Family members of the people who are thought to have been taken by government agents.

Have you ever worked in an environment where you had to worry about being followed?  Of having your phone tapped?  Or that maybe, during a dark and stormy night, not make it home?  There was a time that thought passed through my mind—and I wasn’t necessarily overreacting.

It’s Labour Day so it’s a good time to remember the workers that ensure that we eat, that we have our tools and conveniences, and generally make civilization possible.  Now as difficult as things are getting here in Canada, it could be worse—it could be the Philippines.

I want to share a piece I wrote last October when I was in the Phils working with social justice organizations.  Here in Canada workers are worried that job security no longer exists (see what happened to the auto factory workers), but they are lucky they don’t have to worry about their lives.

From the time Gloria became President in 2001 to April of this year, 193 have been “disappeared” (ie. taken and not seen again) and 903 have been killed extrajudiciously—and all fingers point to her government.  Most of these individuals were either workers or working for the rights of workers.

I actually just got an email a few minutes ago telling me that while there was the good news of the Tagaytay 5, labour leaders imprisoned for over two years, seven more activists from the same organisation went missing just yesterday.

So yes, back to my story…

* * * * *

October 2007

It had been raining all day, now it was 7pm, dark, and it was pouring down.  I was leaving the office of a social justice organisation and was headed home.  The office opened out into a narrow alley and I was approaching the first of two gates when I saw the blue minivan.  I had just finished an orientation meeting where I was told straight out that the org was a “hot” organization and definitely on the government watchlist.

It slowed as it passed the alley and I noticed that its windows were tinted black.  At this point a slight wave of paranoia hit, I had read about the abductions in the Philippines in the press and I entertained the thought that this seemed a bit odd.  I imagined shadowy figures behind its black windows watching me–I smiled and chided myself for being so melodramatic (‘you sound like one of your Tita’s’ I thought).

I brushed it off and passed through the gate.  The minivan crept to a halt with the rear two windows directly in view of the alley—and I hesitated.   I brushed it off again and kept going.

‘It’s early yet’ I told myself, the Barangay [Municipal] Hall was just a few houses down and it had kids playing basketball outside, and frankly, I’m just not that important, so I walked out into the street and walked away.

I walked about 50 metres and looked back.  The van was still parked in front of the alley with its hazard lights on, no one came out of the vehicle (and no one was approaching it either).

I laughed it off.

When I got to the LRT station I got a text on my cell.  I’ve since deleted it so I can’t remember the exact wording, but it was something like:   Did you make it back ok?

The sender was my org contact, I replied yes.

I wondered why the person was asking as I had made the trip many times before so she knew that I knew the way.  I figured that the text was sent late and she was asking this earlier in the day when I got a little lost going somewhere new.

Later I got this exact text from them: “ALEX, WERE U ANSWERING A TXT FR ME WHEN U TXTD THIS?-No problem.  So whats our plan 4 2moro?” [The latter part was my response to if I had made it back ok.]

I told them I was only answering their text.

“Can u send bak 2 me d msg u got? Sori but we r realy paranoid abt our celfones. I nid 2 c whether my fone is tappd.” [exact text]

Apparently it wasn’t them.

That’s when I thought back to that blue van.

I still not sure exactly what happened or why became of the suspicion, but I can definitely say that it got my guard up.   Despite my–no doubt limited–knowledge about the situation here in the Philippines, this was the first time I felt its reality.

So it was a dark and stormy night, and I got a little taste of what that clichéd horror device really means.

* * * * *

* * * * *

Additional Notes:

> UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston confirmed much of what activist organisations in the Philippines claim.  His 2007 report and clearly points the finger at the government.  To download his final report please visit:

> For more information on the Labour Situation in the Philippines please CLICK HERE.

> Also check out my Philippines links on the main page for sites that can provide more information.