MANILA -- (UPDATE) Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto on Sunday urged Regent Foods Corporation to drop its complaint against 23 people detained over a labor protest on Nov. 9.
Sotto said he cannot interfere with labor issues but would fight for his constituents' liberty.
"These people are not criminals; they do not have the goal of hurting you. They are fighting for what they believe to be just. You can continue with the labor dispute without sending the poor and powerless to jail," he said.
"I condemn the misuse of your privileged position to suppress the rights of your protesting workers. If you want to have a healthy relationship with our city, I highly suggest you rethink your position."
Sotto said he met and listened to both the Regent management and its workers following a protest that resulted in violence and the arrest of 23 people: 20 workers, 2 members of another organization and a tricycle driver who "just went down to see what was going on."
Twelve have posted bail, including the tricycle driver whom Sotto said they raised money for, while 11 remain in jail.
The young mayor said he asked owners Irwin and Susan See to withdraw the charges and the couple said they would consult with their board of directors.
On Saturday, Sotto said he learned that the corporation would not withdraw the complaint.
"Instead, they will 'just trust the judicial process' -- which is of course easy to say as multimillionaires who will eat 3x a day no matter what happens here," he said. "While the people they have sued have recently lost their main source of income and are now even torn away from their families."
Sotto, who toppled the Eusebio dynasty in Pasig last May, said he would "do everything within my power to help these 23 regain/maintain their liberty."
Labor groups, meantime, welcomed Sotto's support for the workers and appealed for his help as it warned that the Regent management would file more cases against the unions.
"We will not let the Regent management prosper in sowing fear against our ranks," they said, adding that the management "must be held accountable over their long list of abuses against their workers including decades-long of contractualization, low wages, unpaid benefits, unfair labor practices, violation of their rights to union and strike, runaway shop attempts among others."