Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Vol. V, No. 34      October 2 - 8, 2005      Quezon City, Philippines











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Remembering Fort

The word “fort” signifies strength, consistency and stability. For the militant workers of Southern Tagalog, Fort is slain Nestle union president Diosdado “Fort” Fortuna. If one is to ask them, the dictionary connotations are also characteristics that have made Fort the man a pillar of strength for the trade union movement.

by Dennis Espada

The positions that Diosdado "Ding" Fortuna (or simply Fort) held in the numerous labor organizations he had led reveals a badge of unflagging service ― chairman of Anakpawis Partylist-Southern Tagalog; co-chairman of the National Coalition for the Protection of Worker's Rights in Southern Tagalog (NCPWR-ST); chair of the Pagkakaisa ng Manggagawa sa Timog Katagalugan (Pamantik or Unity of Workers in Southern Tagalog), Kilusang Mayo Uno's (KMU) regional center ― the list goes on.

With Fort's passing, he will be remembered by all those who knew him personally and through the many younger comrades he inspired to become devoted to the people's cause.

Diosdado "Fort" Fortuna

Pillar of strength

Fort was born on Nov. 18, 1954. Growing up in a peasant family in Canlubang, Laguna, he was driven by an abiding interest to serve the oppressed amid the turbulence at the former sugar estate once claimed by the affluent Yulo family.

He finished high school at the Rizal Institute in 1971 and subsequently took up AB Political Science at the Laguna College of Business and Arts (LCBA) in Calamba City, south of Manila. Unfortunately, he was not able to complete the four-year course.

Since 1976, he worked at the Swiss-owned multinational company Nestle Cabuyao factory where he was assigned to operate machines that process instant powdered milk.

Luz, 45, his wife with whom he had three children, recalls how Fort was "a perfect husband
considerate, calm, and with no pretensions." Through the years, he has been looked upon as the
provider, disciplinarian and pillar of strength. For her, he was her heart and wing.

Whenever he was home, which became rare as he became immersed in various campaigns, he made sure he spent all his hours with Luz and the children.

Karina Castillo of the NCPWR-ST remembers him as a wisecracker who would throw infectious jokes during stressful moments. He could also sing and write songs. "Kahit inaabot kami ng madaling-araw sa mga pulong, walang inaantok sa amin dahil sa kanya. 'Di ko alam kung magagawa pa namin 'yun ngayon” (Even if the meetings last till the next morning, nobody gets sleepy because of him I don’t know if we can still do that now).

"Marami akong natutunan sa kanya -- taktika, pamamaraan at karanasan sa pakikibaka...'di ko alam kung kaya kong tumbasan 'yung dedikasyon niya sa kilusan, laluna kung ang pag-uuusapan ay karapatan at laban ng mga manggagawa" (I learned a lot from him –  tactics, methods and experiences in struggle. I don’t think I can match his dedication to the movement, especially to workers’ rights and struggles), she said, holding back the tears.

Union man

Fort joined the union in the 1970s where he learned the fine points of working-class politics. Shortly after the brutal assassination of then union president Meliton Roxas in 1989, he assumed its leadership.

In 2001, talks between union and management bogged down when the latter insisted that the retirement benefits be excluded from the collective bargaining agreement (CBA), arguing it is a unilateral grant by the company.

Nestle workers were outraged, as management defied the Supreme Court's (SC) decision in 1991 which stated, "The court agrees with the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) findings that the retirement plan was a collective bargaining issue right from the start (page 109, Rollo)."

In 2002, more than 600 workers went on strike. A year later, the Court of Appeals affirmed the SC ruling. Despite a wave of violent dispersals in the picket line by the police and military and continued harassment of union officers, the strikers vigilantly stood their ground to demand justice.

In a media forum held last April, Fort spoke about military-sponsored public slide shows tagging legitimate people's organizations as "communist fronts," labor organizers being tracked down by suspected intelligence agents, and himself being "blacklisted."

"'Yung pamangkin at anak ko na nag-aaplay sa trabaho, 'yung isa natanggap na pero kinabukasan tinanggal dahil 'Fortuna' daw siya"
(My nephew and child applied for work; one of them was accepted by dismissed the following because his surname is ‘Fortuna’), he said, warning about the possible threat of military crackdown against the swelling ranks of militant trade unions.

He asked: "Ito ba ang kahulugan ng mga kataga ni Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) nang sabihin niya na 'lalabanan natin ang mga kriminal, gambling at drug lords at 'yung mga terorista sa mga pabrikang lumilikha ng trabaho?’” (Is this what GMA meant when she said, 'let us fight against criminals, gambling and drug lords, and those who terrorize factories that create jobs?)

Moment of truth

Rebecca Lawson, one of the mission workers of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) who have met Fort wrote the following passage:

"A group of international, young, church people were finishing an 'immersion of the industrial reality' andhaving an assessment with him last Sept. 19. As we sat in a circle sharing our experience together with the workers, a Canadian woman commented, 'Kuya Fort, I am so inspired by you. When you were introduced, the list of your leadership was so long: chair of several workers’ organizations, secretary-general of another, president of the Nestle union. In my country, those leading so many people are usually full of importance.

But when I watch you here at the picket, you embody for me what I think Jesus Christ would be. I see youcleaning tables, nurturing your grandchild, encouraging the people around; you are just so much a gentle servant-leader'.

"Having sensed evil around, a truthful humor opened mouth and I added, 'But you know what they did to Jesus...' A warm and sad laugh enveloped us and tears streamed down the face of Kuya Fort."

On Sept. 22 at around 6 p.m., while riding a motorcycle on his way home to Rodriquez Subdivision in Barangay Paciano, Calamba City, Fort was mercilessly shot to death by unknown assailants. He was 50. Bulatlat




© 2005 Bulatlat  Alipato Publications

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