1 of 4 union members wounded in ComVal ambush dead

The death of Gerson Lastimoso, a member of the Nagkahiusang Mamumuo sa Suyapa Farm, has brought the number of union leaders and members killed (under the Arroyo government) to 32, according to Omar Bantayan, secretary-general of the Kilusang Mayo Uno in Southern Mindanao.

Bantayan said their group will launch a series of protest actions in the next days "to condemn this blatant and murderous repression of workers and militant trade unionism."

Lastimoso, 26, was ambushed in Barangay New Alegria, Compostela together with Namasufa chair Vicente Barrios, 42, Donie Glen Sundon, 24; Aldren Cortez, 35; and Namasufa vice president Andres Lagare.

Only Lagare was not hit.

Barrios, who believed he was the real target of the attack, sustained gunshot wounds in his left arm while Cortez was hit in his upper right back.

Sundon was hit in his throat and was reported to be still in critical condition.

Barrios and Cortez were already out of the hospital, Lagare told MindaNews early evening Friday.

The victims worked as harvesters and packing plant staff at Fresh Banana agricultural Corp. in New Alegria. According to the human rights group Karapatan, they were on the way to the company's farm when two motorcycle-riding men wearing bonnets shot at them.

KMU said the threats to Barrios' life began in December 2005 after the union filed a money claim with the Department of Labor and Employment for non-payment of cost of living allowance, holiday pay, service incentive, and non-wage benefits.

Kelly Delgado, Karapatan-Southern Mindanao secretary-general, said Barrios was called for questioning by the 28th Infantry Battalion in September. He was reportedly accused of organizing the Namasufa for the New Peoples Army, a charge which the union denied.

Namasufa was registered with the Dole in mid-August 2005.

"During the same month, the military called the workers to a meeting inside the packing plant and told them not to move forward with their union, that the company will close, and that their union is leftist," the KMU reported.

Karapatan denounced the incident as a "vicious attack" that allegedly forms part of a series of harassments, grave threat, and intimidation against the firm's union leaders and members.

The group said it would release the results of the fact finding they conducted Saturday on the ambush.

Meanwhile, provincial police director Senior Supt. Nestor Quinsay confirmed the occurrence of the ambush and said the motive was labor dispute.