The Rice Bowl that Breeds Injustice

By Patricio M. Layosa, Jr.
Acting President, Brotherhood of IRRI Support Services Group

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PD 1620 was not repealed in 1986 when Marcos regime was toppled despite of being unconstitutional, violative of the ILO conventions and a retraction of the Universal Declaration of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 of justice.

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’.

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©heal toxics, 2003
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