Philippines: International solidarity against teacher harassment

An international delegation has joined the education union ACT to express its solidarity with teacher unionists, profiled and harassed by the government in contravention of commonly agreed human rights.

Teachers in the Philippines have rallied under the slogan, #HandsOffOurTeachers, in response to  the harassment and profiling that teachers have been subject to since last year. In Manila on 21 February,  leaders from national and local unions as well as Education International (EI) leadership gathered at the Forum for the Defence of Teachers’ Rights in the Philippines. Organised by the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), an affiliate of EI, the event comes in the context of 34 recorded cases of police profiling and harassing teacher-unionists in 10 regions across the country.

During the forum, EI regional coordinator for Asia and Pacific, Anand Singh, underlined the importance of international solidarity when it comes to defending human and trade union rights. He condemned “the profiling, surveillance and continuing harassment of teacher unionists in the Philippines”, and explained how the region is gearing up support for its members in the country.

Unionists globally have expressed solidarity with the ACT, including EI affiliates in Korea, Japan, Germany, USA, Australia and Canada. In addition to their solidarity actions and letters addressed to government, the ACT has received support directly from EI. General Secretary David Edwards was a guest speaker at the #HandsOffOurTeachers event. “There are forces that demonise us, the teachers, because they know how good and influential we are,” he said. “We condemn and denounce the oppression and surveillance against our teachers.”

Ongoing harassment

A leaked Manila Police District profiling memorandum has revealed that the police were ordered to “conduct an inventory”of all educators who were ACT members. Since the leaked document was made public, teacher-unionists from at least 10 regions have reported continuing surveillance and aggravating harassments against ACT leaders and members.

During a press conference on 21 February, former ACT General Secretary France Castro explained how she, and 17 other colleagues, were detained on false allegations last November. The group was detained as they were visiting indigenous Lumad schools on a humanitarian and solidarity mission in the municipality of Davao del Norte. These schools had been forcibly closed by the military, causing the displacement of more than 346,000 people.

ACT secretary general Raymond Basilio has publicly denounced the continuous harassment of the union’s membership. A petition to the Court of Appeals is pending, that includes examples of severe harassment, such as one public school teacher in Escalante city whose classroom was ransacked.

Indeed, Basilio himself has been the subject of harassment, receiving a death threat during an ACT press conference in January.

ACT advocacy

The ACT has been instrumental in organising educators and negotiating collective agreements in the Philippines.

In parliament, union leaders France Castro and Antonio Tinio have been promoting bills to improve the lot of workers (e.g. against the contractualisation of teachers, in favour of free higher education, the right to education of disabled students, and in favour of the extension of maternity leave from 60 to 105 days in the education sector). Castro and Tinio have publicly opposed budget cuts in education, healthcare and housing; the proposed 2019 education budget has been reduced by €860 million.

Opposition

The ACT members in parliament have also opposed measures by the Duterte government such as the:

  • lowering of the minimum age for criminal responsibility of children (from 15 to 12 years old)
  • targeting of children for military training from the age of 16
  • targeting of minors in the war on drugs which resulted in over 10,000 extrajudicial killings and illegal detentions
  • the third extension of martial law in Mindanao
  • death penalty

 

The ACT produced a statement on the occasion of the solidarity visit of EI to the Philippines. You can read it by clicking here.