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ITF statement on the murder of ICTSI union leader Leonardo Escala

09 Feb 2021

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) is outraged and dismayed at the murder of Leonardo Escala, the president of the union for dock workers at ICTSI’s Manila terminal, Nagkakaisang Manggagawa sa Pantalan Incorporated (NMPI)-ICTSI.

Leonardo Escala and his his four-year-old niece were shot multiple times by assassins at around 7.20pm on Sunday, 7 February outside his home in Tondo, Manila. His murderers escaped on scooters. Escala died an hour later at a hospital, where his niece remains for treatment after being shot at in the back.

ITF President and ITF Dockers’ Section chair Paddy Crumlin said the perpetrators of Escala’s murder should feel the full force of the law.

“What has happened here is the assassination of a trade union leader in full view of the public at his family home. It would appear Leonardo Escala was murdered because he dared to stand up for working people, his union and help them organise for a better future. We stand in solidarity with the members of NMPI-ICTSI,” said Crumlin. 

“We condemn the cowardly killing of Leonardo Escala and the shooting of his four-year-old niece. Our sympathies are with his family and loved ones at this distressing time. We express the heartfelt condolences of the entire ITF global family who can scarcely believe such an act of terror has taken place.”

“We call on the authorities to rapidly identify the perpetrators of this heinous crime and bring them to justice without delay. It is imperative that the Government of the Philippines take appropriate action immediately to secure justice for Leonardo and his family.”

“Local and national law enforcement authorities must urgently reconsider their approach to protecting these workers and their union leadership from any further attacks in order to combat impunity and promote a climate free from violence, intimidation and fear in which freedom of association may be fully exercised,” said Crumlin.

In response to the murder, and the numerous decisions and observations of the ILO in relation to extra-judicial killings of trade unionists in the Philippines, the ITF repeats the call on the Government of the Philippines to accept an ILO high-level tripartite mission as soon as possible.

The 2020 ITUC Global Rights Index listed the Philippines as one of the worst countries for working people due to the risk of violence, intimidation and murder that union members face. The murder of Leonardo Escala has brought the number of assassinated labour rights defenders under the Duterte administration to at least 44. 

“Being a trade unionist is not a crime. Every worker has the right to join and form trade unions, no matter where they live. Leonardo Escala was supporting his fellow dock workers to realise that right, and it seems for his leadership he has been murdered in cold blood. We cannot let violence and repression stand. There must be justice,” said Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation.