Congressional investigation puts Citra Mina in hot water; More exposes likely as the investigation continues

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Yesterday, 18 March 2015, the fighting workers of Citra Mina marked another milestone after they succeeded in forcing the company to face a congressional inquiry about what Congressman Walden Bello termed as its “criminal behavior”.

Citra Mina is now facing strong pressures not only from government agencies, but also from its fellow fishing and fish processing companies in Gensan. These companies fear of being dragged into the mess which Citra Mina itself has created.

Josua Mata, Secretary-General of Sentro, emphasized that the labor conflict could potentially undermine the country’s privileges under the EU GSP Plus that was recently approved. This privilege – mainly in the form of free tariff for fish products in the member nations of the European Union – being enjoyed by the fishing companies in Gensan will be jeopardized if they are found violating the required labor standards in the course of the ongoing congressional investigation.

No less than Gensan Councilor, Brix Tan, scion of Marfenio Tan, a tuna magnate in General Santos and a former president of the Socsksargen Federation of Fishing Associations and Allied Industries Inc. based in General Santos, who attended the congressional investigation had expressed alarm over the gravity of the impact of this inquiry on the entire fishing industry.

This congressional investigation could expose the evils of a long-time customary practices of labor only contracting, blacklisting, lack of required social protection for the fishing workers and the enslaving sacada system, among others, by the fishing industry in Gensan. These illegal activities are being undertaken by the fishing companies in Gensan with impunity.

Usec Rebecca Chato has already announced that DOLE is now preparing a department order to correct this unjust customary practice in the fishing industry.

The House of Representative Labor Committee held its first public hearing on the House Resolution No. 1746 “directing the Committee on Labor and Employment to conduct an inquiry, in aid of legislation, on the alleged violations of labor laws by the Citra Mina Group of Companies management that infringe on the workers right to self-organization and management’s failure to observe existing occupational health and safety standards in work place.” Rep. Walden Bello and Ibarra Gutierrez III, both of Akbayan, filed the resolution last 4 December 2014.

The hearing succeeded in accomplishing the objective of exposing Citra Mina as a violator of the labor laws and in getting the commitment of the committee on labor to continue with the hearing sometime in May or June this year. Congressman Walden Bello, during this same hearing, described Citra Mina as a criminal corporation.

In addition, the union had managed to convince the Chair of the Labor Committee that the fishing industry’s “customary practice” of having “joint ventures” – a euphemism for the cabo system which has been outlawed by the Labor Code – needs to be investigated further.

***

The hearing started at 3:00 PM with Walden Bello lambasting Citra Mina for its “criminal behavior” – its systematic violations of labor rights, labor standards and even maritime rules.

This was followed by Father Rey Ondap of General Santos City, representing the Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez of Marbel, who reminded the Labor Committee that “the unions are a mouthpiece for the struggle of social justice” (Laborem Exercens). And true enough, he said that the workers of Citra Mina who are trying to build their union are present in the hearing to explain a whole litany of human rights violations of Citra Mina: violation of freedom of association; violation of labor standards; rampant use of precarious work including the cabo system; slave- like condition in boats; deaths on high seas; and blacklisting.

Atty. Emil Paña, the legal counsel of the union, explained how Citra Mina systematically disguises its employee-employer relations. He used the case of Love Merben II to illustrate how Citra Mina uses dummies that act as “owners” of fishing vessels that it uses, even if such “owners” do not really have the means to run a multi-million peso enterprise.

Usec Rebecca Chato of DOLE made it perfectly clear that the DOLE maintains its position that both the fishing vessel owner and the fishing company are solidarily liable for all labor standards violations. She further explained that it is precisely why DOLE is now crafting a new DO that would develop an inter-agency approach in enforcing labor standards in fishing vessels. (Note: The drafting of this DO was initiated after we asked DOLE to investigate the deaths on high seas.)

Only 2 of the union’s 4 leaders were able to give their testimonies. Clyde Batelante, one of the 43 Citra Mina fishers we rescued from Ternate Island last February, spoke about his experiences in detention after his boat, Love Merben II, was captured by the Indonesian Navy. Jumary Arevalo, the union president, explained how Citra Mina violated their freedom to self-organization when they were illegally terminated to bust the union.

However, the chairman of the Labor Committee had pledged to allow them to give their testimonies during the next hearing.

In the next hearing, the Chair said that the boat captain of Love Merben II would be invited. The heads of MARINA and BFAR will also be invited.

The Chair also explained that in the next hearing, Rep. Raymond Mendoza of TUCP Party List will take the cudgels for the Citra Mina workers as Rep. Walden Bello has resigned as the Akbayan representative.

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