano ang sistemang umiiral ngayon, kung hindi tayo magkakaisa, mananatili ang sistemang nagpapahirap sa ating lahat. Ipaglaban natin ang ating karapatan. Tumindig tayo. Wag tayong matakot.” Lascano emphasized.

(Our fight for regularization is just. Church people, the youth, they are one with us because they see that we are united in our goal. All of  us, we have nothing else left to do but to struggle as one to crush the this oppressive system. We should open our eyes. The system that is exploiting us will remain the same if we do not unite. We should fight for our rights. Stand firm. Dare to struggle.)

The press conference also called out for the immediate release of the detained 19 individuals after the incident, among them were five members of the alternative media. NMN reiterated that these 19 individuals have done nothing wrong and they are taking steps to campaign for their release.

The NutriAsia workers’ campaign gained traction online and drew ire and protests from various places in the country as well as abroad. NMN reported that an indignation rally was held by members of Anakbayan – USA. Workers from the SLORD Development Corporation, makers of UniPak sardines, also launched an indignation rally yesterday as well.

According to the group, Senator Joel Villanueva is also planning to seek a senate inquiry regarding the violent dispersal.

The management of NutriAsia has yet to issue another statement following the developments of the case.

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