When the International Rice
Research Institute (IRRI) was established through a memorandum
of agreement between the Philippine government and the
Ford and Rockefeller foundations in 1960, the vision is
to provide enough rice to avert hunger for the growing
population particularly in Southeast Asia. In pursuit
of its goal, it was afforded with absolute immunity by
virtue of Presidential Decree 1620 in 1979 under martial
law regime of Ferdinand E. Marcos.
PD 1620 was not repealed in 1986 when Marcos
regime was toppled despite of being unconstitutional,
violative of the ILO conventions and a retraction of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Philippine
is in fact the only country that recognized IRRI as an
international organization with unconditional privileges
despite of the reality that IRRI is not a specialized
agency of the United Nations.
It was regrettable that the institute seeking
to provide the rice bowl for the world has brought death
and injustice instead. Filipino workers were stricken
with dreaded diseases as result of their chronic
exposure to pesticide and chemical which is the main thrust
of IRRI’s research paradigm. Numbers have died but
IRRI remains unaccounted.
Amidst the deteriorating health afflicting
the population in municipalities surrounding IRRI, the
labor front are equally traumatize by institute-wide conduct
of discipline and policies favoring
internationally recruited staff. Filipino employees and
farm-workers are summarily terminated either for advocating
for their rights or simply because of capricious retrenchment
programs. Such deeds
transpired in 1989, 1993, 1997 and in 2002. But when workers
sought redress from unfair labor practices, the Department
of Labor and Employment simply dismiss the case not on
merit but on the ground of immunity.
Alarm by the mounting repression against
Filipino employees and farm-workers, Bayan Muna party
list representative Satur C. Ocampo sought the aid legislation
to amend PD 1620. Eighteen (18) other representatives
affixed their signature to House Bill 5095 which is an
act protecting the rights to labor of the workers of IRRI
as enshrined in the 1987 Constitution, amending for the
purpose Article 3 of the Presidential Decree 1620 and
for other purposes.
In 16 October 2002, the Committee on Labor
and Employment of the House of Representatives facilitated
a committee hearing relative to House Bill 5095. It the
said hearing, BISSIG stressed that IRRI is not an
international organization deserving absolute immunity
and that PD 1620 is a unconcealed violation of the Philippine
constitution. It was further affirmed that the 1995 agreement
recognizing the international legal personality of IRRI
has not been ratified by the Philippine Senate.
KMP chair Rafael V. Mariano on the other
hand, asserted that PD 1620 is an insult not only to our
patrimony but also to the sovereignty of the republic.
While representatives from employees who were arbitrary
retrenched by IRRI in October 2002 stated that the retrenchment
program is dubious hence, contrary to the existing labor
ruling. The same
committee conducted another deliberation, through executive
meeting, in 26 February 2003.
In both hearings conducted by the House
of Representatives, IRRI management miserably failed to
justify the imposition of PD 1620 against Filipino workers.
Thus, the arguments and positions presented
by BAYAN MUNA unveiled the fact that the constitutional
rights of workers were abridged. The issue of suppression
of rights to organize was heighten when the chairman of
council of IRRI employees, allegedly representing IRRI
workers, admitted that their organization is not a duly
registered labor union and that there is no existing collective
bargaining agreement between employees and management.
In 28 April 2003, the Committee on Labor
and Employment released the Committee Report No. 1394
and recommend to the House of Representatives that the
said bill be approved without amendments. Twenty-six (26)
representatives signed the report which was then scheduled
for deliberation in the session hall.
IRRI management was adamant thus, massive
campaign was launched against House Bill 5096 and Senate
Bill 2395 that was introduced by Senator Francis N. Pangilinan
in the higher chamber. Resources were then provided by
IRRI management wherein the highly paid managerial
and supervisory employees were tasked to undertake disinformation
campaign against the bills. Even government agencies and
research institute affiliated with IRRI joined the pray
in lobbying against House Bill No. 5095 without verifying
the root cause of the said bill.
The well-funded dissemination and misinformation
campaign launched by IRRI and its cohorts proves to be
effective as the next phase of deliberation was stalled.
BISSIG was told that the Committee on Means
and Ways had asked the Committee on Labor and Employment
to conduct another deliberation with regard to HB 5095.
And when BISSIG sought the position of the Speaker of
the House, no formal explanation was
provided thus, no further progressive action was initiated
with regard to the said bill.
To date, BISSIG still had to receive official
dictum from the House of Representatives regarding the
House Bill 5095. While the oppressed workers and farm-workers
belonging to BISSIG are very much
thankful to the Committee on Labor and Employment and
to all representatives who supported HB 5095, the trust
and confidence to the lower chamber was certainly torn
away. Hence, leaving the Supreme Court as the last recourse
But if the higher court will also
deny justice then, BISSIG might seek the equalizer somewhere
else – maybe in the company of those who were neglected
but with determine conviction to endure the painstaking
struggle for social justice. ‘We rather died on
our feet with honor than live with a bended knees in shame’.