Pasig City Mayor Sotto condemns snacks company for imprisoning workers during strike

Mayor Vico Sotto. <i>Photo: George Calvelo/ABS-CBN News</i>
Mayor Vico Sotto. Photo: George Calvelo/ABS-CBN News

Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto yesterday condemned the owners of Regent Foods Corporation, a company that produces chips and other snacks, for the alleged violent treatment of its workers during a strike that occurred almost two weeks ago.

A statement from the labor group Defend Job Philippines said that Regent workers started their strike in October in front of their plants in Pasig City and Taguig City to protest against the company’s alleged use of contract workers. The workers also alleged that the company subjected members of their union to physical and verbal abuse. Almost a month later, the workers were reportedly violently dispersed one morning from the Pasig City picket line by armed security guards and members of the police, Bulatlat reported.

The police arrested 20 striking workers, two members of Defend Job, and one tricycle driver who just happened to be at the scene of the dispersal. All 23 persons were charged at the Pasig City Hall of Justice with resistance and disobedience, and “alarm and scandal,” or disturbing public order, Rappler reports.

In his Facebook post, Mayor Sotto said he had asked the company’s owners, Irwin See and Susan See, to withdraw their charges against the 23 persons who were arrested.

Read: Duterte vetoes bill that prohibits labor-only contracting

The Sees allegedly repeatedly told Sotto they would “discuss this with the board” and “let you know once the board has made a decision.”

However, Regent’s lawyers yesterday informed Sotto that they will not withdraw the charges against the 23.

“Instead, they will ‘just trust the judicial process’ — which is, of course, easy to say as multimillionaires who will eat 3x a day no matter what happens here; while the people they have sued have recently lost their main source of income and are now even torn away from their families,” Sotto said in a Facebook post.

The workers of Regent on strike in October. Photo: Defend Job Philippines
The workers of Regent on strike in October. Photo: Defend Job Philippines

“In view of the foregoing, I will do everything within my power to help these 23 regain/maintain their liberty,” he added. “12 of them have already posted bail (including the tricycle driver, for whom around a dozen of us pooled in money to raise the amount needed). Yesterday (Sat) afternoon, I talked to the 11 still inside, and assured them that I will personally make sure that they are out on bail by Monday.”

Read: Senator Villanueva refiles bill prohibiting labor-only contracting; Duterte explains why it was vetoed

Sotto admitted that while he has no jurisdiction over the labor case, he said he cannot allow his constituents “to be deprived of their liberty.”

He told Regent that the workers “are not criminals; they do not have the goal of hurting you. They are fighting for what they believe to be just.”

“You can continue with the labor dispute without sending the poor and powerless to jail! I condemn the misuse of your privileged position to suppress the rights of your protesting workers. If you want to have a healthy relationship with our city, I highly suggest you rethink your position,” Sotto concluded.

The company has yet to respond to Sotto’s condemnation.

This is not the first time that Sotto has become involved in a labor dispute. In July, he accused another Pasig City-based company, milk tea manufacturer Zagu Foods Corporation, of violently dispersing striking workers, many of whom alleged that they were still contract workers despite having been with the company for years.

Many companies — and even the government — in the Philippines practice “contractualization,” employing a worker on a per-contract basis that lasts for just five months. Because these workers don’t attain “permanent” status, they are deprived of benefits that are mandated by the law. In July, President Rodrigo Duterte vetoed a proposed law that would have prohibited the practice, despite his repeated promise to abolish contractualization.

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