Vico Sotto tells Zagu: 'Follow the law, respect workers’ rights'

MANILA, Philippines – Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto took the side of workers on strike against pearl shake maker Zagu Foods Corporation and told the company to follow labor laws, after he stepped in to sort out a confrontation between picketers and pro-management workers on Monday night, July 8.

A video posted by Sotto on his official Facebook page on Wednesday, July 10, shows the mayor speaking with an administrator at Zagu’s factory in Barangay Kapitolyo, Pasig City, moments after the scuffle.

After listening to the administrator’s explanation, Sotto chided her for trying to break up the picket, which the mayor said was lawful as long as the protesters were not in the way of the “ingress and egress” of delivery trucks and other business items.

“Karapatan nila na nakasaad sa batas, ine-exercise po nila nang maayos. Huwag ‘nyo sila pagbawalan na mag-strike. Karapatan nila ‘yon (It’s their right as stated in the law, which they are exercising properly. Do not prohibit them from going on strike. It’s their right)," Sotto told the administrator.

Zagu unionist workers have been on strike since June 6 to protest “illegal labor-only contracting and unfair labor practices.”

Members of the Organization of Zagu Workers-Solidarity of Unions in the Philippines for Empowerment and Reforms (Organiza-Super) said some of them had served the company for a decade yet they were kept on contracts for outsourced labor that denied them the full rights and benefits of regular employees.

On June 28, the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) against Organiza-Super, ordering its members to desist from blockading Zagu factory gates.

The order stated that the unionists may remain on strike.

Monday night’s tussle began when around 50 pro-management workers surrounded the picketers and pushed them away from the factory gates and entryway. The confrontation started to get violent and someone alerted Sotto, who arrived soon after the tension eased.

Sotto told the pro-management administrator: “Ayaw kong makakarinig ako ulit na pinapaalis ‘nyo ‘yung nagsa-strike. Idaan natin sa tamang proseso. Ngayon, kung may TRO na nagsasabing umalis sila doon kung nasaan sila, ayun wala tayong magagawa. Pero kung nakasulat lang na bawal harangan 'yung ingress at egress, kung may fire exit po doon, pakiusapan po natin sila.”

(I don’t want to hear that you’re driving out the picketers again. Let’s follow the right process. Now, if there’s a TRO saying they should leave, then there’s nothing we can do. But if it only says they should not block the ingress and egress, or if there’s a fire exit there, then let’s talk to them.)

He added, “Ngayon, sasabihan ko rin sila, make sure huwag kayong humarang sa fire exit. ‘Yun lang. Malinaw po tayo? Sana hindi na tayo magkaproblema. Maraming salamat po,” then left the scene.

(Now. I’ll talk to them, too, and tell them not to block the fire exit. That’s it. Are we clear? I hope we won’t have a problem anymore. Thank you very much.)

In his post, Sotto addressed the company: “Sa may-ari at management ng Zagu: Hindi nangyari ito kung wala kayong mga empleyado na 10+ taon na, pero kontraktwal pa rin. Hindi nagkaroon ng strike kung nakipag negosyasyon kayo ng maayos. 5 buwan na ito sa NCMB, wala pa rin kayong maayos na offer/counter-offer. Bakit kailangang umabot sa karahasan? Sumunod kayo sa batas. Galangin niyo ang mga karapatan ng inyong manggagawa.”

(To the owners and management of Zagu: This would not have happened if you did not have employees who have been with you more than 10 years and yet remain contractuals. There would not have been a strike if you had negotiated properly. This has already been 5 months with the NCMB [National Conciliation and Mediation Board], yet you still have no proper offer/counter-offer. Why did it have to get violent? Follow the law. Respect the rights of your workers.) –

JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.