MANILA - Police released on Wednesday 19 people who were arrested in the violent dispersal near condiment giant NutriAsia's factory in Bulacan on Monday, including protesting workers, their supporters, and journalists who covered the event.
Jovelyn Bornales, a NutriAsia worker who was among those arrested, said police accused them of bringing guns and illegal drugs to their camp near the factory, and presented a certain Edwin, who she said authorities just planted on the picket line.
"Pumasok si Edwin, dinetain siya nang saglit sa pinagkulungan sa 'min. Tinanong po namin, 'kuya, di ba di namin ikaw kasama?' Sabi niya po, 'pasensiya na, lamog na katawan ko, binubugbog nila ako 'pag hindi ako umamin na kasama niyo,'" said the 33-year-old who has worked for NutriAsia for 4 years.
(Edwin was detained with us. I asked him, 'kuya, you're not with us, right?' He told us, 'I am sorry, my body is already beaten up. They will maul me again if I do not say I'm with you.')
NutriAsia workers have been on strike for weeks, protesting the firm's alleged engagement in labor-only contracting, low wages, and poor working conditions. The company had said the protesters are not their workers but of its hired contractor B-Mirk Enterprise.
Aside from the NutriaAsia workers on strike, supporters and even reporters of an alternative media company were also arrested and detained during Monday's violent dispersal that resulted in injury among the protesters.
"I started filming to capture evidence but the security guard with a shield tried to hit my camera. So I dodged and started pointing my camera at the security guard. That's when he got mad," said Eric Tandoc, a correspondent of Altermidya.
"He pointed me to the police to take me as well. He pushed me to the ground and started beating me, kicking me. I tried to protect my camera but they hit me in the face, hit me in the ribs, all over my body," the reporter added.
Tandoc's wife, journalist Hiyas, was also arrested. She said police did not return their cellphones and laptops that were confiscated when they were taken into custody.
"Ang narekober ko na lang po, itong plastik na 'to na may... chichacorn at payong," activist Einstein Recedes, who was also detained, added.
(I only recovered this plastic bag with my chichacorn and umbrella.)
The condiment giant claimed the workers threw rocks at security forces at the picket line but video footage captured by the League of Filipino Students showed rocks were hurled at the direction of the protesters who were running away.
The company also denied planting instigators on the picket line. Supt. Santos Mera, chief of the Meycauayan police, supported the statement, saying Edwin Barana, the supposed "planted" protester, even tested positive for illegal drugs.
"The unfortunate violence broke out while the mediation was ongoing," the condiment giant said in a statement, adding it has videos to prove this.
But a video posted on the social media page of a provincial radio station shows one of the security forces at the picket line hitting the protesters and then hiding behind his colleagues.
NutriAsia manufactures UFC Ketchup, Mang Tomas All-Purpose Sauce, and Datu Puti vinegar and soy sauce. -- with a report from Jeck Batallones, ABS-CBN News