Sanders slammed for human rights tweet even as unionists say weapons were planted in raid


By Daniel Llanto

After US Sen. Bernie Sanders accused the Duterte administration of “abhorrent” human rights abuses against workers, Malacañang hit back at the self-avowed socialist seeking nomination as Democratic presidential candidate for meddling in Philippine affairs.

In a tweet, Sanders criticized the Philippines’ alleged crackdown on its workers, calling it “a shameful attempt to silence people’s rights and freedoms. More than ever, we must stand on the side of global human rights,” Sanders said.

The US senator made the remarks as follow-up to a report by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) that condemned the separate raids by Philippine police on offices of progressive groups in Manila and Bacolod City last month. At least 62 workers were arrested in these raids.

Malacañang said Sanders has no right to meddle in the country’s affairs.  “Sen. Sanders is grandstanding on an issue he obviously does not know the details of, not to mention meddling in our national affairs, which he has no business over,” Presidential Communications Operations Office Sec. Martin Andanar said in a statement.

On the raids cited by Sanders, the Palace said it is enough that those “operations were peaceful and precise that no individual was hurt.”  It added that authorities “did not act rashly in any way” and conducted the raids based on intelligence reports.

Malacañang also said any claim of government abuse is false as those arrested during the raids were released “days” after the operations. It defended the raids as a matter of “national security,” saying they were “necessary” to curb the possibility of “communist armed conflicts” in the Philippines.

Andanar claimed that farmer-activists arrested during the raids were eventually charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

He said of 57 people arrested in the October 31 raids, 32 comprised of 21 laid-off workers from a bus company and 11 members of cultural group Teatro Obrero were released on November 6.

But local human rights groups saw the raids as a “Tokhang-style” crackdown on militants. Rights group Karapatan earlier said the firearms and explosives were planted.

Aside from Sanders, lawmakers in the Philippines have also called out the government’s crackdown on progressive groups, saying it has “no place in a democracy.”

At least 64 members of the House of Representatives have signed a petition to “demand” an end to the “attacks” against progressive organizations, among them party-list groups represented by six Makabayan lawmakers currently serving in the 18th Congress.

They said, “We are united in expressing our concern on the attacks on the elected representatives, members and supporters of the Makabayan bloc and demand that these be stopped immediately.” 

The ITUC version is that on the night of the Bacolod raid, “bus workers were holding a union meeting in Bacolod city, capital of the province of Negros Occidental, when the building was raided.”

“Elsewhere in the city, eight people, including four children, were held at gunpoint by police. Witnesses there reported that non-uniformed men entered the property and planted firearms. All 43 adults arrested were charged with the illegal possession of firearms,” ITUC also said.

It also claimed that “while the government pledged to investigate the killings of 43 trade unionists in a meeting with the ITUC in August, no progress has been reported and the government is yet to accept the ILO mission to the country, while the violence against activists continues with impunity.”

ITUC’s affiliates in the Philippines are the Federation of Free Workers, Kilusang Mayo Uno, Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa (SENTRO), and the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo echoed Andanar, saying Sanders’ remark was based on baseless allegations.

“I think it’s a shameful attempt also on (Sanders’) part to provide information that he did not validate. He was just repeating the things that critics are saying and are being peddled by foreign news agencies,” Panelo said in a radio interview.