For their courage and persistence in the face of escalating threats to their own lives, seven delegates representing the Philippine labor movement received the 2023 AFL-CIO George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award in a ceremony in Washington, D.C., this week. The award is given annually in recognition of dedication to and effectiveness in highlighting the widespread denial of fundamental human rights at work and in society.

“This award is in recognition of the Philippines labor movement’s resilience, persistence and courage in the face of extreme violence and repression,” said AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler at the event.

More than 70 union members have been killed since 2016, and many more are victims of red-tagging (branding and accusing individuals and/or organizations of being terrorists), illegal firing of union activists and anti-terrorism laws directed at stifling freedom to form unions and bargain.

“The killings are precisely designed to sow fear among workers,” United and Progressive Workers Center (SENTRO) Secretary General Josua Mata told the Solidarity Center.

Persecution has not stopped despite recent changes to the government’s top leadership. Union leader Jude Thaddeus Fernandez, 67, was killed September 29 after a division of the Philippine National Police reportedly entered Fernandez’s home and shot him dead. The murder of Alex Dolorosa—whose role as a union organizer and a paralegal was funded by the Communications Workers of America (CWA)—in April remains uninvestigated like every other extrajudicial killing of a trade unionist in the country.

Workers who are organizing and conducting other union business in the Philippines seek only to build a decent society and life for their families, Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) Vice President Luis Corral told the Solidarity Center.

“We are not the enemy,” he said.

In addition to Corral and Mata, the delegation receiving the award for include Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) Secretary General Raymond Basilio; Business Process Outsourcing Industry Employees Network (BIEN) President Mylene Cabalona; Public Services Labor Independent Confederation (PSLINK) President Annie Enriquez Geron; Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) Chairman Elmer Labog; and Federation of Free Workers (FFW) President Sonny Matula. The Solidarity Center has a 25-year partnership with the Philippine labor movement, including current support for an organizing campaign for low wage, app-based food delivery workers. 

“This recognition fortifies our resolve and validates our efforts under the most challenging of circumstances,” said TUCP President and Philippine Congress House Deputy Speaker Raymond Mendoza when accepting the award, “on behalf of all workers in the Philippines, especially those who gave their lives for labor.”

Previous award recipients include United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association Maina Kiai and the Tunisian General Labor Union (Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail, UGTT), which also won a shared Nobel Peace Prize for its role in brokering Tunisia’s path to democracy during the Arab uprisings.

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