December 2, 2008
Just days before the commemoration of human rights day, the faculty and staff union of the Wesleyan University in Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija denounced today in a press conference the interference and harassment by the military in their labor dispute. “We appeal to the government and the AFP to stop the use of military personnel in the harassment of workers involved in a labor dispute. Labor rights are human rights. This violation of labor rights becomes more glaring with the coming observance of human rights day,” declared Corazon Gonzales, the union president.
According to the Wesleyan University-Philippines Faculty and Staff Association (WUPFSA-LAGMAN), a certain Sgt. Edgar Dimalanta of the Civil Affairs Office of the 71st Infantry Division of the Philippine Army has been issuing veiled threats, and pressuring union officers and even some union members to sit down with him for a meeting. In a recent incident last November 25, Sgt. Dimalanta told Engr. Melquiades Guevarra, the union vice-president, that military men will visit them in their homes after the latter refused the former’s invitation to meet the union executive committee. “The circumstances clearly show that Sgt. Dimalanta is being used by the university administration headed by Atty. Guillermo T. Maglaya in his effort to bust the union and sabotage negotiations for a CBA,” Gonzales added.
After the press conference, the union officers of WUPFSA-LAGMAN trooped to the office of the Commission on Human Rights. Gonzales stated that “The union officers fear for our lives because of the blatant interference and intimidation by the military.” The union has also sent letters to the offices of the President of the Philippines, Chief Justice and Labor Secretary among others. They are also appealing for solidarity from the labor movement and human rights advocates. Officers of the labor federation LAGMAN to which the union is affiliated and the Partido ng Manggagawa (PM) expressed their support for the workers.
The harassment started with a “peace and development seminar” that was called by the administration for its employees last October 29. In the seminar, Sgt. Dimalanta, shrewdly threatened the union by saying that they can suffer the same bloody fate as the Hacienda Luisita workers if they insisted on the union president sitting in the CBA negotiations and that the military has received reports the union is infiltrated by communist guerillas.
In the past three years the union has charged the administration with unfair labor practices and violations of the collective bargaining agreement. On two occasions the Department of Labor and Employment has handed down decisions in favor of the union, finding the management guilty of union busting and ordering the reinstatement of the union president who was illegally dismissed. The administration of Wesleyan University, which is owned by the United Methodist Church, has refused to implement the orders and has rejected negotiations for a CBA on the alibi that the union president has been dismissed.