Former Long Beach commissioner, filmmaker arrested while documenting workers’ strike in Philippines

A Long Beach filmmaker and community activist who once served on a homeless advisory board was one of 19 people brutally arrested in the Philippines Sunday where he was documenting an ongoing strike by workers of the country’s biggest condiment corporation.

Eric Tandoc, 38, and his 27-year-old wife Hiyasmin Saturay, a former reporter with the Long Beach youth-led media project VoiceWaves, were covering an ongoing strike by workers of NutriAsia—considered the Heinz of the Philippines—as volunteers for the progressive media outlet Altermidya. Strikers had been picketing outside the corporation since early June in response to the company’s failure to give longtime contracted workers the status of regular employees. Activists estimate that of the company’s 1,400 workers only 100 have permanent status.

The country’s labor department recently ruled in the workers’ favor, which the company acknowledged last month on Facebook.

Those arrested were eventually released two days later after pressure by the international human rights community, according to BAYAN-USA, a coalition of progressive Filipino organizations.

The parents of Long Beach resident Eric Tandoc hold a photo outside the Philippines Consulate in L.A. Monday, July 31, of their son and daughter-in-law who were arrested earlier this week in the Philippines while documenting a workers’ strike. Courtesy photo.

 

A rally was held Monday evening in front of the Philippine consulate in Los Angeles where about 60 members of various Filipino groups gathered to protest the arrests, organizers said. Tandoc’s mother, Amy Tandoc also of Long Beach, said she and her husband went to the consulate twice, failing each time to find out more information or speak to her son.

“I was really devastated,” she said upon hearing news of her son’s imprisonment.

She said she was heartbroken when she saw a video of her son protecting his face with his camera as he was being dragged and hit by four policemen. In another tape, she saw her daughter-in-law being dragged by authorities. At one point, Eric even videotaped his wife being dragged.

Eric sustained a large bruise below his right eye, he told his mom when he briefly talked to her on the phone after he was eventually released Tuesday. She said he told her police confiscated cameras, wallets and other personal items belonging to those arrested. Only Eric was able to retrieve his camera, though without its memory card.

“I felt that since they are […] just journalists, they weren’t going to be arrested like that, brutally, beaten up like that,” the mother said. “What happened to the freedom of the press?”

Tandoc and Saturay were two of four journalists arrested along with 15 NutriAsia workers, supporters and student activists on Sunday. About 300 people were holding a non-denominational mass outside the NutriAsia factory in the Philippines province of Bulacan when the company sent dozens of its security guards and dozens more national police to disperse the crowd, according to media reports.

Online footage showed authorities using rattan (palm) sticks, metal rods and stones, according to BAYAN-USA. A photo of an elderly woman bleeding from her mouth during the dispersal was also circulated online.

The four journalists were allegedly targeted for covering the event, said Nikole Cababa, deputy secretary general for BAYAN-USA, who said it is difficult for media outlets to report on certain issues in the Philippines.

In a statement on Facebook Monday, NutriAsia said it condemned the violence that happened the day before at its Marilao plant while “ongoing discussions with stakeholders” were taking place at the country’s Department of Labor and Employment.

“We appeal to everyone to remain calm to avoid further issue and to comply with the rule of law as all parties reach a peaceful resolution,” NutriAsia stated.

The day before, the company had blamed the strikers for the eruption of violence, citing that someone from their side “fired a shot in the air and started to hurl rocks at police and guards.”

“It is unfortunate that the strikers staged a violent attack while a DOLE-led mediation meeting among stakeholders, including the union organizer, was at the same time ongoing with the objective of seeking a peaceful settlement for the strikers,” NutriAsia stated that same day.

Activists contradict the company’s claim, saying police allegedly produced a fake suspect on whom they planted a revolver and drugs in an attempt to fabricate charges on those arrested and prevent them from being released on bail.

Tandoc told the Post the fake suspect later asked for forgiveness from the workers, saying he was beat up by police and forced to lie about his involvement with the strikers.

They are currently calling for an international boycott of NutriAsia products until the company complies with the country’s labor laws.

NutriAsia’s most popular products include the soy sauce-based Silver Swan, the UFC banana ketchup and vinegar Datu Puti. It exports products in Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East and North America. Seven out of its 16 U.S. distributors are based in Southern California, including Buena Park and the City of Industry.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with information by Eric Tandoc. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated NutriAsia planted a bogus protester. In fact, activists claim police planted a fake suspect with those arrested in order to fabricate charges and prevent bail. 

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Stephanie Rivera is the community engagement editor for the Long Beach Post. After graduating from CSULB with a degree in journalism, Stephanie worked for Patch Latino and City News Service before coming to the Long Beach Post in 2015.
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