Statement on the Protest of NutriAsia workers and the illegal arrest of 19 workers and supporters

The Assert Socio-Economic Initiatives Network (ASCENT) slams the illegal arrest of 19 NutriAsia protesters, supporters, and journalists, on the afternoon of July 30.

Among those arrested were four volunteers of Altermidya, a national network of alternative media outfits, who were covering the incident. They were Hiyas Saturay, Eric Tandoc, Avon Ang and Psalty Caluza. Also illegally arrested were Anakbayan Secretary General, Einstein Recedes, and League of Filipino Students (LFS) Secretary General, Mark Quinto.

An ecumenical mass was taking place and some 300 workers and supporters were sitting on the road when the security guards from NutriAsia started pushing the workers using police shields. The police and guards then violently dispersed the protesters by hitting them with rattan sticks and throwing stones at them.

In a failed attempt to justify their actions, the Meycauayan police claimed that one of those arrested carried a hand gun and 4 sachets of shabu. A certain Edwin Barana was presented to the city prosecutor along with the other 19 arrested. He then confessed that cops beat him up so that he will say that he is one of the protesters, when in fact, he has been in jail since 2016. He was only temporarily released so that he would go with the arrested workers and make it appear that they were armed.

The 19 were already released on August 1 after the prosecutor dismissed charges of physical injuries charged against them by the Meycauayan police. Video footages during the violent dispersal clearly showed that rocks were being hurled in the direction of the protesters.

On June 2, workers started to go on strike after about 50 workers were terminated for having participated in a protest condemning the dismissal of five union leaders and members. According to Rey Apolinario, B-Mirk Operations Manager, it is illegal for the workers to form a union. B-Mirk Enterprises Corporation is one of the subcontracting agencies to NutriAsia.

ASCENT vehemently condemns this illegal practice of many companies. Article 8 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESC) states “the right of everyone to form trade unions and join the trade union of his choice, subject only to the rules of the organization concerned, for the promotion and protection of his economic and social interests.”

Moreover, of the 1,400 workers of NutriAsia, only 100 are regularized, with the rest employed by six subcontracting agencies.
Even if President Rodrigo Duterte already signed an Executive Order (EO) putting a stop to ‘endo’ or hiring workers in 5-month-long cycles at a time in order to avoid granting them regular status as employees and giving them the necessary benefits, many companies still practice it and refuse to adhere to the Department of Labor and Employment’s (DOLE) order to regularize its workers.

The ICESC recognizes that ‘freely chosen work remains an essential part of being human”. Work is the primary source of one’s income on which food, survival, and life depend. Therefore, the right to work must be realized in order to enjoy other basic human rights such as food, education, housing, etc. Especially in the Philippine setting, the right to work becomes increasingly vital since the government does not provide free basic social services such as healthcare and opts to privatize these.

It comes as no surprise that the NutriAsia laborers were forced to assert their right to regular employment, given that they have been working there for several years, even decades.##

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AscentPH is a national alliance of development organizations determinedly working for the empowerment of the people through poverty alleviation and promoting and defending the right to development and other fundamental human rights and freedoms.

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