Delegation members at Quezon City Hall in Manila with leaders from COURAGE and their affiliated union the League of Local Government Units Employees, or LEAGUE.
A group of Canadian trade unionists and international solidarity activists has returned from the Philippines fired up to support workers and community members who are fighting for human rights.  

The International Trade Union Confederation’s 2023 Global Rights Index ranks the Philippines as one of the 10 worst countries in the world for working people – a designation that is not new for the country.

The ITUC reports that “Workers and their representatives remained particularly vulnerable to red-tagging, violent attacks, abductions, and arbitrary arrests. Workers across many sectors still faced significant obstacles when attempting to form trade unions.” Workers who are red-tagged are falsely accused of being terrorists.

Long-time CUPE partners the Alliance of Concerned Teachers and the Confederation for Unity Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees hosted the labour delegation, which took place in January 2024. The group included leaders from CUPE, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, and the Ontario Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines.

Union leaders under attack

Workers are struggling with low wages and precarious work and an underfunded public sector. The delegation heard from many ACT and COURAGE members and leaders about the harassment and threats they endure when they challenge the government about these conditions.   

The current Philippines president is Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., son of the former dictator. Like previous presidents, he shows disdain for the working class and poor people, and is quick to attack anyone critical of his harmful social, economic, and environmental policies and actions.

Marcos Jr. is targeting anyone who criticizes state policies, including human rights defenders, social justice advocates, journalists, students and trade unionists. He is using the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, established by his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte, to attack and silence critics.

International solidarity is crucial

The delegation was alarmed to learn that while during their visit, Canada signed a memorandum of understanding for defence cooperation with the Philippines. Our organizations will be following this development closely.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression started a 10-day visit to the country soon after our delegation ended. In a statement wrapping up her visit, Irene Khan stresses that “addressing the serious and deep-seated human rights issues will require more fundamental and sustained reforms.”

CUPE and the entire Canadian labour delegation are committed to working with social movement and labour organizations to defend human rights, and to support people organizing for justice and genuine peace in the Philippines.

CUPE was represented on the delegation by Kent Peterson, Regional Vice-President, Saskatchewan; Juanita Forde, Lead Steward, CUPE 2191; and Kelti Cameron, CUPE International Solidarity staff.