CUPE 4600 in the Philippines
Isang Bagsak is a phrase in the Tagalog language which means "one down,"
"one fall" or "one landing." Isang bagsak evokes the idea of people from around the
world joining together to find victory in struggle.
Recommendations to the CUPE 4600 Executive Board, Council and General Membership
26 July, 2016
The stories I heard, the things I saw and the significance of the Alliance of Concerned Teacher's solidarity work with indigenous schools, and by extension CUPE 4600s, go above and beyond what is possible to express in a blog format. My goal here was to illuminate the type of projects and solidarity work the International Development Fund supports, and ignite member's interest in the political struggles occurring in the Philippines. I plan to present a report about our solidarity work to council, and at the August GMM, if invited to do so. I also aim to present in front of CUPE National's Aboriginal Council and the Post-Secondary Education Task Force in order to underscore the need to continue our work with the Alliance of Concerned Teachers and continue to struggle alongside indigenous teachers and students in Mindanao.
I leave the Philippines with the following recommendations:
1) Expand the International Development Fund by establishing a financial arrangement comparable to article 27 of the Unit 1 Collective Agreement in the Unit 2 Collective Agreement;
2) Continue CUPE 4600's union solidarity work with ACT and support their alliance with Lumad schools;
3) For the External Affairs Committee to meet and democratically decide which charity registered with the CRA will act as the coordinator of CUPE 4600's and COURAGE/ACT's joint projects (I will be sure to post the precise criteria the organization will have to meet in order to satisfy CUPE National and gain their support);
4) If CUPE National requests a delegate from the membership to return to the Philippines, the VP External should appoint and give preference to individuals who identify as indigenous or Filipino from the general membership;
5) The VP External should track and be sure to present all reports submitted by ACT and COURAGE on each project's progress;
6) CUPE 4600's international solidarity work should be mentioned at general membership orientation sessions so that members are aware of global work the Local is engaged in.
Interview with Union Activist
Mabelle Desamito Caboboy
from the Alliance of
Concerned Teachers (ACT)
22 July, 2015
As 80% of all educators in the Philippines are individuals who
identify was women, ACT ensures that 70% of their executive
board is composed of members from this demographic.
I caught up with Mabelle, one of ACT's executives, in Davao
City, right before the commencement of the International Conference on Peoples' Rights in the Philippines.
How long have you been a member of ACT? What position do you hold?
I have been a member of ACT since 2001, when I was still a student at University of the Philippines Diliman. I wear many hats within the union now. Currently, I am the Vice President of the Quezon City Public School Teacher's Association. This is my second term. Concurrent to this, I am also the Vice-President to ACT-National Capital Region, Quezon City Chapter. Lastly, I am the Deputy-Secretary General of ACT Philippines. I was appointed by the National Council to be the Deputy-Secretary General this past June, 2016.
What are the top issues your members face?
A salary increase for teachers and non-teaching personnel is a major issue, and has been for some time. Second, we focus on the transfer of local supplemental allowance of Quezon City teaching and non-teaching personnel from Land Bank, a government bank, to BPI-Globe Banko. This arrangement allows for a private bank to profit off of public funds. I would say another big issue for us is the K-12 reformulation of the public school curriculum. The abolishment of the K-12 system was a national demand that we have made to Duterte when he was elected. ACT also cares deeply about the struggles faced by the Lumad schools in Mindanao.
Why did ACT join the Lumad struggle? How does ACT express its solidarity with Lumad communities?
ACT joined the Lumad struggle because there were Lumad schools which were closed and encamped by the military, which is unconstitutional Teacher and educator, Emerito Samarca, the Executive Director of ALCADEV, was killed inside a school -- his throat was slit from ear to ear, and he bore gun-shot wounds on his body -- during the 1 September, 2015 in the Monobo community. Also, students have suffered harassment since 2005, and as a concequence, have been evacuated every two years. So, because of this, we are one of the conveners of the 'Save Our Schools' (SOS) network. This campaign aims to end the military's poccupation of Lumad schools, bring the Lumad back to their homelands, re-build their schools, and let them continue with their education. The SOS network helped in sourcing out funds to purchase instructional and school materials during the evacuation in September, 2015.
What does international union solidarity mean to you, and for ACT more generally?
It means that unions here in the Philippines are one and in solidarity with other teachers and trade unions in the world. We would like to be in solidarity in fighting imperialism, the commercialization and privatization of education, and making sure that students are given their basic right to education, no matter where they are in the world, and to uphold teachers' right to organize and unionize.
TEACHER ACTIVISM AT ALCADEV
21 July, 2016
The first ALCADEV school opened in July 2004. According to their website, ALCADEV schools aim to provide a system of relevant knowledge, skills and values so that indigenous youth can be self-reliant, self-sufficient, analytical and creative in seeking ways to improve the quality of life of their families indigenous communities and the country. As such, ALCADEV teachers actively promote an alternative learning system for secondary education that will enhance indigenous intellectual capacity and growth and reinforce their collective pride and identity as indigenous peoples who are capable of taking an active role in shaping the country’s future. So too, do teachers, students and community members take seriously the need to self organize and promote cultural identity through the school system.
However, Lumad learning schools are being attacked by state forces uder the military's counter-insurgency program 'Oplan Bayanihan.' 2672 Lumad students have been affected by the closure of schools due to military attacks and threatsFor instance, on 13 March 2014, Monobo tribe leader Jalandoni S. Campos was illegally arrested for his activism with the ALCADEV system and for speaking out against large-scale mining. The property of teachers have been ransacked and burned, and head teacher, Emerito Samarca, was found dead 1 September, 2015, the day of the Monobo evacuation.
Two days ago I attended an ALCADEV math class taught by Jhon-Jhon T. Clura. He joined the ALCADEV teaching staff three years ago after graduating from college: "There was and still is a shortage of teachers in all ALCADEV schools because teachers are afraid. After I graduated I decided to be a volunteer teacher in Lumad schools. My parents do not support my decision to teach at ALCADEV because I don't get paid very much compared to teachers in the regular Dep. Ed school system and they are scared for me. I shared my experiences with my parents, told them about the students, how political they are and how important their school system is to their communitiy, but they do not understand. I am also harassed by the military.They say that I am a member of the New People's Army and that I am training students for that group. This is not true."
I asked Jhon-Jhon about teaching after the 1 September, 2015 forced evacuation:
"I was there during the evacuation. Once we arrived in the evacuation center, parents and teachers spent the first week building outdoor classrooms.They were different than the classrooms we had back in the community as our previous classrooms had walls and were not as hot. After the classrooms were built, ALCADEV teachers conducted psycho-social activities with the students to release the trauma and fears they had over the incident. The teachers tried very hard to use the classroom as a place to talk about what happened to support the community."
Jhon-Jhon's classroom decorations includes two signs which express the same statement in English and Monobo: "Land is our Life / Pask to Knabuti ta."
I asked students from Jhon-John's class what message they would like for me to share with my community back home. Gleezajoy Belandres stated in Visayan that, "dapat isa mi nga matabangom sa atong presidente nga masulbad among problema. Malaumon kami" (we are hopeful that we are among those the President will help in solving our problem). Elgen added, "Maka-uli sa among komunidad nga malinawon ug walay gubot aron dili name maka-bakwit ug usab" (I hope we can peacefully go home without conflict so that we will never evacuate again). Driving home the need to find a durable solution to their problem of harassment and displacement, Amor proclaimed that "mahatagan na gyod unta og ltustisya ang kamatayon sa duha ka lider ug among mag fufudlo nga dili temporary, linahangioin tinuod na nga kalirow ng justisya" (we want justice for our Lumad leaders and teachers and it should not be temporary. It must be genuine peace and justice).
During a focus group with the ISM delegates, Gleezajoy tearfully expressed that, "it is hurtful to be accused by the military of being a member of the NPA because I am an ALCADEV student. The government wants to keep us uneducated so that we will be easier to manipulate. I cannot accept the worthlessness of the killing of our teachers and I will not forget how our teachers have struggled. In my mind, the teachers and leaders are not dead and that through the ALCADEV system, their lives and legacy will live on. Our community will overcome. I do not see any wrong doing by our teachers but their harassment serves as a reminder of our need to persevere" (orally translated by ISM Secretariat).
Opening of the school day
"Land is our Life"
Jhon-Jhon teaching away
MONOBO in MINDANAO
20 July, 2016
The delegation spent their first day in Makati City, which is one of the seventeen cities which form Metro Manila. We met with two executive members from the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) for a briefing about the Save Our Schools Campaign, which is directly related to the exposure I attended July 17th-19th, and the displacement of teachers due to the Department of Education's reformulation of public school curriculum to a K-12 system. After a four hour discussion, ACT hosted a Solidarity dinner that was attended by Dr. Judy Taguiwalo who is the current Secretary of Social Welfare appointed by the Communist Party of the Philippines, and a former Carleton University graduate student (I will have to confirm with Stuart if she was a member of CUPE 2323, which is a previous rendition of CUPE 4600). SCheck out this CUPE National news release which provides an overview of the CUPE mission in the Philippines.
The next day the CUPE delegation split in two and traveled to their respective International Solidarity Mission (ISM). As a precursor to the International Conference for Peoples' Rights in the Philippines, which the CUPE delegation will attend, each ISM aims to expose human rights abuses in different parts of the country as a way to galvanize international awareness and solidarity. Kamal and myself traveled to Tandag and Lianga in Surigao del Sur, which is located in Mindanao, to partake in the Caraga ISM. The Caraga ISM focuses on the human rights abuses faced by the indegenous population, known here as the Lumad, in Suriago del Sur. The Monobo tribe is embroiled in a struggle for the recognition of their right to self determination, and their right to occupy their ancestral land without harassment by the military or large-scale mining companies.
In the 1950's, the Monobo tribe was displaced by a logging company without consent, forcing all Monobo communities to take refuge in the mountains. Although displaced, Monobo communities were self-sufficient, and began to thrive as they learned and applied sustainable agriculture practices. Their approach to farming produced yields sold through the Bayanihan Sarang sa Kaugalingong Ekonomiya (BSKA), which is an agri-cooperative. All produce and profits produced by BSKA are equally owned and shared by each member of the tribe. As their bountiful crops raised their standards of living significantly, one leader told me, the community began to organize and focus on other aspects of tribe life.
In the early 2000s, the Monobo peoples developed their own community schools oriented towards Lumad knowledge and values. The Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur Schools (TRIFPSS), which is equivalent equivalent to our primary school system, teaches community values, agriculture, as well as Filipino, math, science, technology and home economics, and Filipino history which begins before the colonization of the Philippines by Spain. The Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV) system is similar to our high school, however the curriculum is structure around advanced agricultural practices, and community mobilization (which is literally a mandatory course on activism for the benefit of the Monobo tribe).
The military has accused both TRIFPSS and ALCADEV teachers of being members of the National Peoples Army (a para-military group active in Mindanao), of teaching students how to load and dismantle guns, and for teaching anti-government propaganda. Although the military has never been able to supply sound evidence in support of these bogus accusations, teachers suffer from aggressive harassment, trumped-up charges and have even been killed for supporting and continuing their work as teachers in Lumad schools. Due to this harassment, the Monobo tribe has evacuated nearly every year since 2005 for 1 week to 45 days to protect the community from immanent danger and death threats.
However, on 1 September, 2015, members of the Monobo tribe were awaken by masked paramilitary groups adorn with formal military outfits, and ushered into a basketball court. To intimidate community leaders into signing a consent form which would allow a large-scale mining company, Abacus Coal, to strip soil from their ancestral lands, the para-military group shot and killed a community leader. Fearing for their lives, the Monobo community fled to an evacuation center, which was essentially an outdoor soccer stadium. The military now occupies their former schools, and mining equipment is slowing moving onto their land. 1,800 members of the Monobo tribe from 5 different communities have been in the evacuation center for 322 days, and there have been 5 mortalities due to illness provoked by the incredibly low standard of living in the camp.
ISM Caraga delegates stayed in the evacuation center for three days in order to better understand and support the Monobo struggle against the militarization of their schools and the large-scale mining of their ancestral lands. Within a week of arriving at the evacuation center, community members and teachers built outdoor classrooms, and classes started up again only 7 days after their upheaval. The first week of classes focused on processing the trauma of their plight, and by the second week, classes began once more.
I sat through a morning of class, which began at 7:30am. All students assemble in the space, or beaten-dust yard between the make-shift school houses, for prayer, the National Anthem, Panunumpa sa Watawat (pledge to the flag) and Alternatibong Paralan (an alternative school song). This is proceeded by 10 minutes of exercise and aerobics, then students go to their classrooms, which take place inside the houses of community members or in wall-less, outdoor structures vulnerable to the noise from neighboring classes and the community at large. As there is no refuge from the heat, classes run from 8-1030am, and 130-430pm to avoid heat stroke.
The first class I attended opened with the most depressing nursery rhyme: "There were tress on our land. The loggers cut down the trees on our land. There was a landslide because the loggers cut the trees. People died because there was a land slide because the loggers cut the trees on our land."
Monobo Evacuation Centre at dawn
320 days without justice
Mountains of Suriago del Sur
Monobo Evacuation Centre at dawn
Monobo community members
mountains striped from nickel mining
PROJECT #2: Fighting State
Repression with COURAGE
15 July, 2016
Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE) activists
are being threatened and intimidated by the state in order to stem their inspiring resistance to the privatization
of public services. In April 2015, for instance, three COURAGE leaders were approached by individuals believed to be members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police. They were told to turn themselves into the police for their "anti-government actions" or suffer unknown consequences. Later that year, Randy Vegas and Raul Camposano, both COURAGE 2 National organizers, received bogus indictments, apprehended and detained. Still awaiting trial three years later, Vegas and Camposano remain in a remote prison nine hours outside Metro Manila.
In response to the aggressive crack-down on union activism by authorities, COURAGE has partnered with CUPE Manitoba, CUPE Saskatchewan, CUPE 4600 and the Global Justice Fund to implement the "Worker to Worker Solidarity Project". The project aims to end the myriad forms of aggressive harassment and repression experienced by leaders and rank and file members of COURAGE; hold the Aquino government accountable for the tactics used to repression union activity; educate public sector employees about their rights as union workers and their civil rights as citizens so that they may better defend themselves against arbitrary arrest and surveillance; increase the public's awareness of the government's repression of union activism, and; provide legal, financial and moral support to union members who have been the target of state harassment. To accomplish these goals, COURAGE aims to reproduce and circulate the Karapatan’s Rights Manual, National Union of Peoples Lawyers Paralegal Training paper, and COURAGE’s "Hands Off Our Unionists" campaign primer; establish and train Paralegal, Quick Response and Human Rights teams, and; build cases against relevant authorities for their activities in appropriate courts.
As the previous administration has also restricted civil liberties in Canada through the Anti-Terrorist Act and Bill C-51, CUPE members face similar challenges at home. CUPE's support of the "Worker to Worker Solidarity Project" is rooted in the shared concerned over state repression of union activity as home, and abroad.
PROJECT #1: Grassroots mobilization with ACT
13 July, 2016
The CUPE delegation met for the first time yesterday in Toronto for a 7.5 hour brief on the current political climate, and for anti-oppression training to prepare us for the cultural difference which may arise while organizing. As Kamal Gautam, By-Law Officer of CUPE Local 15 will be joining us in Manila, yesterday's crew consisted of: Judy Henley, Regional Vice-President of CUPE Saskatchewan; Limson Mestito, President of CUPE Local 500; ; Kelti Cameron, International Solidarity Officer, CUPE National; Doug Booker, Ontario Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines organizer, and; myself. Although CUPE's, ACT's and COURAGE's fights are deeply related, the context is different, and understanding the ways in which white privilege undermines or can help during our solidarity trip sparked meaningful discussions. Our delegation was the first to receive such training prior to any solidarity mission organized by CUPE National, and I think we all hope these orientations and training sessions continue to prepare delegates before future missions. Thank-you, Monique Ménard-Kilrane, for putting this workshop together. CUPE National is lucky to have you as one of their trainers!
As mentioned, CUPE 4600 contributed to two projects, "Partnership Support for the Alliance of Concerned Teachers to Build Grassroots Unionism in the Education Sector" for which ACT is a partner, and COURAGE's "Worker to Worker Solidarity" project.
The "Partnership Support for the Alliance of Concerned Teachers to Build Grassroots Unionism in the Education Sector" project aims to tackle the increasing privatization of the education sector. In sum, the project aims to "strengthen the global movement against the privatization of public services by providing education and by linking public sector workers in Canada with workers in the Philippines; draw attention to the state of political repression and deteriorating human and labour rights situation in the Philippines, particularly as it affects workers and their unions/organizations in the Philippines; provide concrete support to our overseas sisters and brothers in their fight for human and trade union rights recognition, and in their struggle for genuine democratic reform, and; continue to solidify our existing partnership with the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) and education locals in CUPE" (CUPE Global Justice Fund application). CUPE is actively embroiled in fights against the privatization of services as our own members increasingly face threats to job security and benefits at the municipal, provincial and federal level in all sectors, education included.
The funding and support provided by CUPE 4600 and CUPE National's Global Justice Fund will help ACT 1) accredit four Regional Chapters of ACT and register ACT unions in an additional four regions; reformulate and re-print 50,000 copies of Public Service Unionism primers for distribution; conduct six training sessions on how to lead unions at the city and school board level, and ensure that 60% of the participants are women in Region 9, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Region IV-B and Region X; train leaders on the contents of collective negotiations and provide the negotiation skills needed by 63 Regional Council leaders in Region 6, Region XVIII, Region 5, Region 7 and Region 11, and; address the human rights violations in the education sector to the as it relates to the militarization of campuses (here is a quick overview of this particular issue).
OCHRP will assist with the organization and coordination needed to get this project off the ground, and act as the liaison between ACT and CUPE. I will be sure to provide a summary of all reports received from ACT on the project's progress as they are released.
I will type-up an overview of COURAGE's project while on my 17 hour flight to Manila via Hong Kong, and post tomorrow!
CUPE 4600 in the Philippines: Rewind
8 July, 2016
I have known about CUPE 4600's solidarity work in the Philippines since I became a member in 2011. Admittedly, I was not a particularly active member in the Local my first few years. However, from the meetings I did attend, I always respected the Local's external work. 4600 saw their fight against the neo-liberalization of the university within which we work and study as part of a broader struggle against the quashing of social service provision and austerity measures. Our fight on campus is deeply connected to the fights of others staged across a variety of sectors, cities, provinces, and countries, like the Philippines.
This year, CUPE 4600 members voted to donate $4000 to the Ontario Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (OCHRP) which will be put towards two projects spearheaded the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), and the Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE), both of which are unions based in the Philippines. The "Partnership Support for the Alliance of Concerned Teachers to Build Grassroots Unionism in the Education Sector," project implimented by ACT, aims to inform CUPE members of the campigns waged by ACT to counter the crisis of underfunding and onslaught of privitazation in the education sector in the Philippines. The "Worker to Worker Solidarity with the Conferdation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees" project, organized by COURAGE, aims to sustain and further expand alliances as they launch their "Hands off Our Unionists and Activists" campaign. I am humbled and excited to have been selected to join the CUPE delgation on a union solidarity mission to the Philippines, where we will visit the ACT's and COURAGE's sites of struggle, as well as attened the International Conference for Peoples' Rights in the Philippines. I will return to and elaborate further on these two projects in the next post.
For now, I'd like to explain CUPE 4600's International Development Fund, as well as our history of solidarity work with unions in the Philippines.
In the 1990s Unit 1, which represents Teaching and Research Assistants, bargained for the establishment of an International Development Fund, which is currently expressed in Article 27 of the Unit 1 Collective Agreement (2013). A small portion of TA/RA wages (one cent~ per hour worked) is deducted and put into the fund, which is then donated to an international development organization registered with the Canadian Revenue Agency. When the timing is right, the External Affairs Committee, which is chaired by the Vice-President External, recommends a charity to the General Membership for approval.
In 2009, CUPE 4600 and OCHRP collaborated on the “Defend Human Rights in the Philippines: A Worker-to-Worker Solidarity Exchange” project. This brought union members based in the Philippines to Canada in an effort to raise support for the “Stop the Killings Campaign." In May of 2009, Antonio Tinio of ACT and Ferdinand Gaite of COURAGE met with labor and human rights organizations across Canada to raise awarness over the brutal political climate in the Philippines. At this point in time, 1000 activists and families had been detained, killed or disappeared since the 2001 election of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. More specifically, ACT had lost 3 National Executive Members, as the Arroyo government had branded unionists as ‘enemies of the state’ for criticizing government policies and actions.
In January 2010 CUPE 4600 members Rebecca Warden, Joe MacDonald, Priscillia Lefebvre and Natalie Phillips, along with Ilian Burbano from CUPE 3393, Serge Landry of CUPE 2079, and Kelti Cameron from CUPE National, traveled to various areas in the Philippines. Members met with farmers, students, teachers, trade unionists and human rights organizations, who were actively embroiled in a fight against the privatization of public services, the proliferation of export processing zones (EPZ) and political and military oppression.
In solidarity with the high-stakes of the multi-front battles staged across the Philippines, the CUPE delegation joined picket lines, visited communities and agitated alongside their counterparts from ACT and COURAGE. In the summer of 2010, CUPE National President Paul Moist wrote an open letter to the President of the Philippines, Benigno Aquino III, and called for the end to human rights violations in the Philippines.
To hear more about CUPE 4600’s 2009 solidarity mission, check out this interview with Priscillia Lefebvre and Business Agent Stuart Ryan at CHUO.
In 2013, CUPE 4600 donated funds from the International Development Fund to OCHRP which were put towards the “Defending Human Rights in the Philippines: A Continuing Worker to Worker Solidarity Project: Phase VI.” In July of that year, a delegation composed of CUPE 4600, CUPE Manitoba, CUPE National and OCHRP members embarked on a fact fact finding mission entitled “Against the Killings and Repression of Public Sector Workers in the Philippines." During this solidarity trip, ACT and COURAGE brought the delegation to different sites of struggle before merging with academics, human rights organizations, unionists and journalists at the International Conference for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines.
Check out this beautiful and informative Zine by OCHRP entitled "ISANG BAGSAK! Reports and Reflections on International Solidarity, Organized Labour and the Philippines," co-authored by former CUPE 4600 member, Alana Roscoe. It provides an excellent overview of the political context and 2013 mission.