Originally published on the CMFR website on 5 August 2018.
CMFR/ PHILIPPINES — In one of the worst incidents of its kind, journalists covering a workers’ picket line near a condiments factory in Marilao, Bulacan province were attacked, threatened, arrested and accused of possessing illegal drugs and firearms by the police on 30 July 2018. Bulacan is 42 kilometers north of Manila.
Around 300 NutriAsia workers were violently dispersed by Bulacan policemen and the company’s security personnel while they were attending an ecumenical mass outside the NutriAsia plant. The workers have been picketing the factory for more than two months because, being contractual employees, they had been dismissed without cause. They also accuse the company of engaging in years of unfair labor practices.
President Rodrigo Duterte promised to end labor contracting during the 2016 campaign for the presidency, but has left it to Congress to pass the appropriate law making the practice illegal.
Police apprehended AlterMidya correspondents Avon Ang, Eric Tandoc, and Hiyas Saturay; University of the Philippines (UP) student Psalty Caluza, a fourth year journalism student and AlterMidya intern; and Jon Bonifacio, graphics artist of Scientia, the student publication of the UP College of Science. Fourteen NutriAsia workers and their supporters were also arrested.
Jola Diones Mamangun of video group Kodao Productions said she was denied access to police records by the Meycauayan (also in Bulacan) police. Mamangun was told that drugs and guns had been recovered from the workers and the Altermidya correspondents.
That claim is specially chilling because it was made in the context of police anti-drug operations that have resulted in thousands of extrajudicial killings that have been condemned by both Philippine and foreign human rights groups.
Meanwhile, Rosemarie Alcaraz, a reporter of local radio station Radyo Natin Guimba, said police hit her on the thigh with a truncheon. Joseph Cuevas, also from Kodao Productions, was threatened by security guards who said they would destroy his camera if he did not stop filming.
NutriAsia claimed in a statement that the protesters started the violence. However, several alternative media organizations caught on video footage of the dispersal showing police attacking the workers and journalists, which they uploaded on social media. Altermidya, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) and UP student organizations and councils condemned the incident in separate statements.
The arrested workers, their supporters, and the journalists were released from Meycauayan police custody on 1 August 2018, following the order of City Prosecutor Frederick Malapit, who dismissed the physical injury charges filed against the five journalists for lack of probable cause. However, they still face charges of public alarm and scandal and illegal assembly.
In another statement, Altermidya called on the Philippine National Police and NutriAsia to drop all the charges, condemning “the audacious move by NutriAsia to censor our journalists by attempting to have them sign a ‘quit claim’ waiver, which indicates that they will not release any story about the dispersal, among others, in exchange for having the charges against them dropped.”