NutriAsia denies hiring goons to disperse protesters

The company says its guards come from 'professional security agencies.' Workers earlier claimed goons started the violence on July 30.

Aika Rey

Published: 7:30 PM August 2, 2018

Updated: 7:30 PM August 2, 2018

HEIGHTENED SECURITY. More security personnel guard the gate of the industrial complex where the NutriAsia plant is located. Photo by Aika Rey/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Condiments giant NutriAsia denied hiring goons to disperse workers on strike and protesters holding a demonstration outside its factory in Marilao, Bulacan.

In a text message on Thursday, August 2, NutriAsia spokesperson Thelma Meneses said they don't resort to such tactics.

"NutriAsia does not engage in such. The security guards come from legitimate and professional security agencies," Meneses told Rappler.

"Words are meaningless if not supported by evidence. We will [address the matter in] the proper forum," she added. (LOOK: Why NutriAsia workers are on strike)

Workers earlier accused NutriAsia of hiring goons who, they said, instigated the violence on Monday, July 30. Several people were injured and at least 19 detained at the Meycauayan Police Station.

Both camps are pointing fingers on who started the violence.

The police's version: Superintendent Santos Mera denied that the police "violently dispersed" the workers last Monday.

Mera, who was in the area when the violence erupted, claimed it was the workers who started throwing rocks at the guards after a Mass that morning.

"It all started when the protesters threw rocks at the guards. Then we heard a gunshot from one of them. It was downhill from there – if somebody threw a rock at you, would you not fight?" Mera said.

The 19 people detained – 6 workers, 8 supporters, 5 from the media – were accused of "illegal assembly" and of "hurting" the guards. They were eventually freed on Wednesday, August 1, after securing release orders from prosecutors.

Mera said they did not arrest the 19 except for one, but it was NutriAsia's security personnel who brought them to the police station.

A certain Edwin Barana was arrested for allegedly firing a caliber .22 pistol and for having 4 sachets of shabu. He claimed he was part of the protesters.

The workers' and supporters' version: Reverend Marvin de Leon, one of the priests who held the Mass before violence erupted, refuted the police's claim.

According to De Leon, the protesters were lining up to show their banners when the guards approached and hit them. He said the priests tried to mediate when rocks started flying.

"We couldn't tell where it was coming from, but the first ones came from the guards' area. According to the workers of NutriAsia, they are not the original guards but hired goons," De Leon told Rappler.

Alvin Lascano, vice president of Nagkakaisang Manggagawa ng NutriAsia, also said they neither know Barana nor the new guards. He had been with NutriAsia's contractor B-Mirk for 10 years as a machine operator.

"Hindi namin kilala kung sino 'yung nagdala ng baril na nagsasabing kasama raw namin siya. Kilala namin kung sino ang mga miyembro namin na nagtatrabaho sa NutriAsia. Hindi namin kilala 'yan, kahit 'yung mga guwardiya," he told Rappler.

(We don't know the man allegedly with a gun who said he was with us. We know who our members are – those who work for NutriAsia. We neither know him nor the guards.)

What will happen? The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) earlier ordered NutriAsia to regularize 80 workers from its contractor AsiaPro Multi-Purpose Cooperative. The order is not yet final and executory.

But the workers said around 800 others employed under labor-only contracting schemes should also be regularized. It is labor-only contracting when the services provided by the workers are key functions of the company.

NutriAsia has since filed an appeal seeking to reverse DOLE's decision. Another round of conciliation talks will happen on Friday, August 3.

On Thursday, labor groups protested outside the DOLE office in Manila, asking Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III to convene a council that would monitor the talks between NutriAsia management, workers, as well as the police.

"We ask DOLE Secretary Bello to convene the Tripartite Monitoring Council so they can discuss what needs to be done in situations where violence erupts. Of course, we want protection for the workers as well," Gerry Rivera, vice chairman of Partido Manggagawa, told Rappler.

Bello said DOLE has already asked the National Bureau of Investigation to look into Monday's incident.

At the Senate, labor committee chairman Joel Villanueva also sought a probe into the issues involving employees of NutriAsia and other top companies engaging in labor-only contracting. – Rappler.com