There is no other way to see it but this: testimonies from colleagues of Rod and Ed –

July 10, 2024

Labor organizers Rodrigo Esparago and Ed Cubelo, along with 26 others, are facing allegations in violation of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020. According to Karapatan National Capital Region, Rod and Ed are the new victims of the controversial law which is constantly used to weaponize and stifle legal dissent.

The allegations stemmed from an encounter between the New People’s Army (NPA) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in Laur, Nueva Ecija, on October 8, 2023. Such an incident with no substantiated connection to Rod and Ed as they have never even set foot in the province.

Karapatan NCR also noted that the case is rehashed from the old tactic of the state of using military encounters with the NPA to file cases against activists. That instead of filing the “usual” such as murder, arson or other non-bailable offenses, the ATA is being used to secure warrants of arrest to detain activists. 

Rodrigo Esparago in championing of workers and urban poor rights

Banjo Cordero, campaign director of Defend Jobs Philippines, condemns the terror raps against Rodrigo Esparago and Ed Cubelo in front of the Malolos Regional Trial Court.

Organizing for workers’ rights

“Rodrigo Esparago is well-known not only in the communities and factories of Quezon City but also throughout the entire National Capital Region (NCR), making his contribution invaluable not only to the labor movement but also to the entire community in the region,” said Banjo Cordero, campaign director of Defend Jobs Philippines (DJP)

In 2012, Esparago and Cordero founded a network of labor unions in Quezon City they called as Samahan ng Manggagawa sa Quezon City. The labor group was later introduced as Sandigang Manggagawa sa Quezon City in 2014.

Although Esparago did not became the chairman for SMQC, as such is intended for labor unionists and Esparago is a trade union organizer, he has helped establish collaboration with government agencies in the local government of Quezon City to enact laws, access aid, and services related to workers.

In the same year of 2012, Esparago also led the founding of Alliance of Call Center Workers Metro Manila (ACW) following the controversial U.S. Call Center Worker and Consumer Protection Act which aimed to remove the call center jobs that have been contracted out to the country.

In 2019, SMQC became a representative for the City Development Council to lead a large number of worker organizations and unions in the city.

“In fact, during the pandemic, Rod was one of those who suggested asking the government for immediate relief for workers not only in Quezon City but throughout NCR,” Cordero added.

Cordero noted several campaigns that were amplified by various labor organizations under DJP which were directed at government agencies like the Department of Social Welfare and Development for immediate compensation, especially for those in the transportation sector.

“Although drivers and operators were recognized to have access to aid, Rod insisted that everyone involved in the transportation sector, such as barkers, vulcanizing shop workers, and mechanics, should also have access,” Cordero emphasized.

Advocate for urban poor rights

Also in 2012, Esparago founded the Urban Poor Coordinating Council (UPCC) in recognition of the need for support for urban poor communities in fighting for their democratic interests and rights, particularly regarding housing security.

Consequently, UPCC eventually became regionwide.

UPCC is the leading network body of urban poor groups and homeowners asssociation’ in advocating for housing rights including access to social services and development in marginalized communities.

Pushing for genuine democracy

“It was Rod’s idea to file a city resolution to condemn the red-tagging occurring in Quezon City. In fact, in 2019, Quezon City was the only city to file a resolution condemning attacks on human rights defenders and activists,” said Cordero.

In 2016, Esparago also pushed for a city resolution to support the resumption of peace talks in 2017.

Ed Cubelo, a staunch labor organizer

Edgar Gado, secretary-general of Kilusang Mayo Uno, echoes to abolish the NTF-ELCAC which is known to red-tag and vilify activists.

Upholding Toyota workers rights and welfare

“I worked with Ed in Toyota Motors Philippines Corporation Workers Association (TMPCWA),” shared Edgar Gado, secretary-general of Kilusang Mayo Uno NCR.

Ed Cubelo served as the president of the TMPCWA in 1998. For over two decades, he has led various campaigns in support of the cause of 237 workers unlawfully dismissed by Toyota in 2001.

He also became the chairperson KMU NCR and rigorously advocated for living wages and job security for workers not only in Metro Manila but also internationally.

“This fabricated case is nothing new to Ed as he has experienced many of these during our local fight at Toyota. As an official, he experienced discrimination in the workplace. He was transferred to a department near the trash area,” Gado recalled.

In 2014, Cubelo was subjected to surveillance and intimidation which involved four armed men showing up at his home and introducing themselves as members of the National Bureau of Investigation then later asked about his whereabouts.

Free Our Unionists network said that use of the ATA and the red-tagging against labor activists undermines the rule of law and contravenes international labor standards, particularly International Labour Organization (ILO) Conventions Nos. 87 and 98, which safeguards the rights to organize and collective bargaining.

The right to organize is further protected under Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which the Philippines is a state party.

“We are puzzled because we are always together. He never disregarded in guiding us in the many local struggles we handle for KMU NCR. He has activities for workers as well as to his family that can be proven,” Gado added.

Gado added that they also see this case as a collusion between the government and Toyota by pressuring labor activists in fighting for workers’ rights and welfare.

“He was the president for Toyota who brought real change in the practices and protection of workers’ welfare,” Gado concluded.

Call to action

Since July 10, various groups led by DJP, KMU NCR and Karapatan NCR mounted protest action to urge the Malolos Regional Trial Court to dismiss the terror case allegations against Rod and Ed.

The Malolos court has been dubbed as the designated terror court in Central Luzon, as cases concerning counter-insurgency or any case related to terrorism are being raffled to this court.

Ed and Rod’s ATA case is based on the recommendation of the investigating prosecutor of Cabanatuan City.

Karapatan NCR looked on the pattern that the case against Rod and Ed may be a “test case” as the first in many more planned and calculated state attacks to violate the people’s right to organization, freedom of expression and other rights by weaponizing the ATA.

The groups also saw this pattern akin to the case of Human Rights Day 7 (HRD7) and the rest of activists and defenders suffered from the allegations under ATA.

HRD7 which include journalist Lady Ann Salem and trade union organizers Dennise Velasco Mark Ryan Cruz, Joel Demate, Romina Astudillo, and Jaymie Gregorio and Rodrigo Esparago are legitimate rights defenders who faced baseless charges and were unjustly arrested on December 10, 2020 coinciding the International Human Rights Day. 

Three members of HRD7 including Velasco, Salem, Rod have been released, following the material inconsistencies and arbitrary nature of their arrests.

This time, Rod continues to face legal challenges as the Office of the Solicitor General persistently appeals to bring the case to the Supreme Court, and compounded with these allegations of ATA case.

“These attacks should be seen as threats to their lives and an affront to their dignity and security. We implore the Malolos RTC to heed the wisdom and counsel of the Supreme Court in its recent declaration last May 08, 2024 of the dangers of red-tagging to an individual’s right to life, liberty, and security. Drop the terror charges against Rod and Ka Ed! Drop the terror charges against trade unionists!” said Karapatan NCR in a statement.

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