(Star Advertiser) Labor union leader seeks U.S. support

  • BRUCE ASATO / BASATO@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Ed Cubelo

Filipino labor leader Ed Cubelo, who was once imprisoned for his union- organizing activities, wants Honolulu audiences to know about ongoing abuses in the Philippines while seeking American support.

Cubelo, 48, is in Honolulu for speaking engagements today and Tuesday following a three-month tour of the mainland that took him from New Jersey to Southern California.

Cubelo said he estimates that he spoke to 50 different groups on the mainland, but the number could be higher.

He holds several simultaneous union positions in the Philippines: chairman of the Metro Manila chapter of Kilusang Mayo Uno, the Philippines’ biggest labor center; president of Toyota Motor Philippines Corp. Workers Association; president of Defend Jobs Philippines; and chairman of Church People-Workers’ Solidarity.

The labor situation in the Philippines already was bad under former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, when Cubelo and 20 other auto assembly union leaders were imprisoned for four days in 2006, Cubelo said.

During a Toyota strike in 2001, Cubelo said members of Arroyo’s security detail “went to my house, but I wasn’t home.” Soldiers later erected a military camp next door to a union office in Laguna Province.

But times are much worse under current President Rodrigo Duterte, Cubelo said.

“The workers are under threat,” Cubelo said in Tagalog as Honolulu-based physician Arcelita Imasa translated. “They are experiencing harassment from the military and the police.”

Employees have been harassed to vote against forming unions, Cubelo said, and three leaders of agricultural workers were released from prison only after they were forced to sign letters resigning as union leaders.

Duterte also is using social media to spread fake, anti- labor messages that are being consumed in and out of the Philippines, Cubelo said.

And Filipino media typically report that people arrested for union activity are “drug dealers (because) Duterte is now using the war on drugs to go after union leaders,” Cubelo said.

In November, banana plantation picket lines set up in Mindinao were destroyed “by tanks and armored personnel carriers,” Cubelo said.

Houses belonging to banana union organizers have been burned and the leaders have been arrested, he said.

But the pickets by as many as 1,000 workers continue, Cubelo said.

“It’s no secret that worker situations are already repressed, so there’s a fear to get themselves organized,” Cubelo said. “But they are also convinced because of that repression that they need to get organized.”

In a country where the average living wage is $10 a day, unionized auto assembly workers at Toyota Motor Philippines Corp. make double that. But workers are under surveillance and barred from talking about union activity, Cubelo said.

Cubelo hopes to return home with outside support, including:

>> Donations to the mobile Crispin Beltran Workers’ School. The school, named after Filipino labor leader Crispin “Ka Bel” Beltran, rotates around Manila training workers on how to organize.

“Especially for those that are scared, their first steps are to get together secretively and then get themselves educated and come out into the open once they have the numbers,” Cubelo said.

>> Encouraging U.S. officials to investigate how $184.5 million in congressional military aid to the Philippines is being used for anti-union “human rights violations,” Cubelo said. … “We are wishing that local politicians in different states also support this effort.”

ED CUBELO

Appearances in Honolulu

>> Today: 6 p.m. Church of Crossroads, 1212 University Ave.

>> Tuesday: Noon. Unite Here, Local 5 (private)

>> Tuesday: 2 p.m. University of Hawaii Moore Hall, UH Center for Philippine Studies

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