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Bill penalizing harassment, red-tagging of workers' unions gets House nod

MANILA, Philippines — The red-tagging and harassment of labor unions and workers' associations will become a punishable offense once a House measure becomes law.

House Bill 9294 or the proposed Strengthening the Freedom of Workers’ Act — which aims to protect workers’ rights to organize without employer or government interference — received 245 affirmative votes and one negative vote on Wednesday. 

Union leaders and labor organizers are among the most prominent victims of red-tagging or accusations of links to communist groups. Recent research by the rights group Human Rights Watch has found that security forces and government officials, rather than companies, are often responsible for the vilification of unionists, which leads to workers’ reluctance to organize.

The House bill specifically defines vilification or red-tagging as an act of "accusing, denouncing, attacking or persecuting an individual or organization as a subversive, subversive sympathizer, terrorist, or terrorist sympathizer without legal basis and due process of law, that is, by decision of the competent Court.”

Besides red-tagging, other acts prohibited by the bill are those that interfere or obstruct the establishment or activities of workers' unions and those that will force a union member to exit the union, among others.

The measure also prohibits the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, and other officials from vilifying or accusing workers' organizations, interfering in union activities, harassing workers based on alleged affiliations and collecting personal data for harassment and profiling.

For those violating the proposed measure, there will be a fine of not less than P100,000 and imprisonment of not less than one year but not more than two years, "or both at the discretion of the Court."

If the offender is a public official, the court may impose additional penalties of disqualification from any appointive or elective position and forfeiture of all benefits, in addition to the penalties stipulated.

Alex Dolorosa, a union organizer in BPO Industry Employee’s Network (BIEN) Pilipinas, had been red-tagged and his organization