MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Lepanto workers sue mining firm, police

Published by MAC on 2005-08-21

Lepanto workers sue mining firm, police

By Jane Cadalig, Sun.Star Baguio/Sunnex

Sunday, August 21, 2005

BAGUIO CITY -- The Lepanto Employees Union (LEU) Saturday filed criminal charges against the mining company and two others at the International People's Tribunal.

A report from the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU)-Cordillera said the union sued the Lepanto Consolidated and Mining Company (LCMC) management, the 1064th Provincial Mobile Group (PMG) of the Benguet Provincial Police Office (BPPO) headed by Superintendent Ernesto Gaab of the Task Force Lepanto and the Department of Labor and Employment (Dole).

The statement said the LEU sued Lepanto for its continuing refusal to recognize its laborers' rights.

The union accused the management of "stealing their Social Security System (SSS) contributions, payments of other loans and some of their monetary as well as non-monetary benefits."

The union added that the management denied their demands in their supposed 23rd collective bargaining agreement (CBA) and only offered minimal provisions.

LEU president Ninian Lang-agan said the management, instead of addressing the real issues on why workers went on strike, distributed notices of termination to the officers and members of LEU.

Lang-agan added the management headed by Resident Manager Augusto Villaluna, Asssitant Resident Manager Ernesto Laoagan and lawyer Weldy Manlong ordered the padlocking of the bunkhouses and quarters of the striking workers.

He added the company employed brute force through the hired security personnel and reaction force led by retired Army Colonel Wilhelm Doromal.

The LEU also filed criminal charges against members of the 1064th PMG of the Benguet police office for carrying out violent dispersals, intimidation and harassment against the striking workers.

LEU auditor and spokesperson Ronald Maslian claimed the PNP, under Gaab's command, "committed numerous police brutalities when they directly dispersed the workers in the picket lines and escorted the entrance of supplies and scab workers inside the picketed gates of the mines."

Leonida Tundagui of KMU-Cordillera said because of the issuance of such orders, struggling workers are always on the brink of uncertainty.

"Sto. Tomas' issuance of the order is simply a show of pro-company where she really favored always putting the workers aside," added Tundagui.

The International Peoples' Tribunal is manned by prominent international lawyers who advocate international peoples' legitimate struggles for their rights.

Meanwhile, the LCMC decided to enter into an amicable settlement with seven of its dismissed workers who filed an illegal dismissal case with the Regional Arbitration Branch-Cordillera of the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC).

The workers earlier asked management to reconsider its decision to dismiss them. In their letter, they explained they did not participate in the illegal strike nor committed any prohibited acts.

The LCMC management said it decided to rehire the workers after evaluating their explanations and recognizing that they are still assets of the company.

Lepanto legal counsel Mark Maranes identified the rehired workers as David Joaquin, Ricardo Lumaggao, Arnold Bandoc, George Bayden, Andres Benbinen, Juanito Bawas and Modesto Bulatao.

Maranes said the seven are among the 229 employees who were served notices of dismissal.

Lepanto reiterated that it would not admit the 19 union officials who spearheaded an illegal strike, which reportedly crippled the firm's underground operations for more than two months already.

The company's top management earlier said the fate of these union officers would depend on how the NLRC would rule on the legality of their dismissal.

The multi-sectoral group in Mankayan, formed to come up with recommendations to help resolve the labor conflict that started June 2, proposed the reinstatement of the 19 officers.

But the LCMC said, "it cannot accede to the recommendations of the committee."

"The 19 union officers were the same individuals who went on illegal strike in 2003 and are clearly guilty of planning, leading and participating in an illegal strike today," management said.

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