Sunday, February 28, 2021

The dialectic of violence: When blood stains our condiments

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Red in the face. Not because of anger, but her own blood.

The 56-year-old woman in the photo-graph was one of roughly 300 NutriAsia supporters and workers who attended an ecumenical service around noon of July 30, Monday, within company grounds. NutriAsia is located in Marilao.

At 3:00 p.m., the company’s 50 security guards, aided by 20 personnel of the Bulacan PNP, led a violent dispersal which ended in the arrest of 19 people and scores of others injured, including workers, journalists, and campus correspondents, according to reports by the People’s Alternative Media Network or AlterMidya (http://altermidya.net/journalists-hurt-arrested-at-nutriasia-strike-dispersal/).

Witnesses said the woman, who purportedly had been sitting in a corner during the ecumenical service, was trampled underfoot by both security guards and police personnel when the dispersal threw the workers and their supporters in a panic.

Based on a report by Bulatlat.com, Meycauayan Police Chief Supt. Santos Mera “claimed that they recovered guns and drugs from workers and their supporters,” thus the order for dispersal and arrest (http://bulatlat.com/main/2018/07/30/police-claims-nutriasia-protesters-journalists-arrested-guns-drugs/).

The workers have denied these allegations.

This was the second violent dispersal to happen during the strike of NutriAsia workers. A first violent dispersal transpired a month ago, whose videos went viral over social media within the very hour it happened. It was then that netizens called for the immediate exclusion and banning of NutriAsia food products and condiments on Filipino tables.

According to a post by Jose Mari Callueng, national chair of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines or CEGP (he was present at the Meycauayan precinct), the 19 who were detained were: Einstein Recedes-33, Anakbayan; Imelda Rey-57, KDMY; Aileen Raganit- 42, KDMY; Avon Ang-23, AlterMidya; Hiyasmin Saturay-27, ALTM; Daisy Jane Heda-20, NMN; Robert Sequino-23, NMN; Sedney Villamor-31, NMN; Jerald Verano-26, NMN; Psalty Caluza- 20, ALTM; Nikki Abilar-29, Church; Mark Ponce-31, NMN; Jon Bonifacio-20, Scientia UPD; Mark Quinto-24, LFS; Dannyboy Conel-21, NMN; Eric Tandoc-38, ALTM; Marylle Jons Peligro-23, NMN; Jeovelyn Bornales-33, NMN; and Jaime Castro-52, Church.

One of those arrested, 20-year-old Jon Bonifacio of the University of the Philippines College of Science and a campus journalist of the college’s official publication Scientia, is a 4th-year Oblation Scholar and in the running for summa cum laude.

The statement released by Eizadora T. Yu, PhD, Associate Dean of the Student, Alumni and Public Affairs of the College of Science of U.P. Diliman said they fear for the security and life of Jon Bonifacio. The college condemns the student’s arrest and seeks for his immediate release.

Likewise, the UP Molecular Biology and Biotechnology Society said in a statement, “The UP Molecular Biology and Biotechnology Society condemns the violent dispersal of the NutriAsia workers’ protest and the illegal detainment of youth leaders and campus journalists, including one of our members, former CSSC councilor and Scientia journalist Jon Bonifacio […] We call for the release of the unjustly detained workers and student leaders. We call on NutriAsia to regularize its workers and recognize their rights. We call on everyone to stand with NutriAsia workers and youth leaders against contractualization and other unjust practices, and uphold workers’ rights!”

Without delay, I got in touch of Jose Mari Callueng to get some information on the situation inside the Meycauayan police station. Callueng, who also stands as a paralegal, said that first, he and the lawyers were barred by the police from entering the premises and seeing those in prison.

This action by the police against the lawyers of the arrested, according to my friend who sits as a Regional Trial Court judge, was in clear violation of current laws on legal representation. “They can be held administratively liable for denying the workers access to lawyers under R.A. 7438.”

Sometime midnight, Callueng shared with me the statement released by the CEGP, which in part reads, “CEGP strongly condemns the continuing barbaric treatment towards NutriAsia workers which has put them into an eventual critical danger. The direct neglect of the NutriAsia has evidently become an uproarious account of how inutile and profit-oriented the firm is regardless the compromised faction of workers.”

As I followed closely all accounts of the violent dispersal both from online and offline sources, I came across word that the journalists on the scene may have been “targeted.”

This allegation may have come about due to the injuries sustained by some journalists during the dispersal. Initial accounts said four of the 19 that were arrested were journalists.

This was confirmed in an earlier Twitter post by former Philippines Graphic editor-in-chief Inday Espina-Varona: “Colleagues in the AlterMidya Network were arrested and hurt by the violent dispersal at #nutriasia.”

I got in touch with National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) chair Nonoy Espina for some clarification on the matter.

Espina told the Graphic, “They were wearing their press IDs so, yes, clearly identified. Those from Nueva Ecija were even tricked into turning their backs before they were hit. Those from Kadao Productions allegedly received threats that their cameras would be destroyed if they continued filming the dispersal. Technically and legally no one, not even the police, can prevent people from taking pictures and videos of public events in public spaces.”

A statement released by the NUJP, which celebrated its 32nd anniversary on the day of the dispersal, offers some clear picture as to the violence heaped on journalists that day.

“We denounce the security personnel of NutriAsia for deliberately targeting journalists and the Bulacan police for failing to prevent or stop this outrage.

“Nueva Ecija chapter deputy secretary general Rosemarie Alcaraz was covering the ecumenical service and the violence that followed it for Radyo Natin-Guimba. As she took video of the dispersal, a guard advised her to go behind them. However, when she complied, she was struck on her right thigh with a truncheon, driving her to seek shelter in a makeshift hut erected by the striking workers.

“Joseph Cuevas, reporter of Kadao Productions, on the other hand, was confronted by guards who threatened to destroy his camera unless he stopped filming.

“Both reporters were wearing identification cards that clearly marked them as journalists.

“We are also awaiting word on four filmmakers volunteering with the Alter Midya Network who may have been arrested by the Bulacan Philippine National Police or taken by the company guards inside the factory.

“The assault on and the possible apprehension of our colleagues is a clear attack on press freedom and highlights the increasing dangers journalists face. We will extend all possible assistance to our colleagues in making those responsible for this assault accountable.”

As of this writing, Sen. Joel Villanueva has allegedly given his word to file a resolution calling for a hearing on the violent NutriAsia dispersal.

If and when such an inquiry pushes through, it would greatly serve the interest of the public to know what is the real score.

There is, apparently, another side to the story. A source who had some experience working in NutriAsia told the Graphic that the supposed “strikers” do not belong to NutriAsia per se but from a third-party labor provider, Toll Packer B-Mirk. According to the source, B-Mirk has had a history of poor labor practices and mistreatment of employees.

The source alleged, “For example, Nutriasia would require their B-Mirk workers to wear protective equipment. However, B-Mirk would charge it to their employees. Their overtime pay had been delayed, which prompted NutriAsia Human Resource Department to remind them. B-Mirk wants the said B-Mirk workers to be absorbed by Nutriasia. This cannot happen because they are all regular employees of B-Mirk.”

Be that as it may, the violence heaped on the workers—whether they be B-Mirk employees or those of NutriAsia—demand immediate accountability. To procrastinate is to leave a lethal mixture of justice undone and a public speculating for answers. G

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