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Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA Pilipinas) is the national progressive center of unions, federations, associations and organizations of agricultural workers in the Philippines.

UMA works closely with other progressive people’s organizations in the Philippines such as the militant Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP, Peasant Movement of the Philippines), Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU, May First Movement), and other organizations affiliated with the umbrella group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN, New Patriotic Alliance).

UMA is a member of the Asian Peasant Coalition (APC), Coalition of Agricultural Workers International (CAWI) and the International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS)

Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura

UMA welcomes DOLE sanctions vs sacada recruiters, employers

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Sakadas file complaints vs Greenhand, Agrikulto and CAT.

 

National agriworkers center Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) welcomes recommendations forwarded by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) through Undersecretary for Labor Relations and Special Concerns Joel Maglunsod, against the recruiters and employers of Mindanao sakadas exploited in Hacienda Luisita.

Sanctions against Greenhand Labor Service Cooperative and Agrikulto, Inc. were recommended by DOLE in an inter-agency meeting called by Maglunsod yesterday at the department’s main office in Intramuros, Manila.

Findings of DOLE’s Special Assessment and Visit Establishment (SAVE) on the case of Mindanao sakadas in Hacienda Luisita were presented yesterday to UMA and representatives of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), who were also involved in assisting sakadas or migratory sugar workers.  Also in attendance were officers and counsel of the recruiters and employers, Greenhand, Agrikulto and Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT).

According to DOLE’s findings, a total of 834 out of 864 sacadas recruited by Greenhand for Agrikulto have escaped from slave-like conditions in Hacienda Luisita. UMA was able to “rescue” a total of 70 individuals, including 4 child workers, and 2 infants who were brought to Luisita by working parents. Among the sakadas were lumad or indigenous people from the Manobo tribe of Bukidnon.

Maglunsod recommended the filing of cases against Agrikulto Inc. and Greenhand, specifically with regards child labor, illegal recruitment and trafficking of persons. Both companies were to be required to restitute the amounts illegally deducted from the sacadas’ wages. A payroll obtained by UMA shows that the workers were paid as low as P9.46 a day.

It was also recommended that Greenhand’s registration with the DOLE be cancelled, and a cease and desist order be issued barring Greenhand from entering into new contracting arrangements.

“These recommendations must be swiftly acted upon by DOLE,” said UMA Secretary General Danilo Ka Daning” Ramos who said that DOLE’s findings disprove claims recently made by the Cojuangco-Aquinos in the media.

After UMA’s expose, certain media outfits carried reports meant to tarnish the credibility of the sakada victims. Victims who are now back in Bukidnon also suffer harassment from their recruiters. Despite the pressure, a total of 60 sakadas filed labor complaints before National Labor Relations Commission branches in San Fernando City and Cagayan de Oro City since last month.

Agrikulto Inc. is helmed by Fernando Cojuangco, who co-owns the Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) sugar mill with Martin Lorenzo. The Lorenzos own Lapanday Foods Corporation (LFC) which is also embroiled in the violent suppression of land reform beneficiaries in Madaum, Tagum City where at least 10 farmers were wounded in shooting incidents last December.

While CAT consistently denies ownership of Agrikulto, the latter is listed as a wholly-owned subsidiary of CAT and its main office is located within the sugar mill’s compound in San Miguel, Tarlac City.

UMA emphasized that Agrikulto is the biggest proprietor of the aryendo or illicit leaseback scheme in Hacienda Luisita to supply raw cane for CAT. This means that thousands of supposed land reform beneficiaries have been clearly disenfranchised by the Cojuangco-Aquinos and the Lorenzos who are still in control of vast sugarlands in Luisita.

“The landlords stretch their exploitative practices from Tarlac to Mindanao. The local Luisita farmers are deprived of land, while the Mindanao sacadas become victims of human trafficking and slave wages,” said Ramos.

 

Sacadas elevate complaints vs Cojuangcos, Lorenzos of Hacienda Luisita

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Sacadas elevate their complaints before the NLRC Region 10 in Cagayan de Oro City. Photo by OGYON-UMA.

“President Duterte promised to end contractualization in six months but here are sacadas from his home island of Mindanao, exploited through human trafficking and the most despicable form of labor-only contracting in the oligarch playground called Hacienda Luisita,”

This is the statement made by Danilo Ramos, Secretary General of the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), as they assisted sacadas to elevate their complaints against recruiter Greenhand Labor Service Cooperative managed by Billy Baitus, based in Polomolok, South Cotabato; and their primary employers Agrikulto, Inc. and Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT), firms jointly-owned by the Cojuangco-Aquino family with Martin Lorenzo, a scion of the Lorenzo landlord family of Mindanao.

The migratory sugar workers (MSWs) or sacadas from Mindanao have now filed separate complaints against their Hacienda Luisita recruiters and employers before local branches of the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) in Central Luzon and Northern Mindanao.

Complaints of constructive illegal dismissal, violations of labor laws on minimum wage, overtime, deductions and occupational safety and health standards were filed January 31 by 18 sacadas at the NLRC in Cagayan de Oro City, while the others, represented by sacada leader Mario Memper Jr of OGYON-Bukidnon and Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) will file complaints at the NLRC in San Fernando City, Pampanga today.

The complaints were filed after earlier mediation meetings have failed to forge amicable settlement between the parties.

The mediation meeting held in Malaybalay, Bukidnon on January 26 established the issues of the recruiter’s failure to secure Authority to Transport MSWs, and the employer’s illegal deduction of wages, underpayment, labor-only contracting or non-coverage of benefits, presence of child laborers and non-compliance with occupational safety and health standards.

The sacada complainants and representatives from Greenhand both agreed to elevate the case to the NLRC in Cagayan de Oro City. However, Agrikulto and CAT representatives were absent in the mediation meeting in Bukidnon.

The UMA-affiliated OGYON or the Onyon sa Yanong Obrerong Nagkahiusa (United Small Farmworkers Union) based in Bukidnon province was instrumental in the rescue of 52 sacadas from Hacienda Luisita during the Christmas holidays. OGYON also assists the sacada complainants in Northern Mindanao.

Meanwhile, in the mediation meeting held yesterday in San Fernando City, the sacadas rejected Central Azucarera de Tarlac’s (CAT) manifestation to be excluded from the labor case. The manifestation, made by CAT lawyers during the first mediation meeting on January 25, stated that CAT does not have any stake in the case since it does not own Agrikulto, Inc.

Unlike the mediation meeting in Bukidnon where the issues were clearly established, Leonides Mingo and Roland Donasco, who represented Greenhand and Agrikulto respectively in the San Fernando meeting, asserted that “there is no basis to the claims of the sacadas.” This prompted complainants to elevate the case to the NLRC Region 3.

Roland Donasco identifies himself as the owner of Agrikulto, Inc. while the Cojuangcos and Central Azucarera de Tarlac publicly deny any involvement with Agrikulto and the hiring of the sacadas.

Agrikulto is documented with the DOLE as the firm which requested Greenhand to hire 1,000 sugar workers from Mindanao. UMA’s Ramos noted that Agrikulto’s latest registration papers with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) identifies Fernando Cojuangco as its president.

Cojuangco, son of former President Corazon Aquino’s brother, Don Pedro, is also the president of CAT, while Martin Lorenzo is its CEO and chairman. Agrikulto’s official business address is the CAT compound in Hacienda Luisita. Agrikulto is also publicly known as a wholly-owned subsidiary of CAT.

Donasco, whose online LinkedIn profile says that he is the “operations manager of Agrikulto (Central Azucarera de Tarlac)” was not named as director, officer or stockholder in Agrikulto’s latest SEC General Information Sheet.

UMA however noted that Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Central Luzon director Ana Dione identifies Donasco as the owner of Agrikulto in the Certificates of Jobs Availability and Adequate Temporary Dwelling Facility which it provided the firm. In an earlier dialogue with UMA, Dione even described Agrikulto’s sacada bunkhouse in Mapalacsiao, Hacienda Luisita as “one of the best accomodations” for sugar workers.

“Duterte and the DOLE are now challenged end the trafficking and exploitation of sacadas,” said Ramos who also said that all perpetrators and even government officials involved in this long-uninterrupted oppressive practice must be thoroughly investigated and punished.

“UMA welcomes the initiatives of Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao and Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri who filed House and Senate resolutions to investigate the plight of the sacadas,” said Ramos.

Ramos also called on Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Secretary Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano to investigate Agrikulto’s hand in the illicit aryendo or leaseback scheme which has disenfranchised thousands of Hacienda Luisita farmworker-beneficiaries.

“The sacadas would not be transported to cut cane in Luisita if genuine land distribution was implemented. Today, local farmworkers have lost control over land, while the heavy work in the fields is shouldered by cheap labor from Mindanao,” said Ramos.

More peasant killings surface as slain farmworkers’ leader buried in Negros

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BACOLOD CITY – Hundreds of farmers and sugar workers marched the streets of Murcia, Negros Occidental to call for justice for slain peasant leader Alexander Ceballos, who was killed by suspected paramilitary elements last January 20.

Members of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) in Negros organized a series of burial marches-turned-protests here in the province since January 22, the 30th anniversary of the Mendiola Massacre. A luksang parangal or tribute program for Ceballos was also organized by NFSW beside the Murcia town church the night before the burial which was held yesterday, February 1, at the Murcia municipal cemetery.

Ceballos is a regional council member of the NFSW and district area coordinator for Murcia and Salvador Benedicto towns where the bungkalan or land cultivation areas have been established by organized farmworkers. NFSW is affiliated with the national farmworkers center Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura or UMA.

UMA Secretary General Danilo Ramos said that another farmer, Wenceslao Pacquiao, was shot dead January 25 while ploughing a land cultivation area in Barangay San Benito, Calatrava town, around 75 kilometers east of Bacolod City. Pacquiao was a member of the KMP.

Human rights group KARAPATAN reported that Ceballos and Pacquiao are among four peasants across the country killed in January 2017 – the two others are lumad or indigenous peoples’ leaders in Mindanao.

But on January 31, farmworkers here in Negros marched with three mock coffins to symbolize the killing of three local farmers. Aside from Ceballos, two other farmers were shot dead last month in connection to agrarian disputes in the upland town of Don Salvador Benedicto alone.

The other victims were identified as Jovani Paguntalan and Iver Mulasi, both residents of Barangay Pandanon, Don Salvador Benedicto. Paguntalan was reportedly shot dead January 2, while Mulasi, chairman of the Nieves Agro Cooperative was also felled by gunshots on January 16 – only a few days before Ceballos was gunned down in front of his home in Barangay Pandanon Silos in Murcia, a village very near the boundary of Don Salvador Benedicto.

This means that counting Pacquiao, four farmers were shot dead within the first month of 2017 in Negros Occidental province alone.

NFSW Chairperson Rolando Rillo said gangster-type violence and impunity reign in Don Salvador Benedicto town where the incumbent mayor, Marxlen dela Cruz is the son of notorious landgrabber, ex-Mayor Nehemias “Nene” dela Cruz. The elder dela Cruz is also a known ringleader of the paramilitary group RPA-ABB.

Ceballos received death threats from the dela Cruz camp for leading the land cultivation campaign in Barangay Igmaya-an and other areas in Don Salvador Benedicto and Murcia. A few days before the killing, a certain Jigger Costan, close-in security of ex-Mayor dela Cruz, was seen loitering near the NFSW office in Bacolod City, where a meeting of council members was then taking place.

There are also reports that local leaders of the NFSW, KMP and BAYAN in Negros have also been receiving threats and harassment from Costan and suspected state elements following Ceballos’s killing.

“The spate of peasant killings will not stop until the country’s fundamental land problem is addressed. Negros Island remains to be a bastion of feudal oppression and the centuries-old hacienda system. Farmers continue to fight for genuine land reform,” said Ramos.

More Mindanao sacadas file complaints vs Hacienda Luisita employers

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Peasant groups led by the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon (AMGL) – Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and BAYAN-Central Luzon today staged a picket-protest in front of the National Labor Relations Commission Region III (NLRC-III) office in San Fernando City, Pampanga in support of Mindanao sacadas exploited in Hacienda Luisita.

UMA Secretary General Danilo Ramos said that more sacadas or migratory sugar workers have filed complaints against their recruiters and employers, Greenhand Labor Service Cooperative, Agrikulto Inc., and Central Azucarera de Tarlac.

Today’s picket coincides with the first hearing of labor complaints initially filed at the NLRC III by 36 sacadas before leaving for Mindanao.

A total 52 sacadas recruited from Bukidnon province were earlier rescued by UMA and its local affiliate, OGYON or Onyon sa Yanong Obrerong Nagkahiusa during the Christmas holidays.

On January 15, another 18 individuals – including women and infant children – escaped from slave-like conditions in Hacienda Luisita. They were also recruited by Greenhand from different Mindanao provinces – Davao del Sur, Davao del Norte, South Cotabato and Compostela Valley. They will file complaints before the NLRC-III today.

The new batch of sacadas corroborate earlier testimonies that there were 800-1,000 sacadas cramped into a bunkhouse in Mapalacsiao, Hacienda Luisita to cut and haul cane for Agrikulto Inc, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the sugar mill Central Azucarera de Tarlac. The mill is now jointly owned by the Cojuangco-Aquinos with Martin  Lorenzo, a scion of the Lorenzo landlord family of Mindanao.

According to OGYON Secretary General Fructuoso Carpentero, new complaints have also been filed by 18 sacadas in Malaybalay, Bukidnon before the NLRC – Region X last Monday, January 23. Among the complainants are sacadas who had escaped Hacienda Luisita even before UMA’s rescue, and a lumad chieftain or datu that the recruiter, Billy Baitus of Greenhand, lured into enlisting the sacadas with the promise of assistance in their ancestral land claims. The first hearing is set tomorrow, January 26.

“Baitus, the Cojuangco-Aquinos and Martin Lorenzo are also ‘wanted’ for massive human trafficking and ill treatment of hundreds of sacadas from Mindanao. We have documented at least 4 minors among the victims,” said Ramos, who noted that Greenhand’s registration states that it is a cooperative exclusively engaged in job contracting for pineapple plantation operations in Polomolok, South Cotabato.

“National minorities – 24 lumad from the Manobo tribe and some Calagan Moros were also exploited to work for a measly P9.46 a day – the same paltry sum that the Cojuangco-Aquinos gave their ‘stockholders’ 12 years ago.

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Agrikulto also responsible for sham land reform in Luisita

Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang-Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA), UMA’s local affiliate in Hacienda Luisita also joined today’s protest to support the Mindanao sacadas.

“Twelve years ago, we were also paid only P9.50 for our toil as farmworkers and ‘stockholders’ of the oppressive Stock Distribution Option (SDO) land reform scheme,” said Francisco Dizon, one of the leaders from AMBALA.

“Our martyrs offered their lives so that we could take back our lands from the Cojuangcos. The Supreme Court already ruled for land distribution almost five years ago – but the Cojuangco-Aquinos and their new partner, Martin Lorenzo are still encroaching on our lands through the illicit aryendo or leaseback scheme,”

UMA emphasized that the plight of the sakadas proves that land reform in Hacienda Luisita is a total sham. “There would be no need to import sacadas from Mindanao if land reform was truly implemented – local Luisita farmworkers have been clearly disenfranchised by the illicit aryendo and the ‘tambiolo’ land reform scheme imposed by BS Aquino,” said Ramos.

The ongoing dismantling of AMBALA’s bungkalan or land cultivation area in Barangay Mapalacsiao, the same barangay where the sakadas were kept by Agrikulto, is seen as ‘landlord reprisal’ for the sakada expose.

“There must be a full-blown investigation on the sakada issue. Operations of Greenhand must be immediately stopped and its license forfeited, to prevent Baitus from recruiting new sacada victims. The perpetrators of human trafficking and exploitation of our sugar workers must be brought to justice,” ended Ramos.

 

More sacadas escape from Hacienda Luisita

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Sacadas recruited from Mindanao escape Hacienda Luisita

More sacadas recruited from Mindanao –   including women with infant children – recently escaped from slave-like conditions in Hacienda Luisita.

According to the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), a total of 18 individuals have sought the assistance of government agencies for them to be able to return to Mindanao.

“This issue should no longer be discussed in whispers. There must be a full-blown investigation on massive-scale human trafficking of sacadas to Hacienda Luisita. The perpetrators Greenhand Labor Service Cooperative, Agrikulto, Inc., and Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) must be punished,” said Danilo Ramos, UMA Secretary General.

The trafficking of Mindanao sakadas to Hacienda Luisita was first exposed by UMA, when it “rescued” a total of 52 sacadas during the Christmas holidays. Relatives of that batch of sakadas – who were all from Bukidnon province – first sought the assistance of UMA’s local affiliate, OGYON or Onyon sa Yanong Obrerong Nagkahiusa in Pangantucan town.

Around 1,000 sakadas were said to be recruited from Mindanao to work for Agrikulto, Inc., which controls vast sugarcane farms in Hacienda Luisita through illicit lease deals and encroaching on supposed land reform areas.

Agrikulto is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Central Azucarera de Tarlac, which is now jointly-owned by the Cojuangco-Aquinos with Martin Lorenzo, scion of the Lorenzo landlord family of Mindanao, owners of Lapanday Foods Corp (LFC).

Ramos said that the latest batch of sacadas come from different Mindanao provinces – Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur, South Cotabato and Compostela Valley – also known areas of Lapanday plantation operations.

“They fared worse than those from Bukidnon because they had to stay longer in dire conditions,” said Ramos who noted that new payrolls obtained by UMA show that their salary ranged from P80.01 – P269.52 per week or only P11.43 to P38.50 per day. The first batch received up to P128.31 a day.

Slave-like conditions

The sacadas claimed that they were treated more strictly after most of the workers have already escaped. The security guards now carried long firearms. One of the sacadas said that he was beaten up by the guards just because they suspected that he would escape.

When the sacadas finally left Luisita, they initially planned to just walk from San Miguel, Tarlac to Manila because they had no money. However they were able to get rides from good samaritans. The sacadas corroborated earlier revelations that they were around 800 to a thousand of them housed in Mapalacsiao, Hacienda Luisita and they were made to work in other sugarcane areas outside Tarlac, such as Pampanga.

“When we worked in one sugarcane area in Pampanga, we were made to sleep in a goat’s shed for weeks. We had no roof and we had to sleep on the cold ground. Once they seemed to forget to bring us back to the bunkhouse in Mapalacsiao, we just slept on the curbside for three days. We ate just salt with rice,” the sacadas narrated.

Ramos said that Secretary Bello of the Department of Labor must realize that this kind of inhumane treatment and exploitation is the reason why farmers take up arms. Bello is also the head of the government peace panel currently engaged in the third round of talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF).

“DOLE must immediately act to shut down the operations of Greenhand, which is reportedly recruiting new sugar workers from Mindanao to replace those who have left Hacienda Luisita,” said Ramos who emphasized that the welfare and safety of hundreds of others of sacadas trafficked to Tarlac must also be ensured by government.

“The sakada issue also proves that land reform in Hacienda Luisita is a total sham. The Department of Agrarian Reform must immediately investigate the operations of Agrikulto, Inc. which is openly encroaching on land reform areas either through the illicit aryendo, or by brute force,” said Ramos.

A few days ago, the headquarters of local farmworkers’ organization AMBALA was demolished. Destruction of crops in land cultivation areas in Mapalacsiao is ongoing. “There can be no peace until the Cojuangco-Aquinos and the Lorenzos are made to pay for their atrocities against farmers,”

“The issue of land reform in Hacienda Luisita and the plight of the sacada are important matters that should be tackled in the peace talks,” ended Ramos.

Protests over killing of peasant leader mark 30th year of Mendiola Massacre in Negros

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The Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) condemns the killing of Alexander Ceballos, a leader of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) in Negros Occidental. Ceballos is the 20th peasant leader to fall victim to extra-judicial killing under the Duterte administration.

Ceballos was brutally shot in the head by a masked assailant in front of his home in Murcia town around 8 pm of January 20. The gunman sped off riding in tandem in a single motorcycle, escorted by two other men in their respective motor bikes. His wife and children witnessed the killing.

The killing coincided with protest actions in Manila commemorating the 30th year of the Mendiola Massacre. Today, farmworkers will march the streets of Bacolod City to condemn the killing of Ceballos.

Exactly 30 years ago, 13 farmers were killed when state forcers opened fire on a peaceful farmers’ march at the gates of Malacanang on January 22, 1987.

Ceballos is a regional council member of the NFSW and district area coordinator for Murcia and Salvador Benedicto towns where the bungkalan or land cultivation areas have been established by organized farmworkers.

Ceballos has been receiving death threats for leading the land cultivation campaign in Barangay Igmaya-an, Don Salvador Benedicto town. A few days before the killing, a certain Jigger Costan, known as close-in security of Don Salvador Benedicto ex-Mayor Nehemias dela Cruz, was seen loitering near the NFSW office in Bacolod City, where a meeting of council members was then taking place.

Ceballos led the cultivation of a 25-hectare area in Barangay Igmaya-an which was made productive since 2013 through the efforts of around 50 farmworkers under NFSW. The area is now planted to rice, corn, cassava, and bananas.

This area is being coveted by ex-Mayor dela Cruz, whose camp directly issued threats against Ceballos and eleven other members of NFSW during a dialogue at the local agrarian reform office years before. Ceballos’ son Ariel and a companion survived an ambush in July 2015 where the elder Ceballos is believed to be the main target.

De la Cruz is also a former member of the RPA-ABB, a paramilitary group collaborating with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

UMA Secretary General Danilo “Ka Daning” Ramos said that the killing of Ceballos and other recent atrocities against peasants must be tackled by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) in the ongoing peace negotiations in Rome, Italy.

“The killing of Ceballos is also a chilling reminder that the new counter-insurgency program of the Duterte administration called Oplan Kapayapaan is no different from those of previous regimes.  There can be no peace until gangster groups such as the RPA-ABB would be disarmed and disbanded. There can be no justice if the mercenary AFP and corrupt police force still exist to protect the interests of landlords and landgrabbers,” said Ramos.

 

Violent land disputes still hound agriworkers 30 years after Mendiola

 

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“Intruders will be shot, survivors will be shot again”

Thus warned a tarpaulin sign put up at the wooden gates of a banana plantation in Madaum, Tagum City in Davao del Norte. Private security guards of Lapanday Foods Corporation (LFC) manning the gates are also making rounds to keep the “intruders” and “survivors” out.

A few weeks before Christmas, the so-called “intruders” faced these armed guards in daring protests  – they successfully occupied the land but not before ten of them were shot and wounded by Lapanday. On New Year’s Eve, while the rest of the world drowned in revelry, the farmers of Madaum were violently driven away from their own land.

The rightful owners of the land – members of the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association, Inc (MARBAI), now affiliated with the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) through their local union, Unyon sa mga Mag-Uuma Alang Sa Tinood Nga Repormang Agraryo (UGMAD –TRA or Farmers’ Union For Genuine Agrarian Reform) – are forbidden by Lapanday to till the land already awarded to them by government land reform.  

Violent land disputes continue to hound agricultural workers 30 years after the Mendiola Massacre. On January 22, 1987, 13 farmers were killed right before Malacanang gates in a peasant march calling for land reform.

Because of the carnage, the peace talks – then ongoing between the government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) representing the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA) – collapsed.

Then-President Corazon Aquino, heiress of controversial sugar estate Hacienda Luisita, soon enacted the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), the effectivity of which expired 26 years after in 2014, during the term of her son, Benigno Aquino III.

Still, unrest persists in Luisita and Lapanday areas in Mindanao. This reflects the brutality of feudal land monopoly in the Philippines which no government land reform law has ever resolved. But under Duterte, the next round of peace talks between government and NDF will resume today in Rome.  

“Those who joined the rally in Mendiola 30 years ago aspired for change through genuine agrarian reform, but the CARP has obviously failed our farmers and agricultural workers,” says Danilo Ramos, UMA Secretary General.

“Land reform should be the meat of the next phase of the talks, with a serious and thorough discussion of the country’s fundamental land problem and the forging of a comprehensive agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER).

Non-stop abuses by Cojuangco-Aquinos, Lorenzos

Thirty years after Mendiola, the Cojuangco-Aquinos of Luisita and their new business partners, the Lorenzos of Lapanday, seem to be on a roll – non-stop and hell-bent in trampling upon the rights of peasants and agricultural workers from Tagum to Bukidnon to Tarlac.

The CARP has allowed for anomalous non-land transfer schemes such as the Stock Distribution Option (SDO) implemented in Luisita, and various Agribusiness  Venture Arrangements (AVAs) such as the lease agreement with agrarian reform beneficiaries imposed by Lapanday in Madaum.

In Luisita, hacienderos are still in control of vast tracts of land even after so-called “land distribution” through the aryendo or illicit leaseback practiced by Agrikulto, Inc. and Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT), firms owned by the Cojuangco-Aquinos and Lorenzos.  

Agrikulto engages in sugarcane farming through aryendo or lease of farmlots in land reform areas to ensure the steady supply of cane for the CAT sugar mill. Only last week, it was revealed that Agrikulto “hired” via human trafficking around 1,000 sacadas or migratory sugar workers from Mindanao to cut and haul cane. The sakadas were given slave-like wages while working in deplorable conditions.

Sakadas from Bukidnon “rescued” by UMA and its local affiliate OGYON, have already filed labor complaints against their recruiters and employers.

But the landlords have no qualms in using brute force. Yesterday, in an act of bitter reprisal, farmhuts were demolished and crops were destroyed in Barangay Mapalacsiao, Hacienda Luisita by dozens of goons led by a known Cojuangco-Aquino aide, Lourdes Barangay Captain Edison Diaz, assisted by a certain Sgt. Bañaga of the local police.

The huts are within the bungkalan or land cultivation area of the local farmworkers organization, Alyansa ng Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA), also an affiliate of UMA. Diaz, who is directly involved in previous violent incidents against farmers, is also a known broker of the illicit aryendo or leaseback deals for the landlords.

“It is no surprise that farmers in Madaum have already sought the assistance of the Communist Party’s ‘people’s court’ to hear their case. Until powerful people like the Cojuangcos, Aquinos and Lorenzos are made to pay for their atrocities, feudal oppression will continue to push peasants to join the armed struggle waged by the NPA,” said Ramos.

UMA believes that the issue of land reform in Luisita, the plight of the sakada, and the monopoly control of powerful families and multinationals over vast agricultural plantations and haciendas especially in Negros and Mindanao, must be decisively tackled during the ongoing peace talks.

“There can be no justice for victims of Mendiola, no genuine peace to be had until the country’s fundamental land problem is addressed,” ended Ramos.

After “sakada” issue, Hacienda Luisita farmworkers’ huts demolished

 

Huts or kubol used as headquarters of the local farmworkers’ organization Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang-Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA) in Barangay Mapalacsiao, Hacienda Luisita were reportedly demolished around noon today. Monggo crops were also reportedly destroyed.

The huts are located within AMBALA’s bungkalan or land cultivation area in Barangay Mapalacsiao, the same village where around a thousand sakadas or migratory sugar workers from Mindanao were kept by Cojuangco firm, Agrikulto, Inc.

Reports from AMBALA say that the ongoing forcible eviction of farmers in Mapalacsiao was initiated by Brgy. Captain Edison Diaz of nearby village Lourdes, with assistance from local police led by a certain Sgt. Banaga.

Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) Secretary General Daniol Ramos said that Diaz has been using the claim of farmworker-beneficiaries from his barangay, Lourdes, who were awarded farmlots in Mapalacsiao through the anomalous ‘tambiolo’ system implemented by the previous haciendero administration of BS Aquino.

Diaz is a rabid Cojuangco-Aquino aide and broker of the illicit aryendo or leaseback scheme effected by Agrikulto, Inc. and other prominent ‘aryendadors’ engaged in maintaining sugarcane farms in supposed land reform areas.

“Diaz, the PNP and the Cojuangco-Aquinos cannot use land reform as an excuse for their atrocities. The dislocation and destruction of property of the organized ranks of farmworkers who fought so hard for land distribution is definitely not land reform,” said Ramos, who said that AMBALA was one of the original petitioners who called for land distribution and revocation of the oppressive stock distribution option (SDO) land reform scheme.

The petition led to the historic Supreme Court decision for land distribution in 2012 – but AMBALA laments that its implementation by the previous Aquino administration – done through a lottery raffle or ‘tambiolo’ – was designed to dismantle their land cultivation areas and cause chaos among the farmworkers.

The unannounced attack against AMBALA comes at a time when “rescued” sakadas have filed labor complaints against Agrikulto, Inc. and Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) and are also mulling to file criminal cases for massive-scale human trafficking of sakadas from Mindanao.

AMBALA’s bungkalan area and the sakada bunkhouse are both located in barangay Mapalacsiao.

Fifty-two sakadas from Bukidnon were “rescued” through the efforts of national agriworkers center Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) and its Bukidnon affiliate, OGYON or Organisasyon sa Yanong Obrerong Nagkahiusa. AMBALA is UMA’s local affiliate in Hacienda Luisita.

“It is the haciendero’s bitter reprisal,” said Ramos.

The dismantling of the bungkalan and exploitation of sacadas in Hacienda Luisita are both intended to ensure the continued production and profitability of the Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) sugar mill which is now jointly-owned by the Cojuangco-Aquinos with Martin Lorenzo, a scion of the Lorenzo landlord family of Mindanao. Agrikulto, Inc. is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the CAT.

“Agrikulto’s aryendo actively targets to dismantle AMBALA’s bungkalan areas while brokers like Diaz swindle land reform beneficiaries into these illicit lease deals. Farmers who dare till the land through the bungkalan become targets of harassment,”

“The aryendo enables Agrikulto to maintain and control vast tracts of sugarlands for CAT but they can no longer get manpower from defiant local farmworkers, thus the need to ‘import’ sakadas from far-off places like Mindanao,” explained Ramos.

“This cycle of brutal oppression must stop. The hacienderos and their minions must be punished. We demand a full-blown investigation on the atrocities against farmworkers in Hacienda Luisita,” said Ramos.

Reference: Danilo Ramos, UMA Secretary General, Contact # 09994363493

 

Sugar workers challenge gov’t to stop trafficking of sakada

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VALENCIA CITY, BUKIDNON – Forty out of the 52 sakadas or migratory sugar workers “rescued” from Hacienda Luisita are now back with their families in Mindanao.

But word is out that recruiters are already scouting for new sakadas to replace those who left Hacienda Luisita.

“The kabyaw or milling season in Hacienda Luisita will run until March or April. The biggest sugarcane planters – or ‘aryendadors’ like Agrikulto, Inc. – will definitely need manpower to cut and haul their cane,” said Danilo Ramos, secretary-general of Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA).   

UMA-affiliated farm workers’ unions and associations under the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) also condemned the trafficking of sakadas from Mindanao to Hacienda Luisita. NFSW is based in Negros Island, the country’s biggest sugarcane-producing area.

“NFSW strongly condemns the trafficking of sakadas which has long been practiced by the likes of the Cojuangco-Aquinos, Lorenzos and their big contractors. Until now, nobody has been punished for repeatedly committing this heinous crime,” said Rolando Rillo, NFSW Chairman.

“The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) must assure the public that it is doing everything to go after the perpetrators,” said Rillo, who also said that the rest of the victims from Mindanao – which could number from 800 – 1,000 sakadas according to eyewitness accounts of rescued victims – must be properly accounted for by the DOLE.  

UMA and NFSW noted that DOLE Sec. Bello seems to be still mum about the issue of sakadas, as they have not heard of any communication or public pronouncement coming from the Secretary himself.  

The sakadas, who were recruited from Bukidnon by a certain Billy Baitus of the Greenhand Labor Service Cooperative to work for Agrikulto, Inc., suffered slave-like working conditions in Hacienda Luisita.

The sakadas were made to work long hours for measly wages as low as P9.46 a day, and were kept in a cramped bunkhouse in Barangay Mapalacsiao, adjacent to the Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) sugar mill.  Agrikulto is a subsidiary of CAT, which is now jointly-owned by the Cojuangco-Aquinos with Martin Lorenzo, a scion of the Lorenzo landlord family of Mindanao.

Ramos accompanied the sakadas in their homecoming from Cagayan de Oro City to Valencia City, where a “panagtagbo” (welcome), picket protests and solidarity activities were held to drumbeat the issue of the sakada in Mindanao.

UMA’s local affiliate, OGYON or Onyon sa Yanong Obrerong Nagkahiusa and other progressive groups in the Northern Mindanao Region (NMR) such as the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas-NMR, BAYAN-NMR, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines-NMR, KADAMAY and Anakbayan led the activities.     

However, a few of the rescued sakadas are still in Manila. One is still confined in a public hospital in Quezon City, while the rest are stranded due to technical problems with the shipping line signed by the DSWD. Among them is one sakada who was not able to attend the funeral of his father, Brixcio Bagnaran, another sakada who died of an illness reportedly contracted while working in Hacienda Luisita.

Feudal vestiges still alive

OGYON has also reached out to other “escaped” sakadas and their relatives to file labor complaints and criminal charges against Greenhand, Agrikulto and CAT for human trafficking. The victims are assisted by the Pro-Labor Legal Assistance Center for the complaints filed in Central Luzon, and the Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM) in NMR.

According to KMP-NMR and OGYON, sakada victims of human trafficking from Quezon, Bukidnon and Lanao del Norte have also sought their assistance.

“The case of sakadas in Hacienda Luisita is not isolated. The reign of hacienderos and aryendadors is still pronounced in other sugarcane areas such as Negros and Batangas. Sugarcane workers still endure serf-relations even in supposedly ‘modern’ ventures such as the flourishing bio-ethanol industry in the Visayas, Southern Tagalog and Isabela,” said Ramos.

“How can change arrive if the oligarchs are still free to trample upon the rights of lowly peasants and farmworkers?  Feudal vestiges apparent in atrocities such as the Mendiola Massacre are still very much alive to this day. Government must decisively stop this despicable practice of labor exploitation and contractualization. The victims call for justice,” Ramos emphasized.            

Meanwhile, UMA and its local chapters nationwide will join peasant camp-outs and protests to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Mendiola Massacre, to be held in various regional centers all all over the country this month. Protests led by the militant KMP will be held in Mendiola on January 20.

Contractualization Allowed Cojuangcos, Lorenzos to Sign Sacadas as Slaves

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A batch of sacadas rescued from slave-like working conditions in Hacienda Luisita joined protests led by militant labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno and the All Workers Unity (AWU) in Manila today, before boarding their ride back to Mindanao.

The sacadas, “rescued” by the national agriworkers center, Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) will file criminal cases against their contractors and employers Greenhand Labor Service Cooperative, Agrikulto Inc and Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) for human trafficking, once they return to Bukidnon.

Sakadas already filed labor complaints against Billy Baitus of Greenhand, and their main employers Fernando Cojuangco and Martin Lorenzo of CAT last week at the National Labor Relations Commission in San Fernando City, Pampanga.

Thirty-six sugar workers and four rescued minors, are expected to reach Cagayan de Oro City today, where the local farmworkers’ union, OGYON or Organisasyon sa Yanong Obrerong Nagkahiusa, organized a “panagtagbo” or welcome.

Meanwhile, UMA Secretary General Danilo Ramos, who accompanied the first batch of sakadas back to Mindanao today, expressed agreement with KMU and AWU in condemning the Department of Labor and Employment’s (DOLE) new Department Order (DO) 168.

“The sakadas were subjected to worst forms of exploitation and contractualization in Hacienda Luisita. This new DO 168 does nothing to end contractualization. Instead, it glosses over liabilities of despicable contractors like Greenhand and exploiters like the Cojuangcos and Lorenzos”

Ramos said that “modern-day slavery” is technically legitimized by such DOLE orders. “The Labor Department’s orders practically allow the Cojuangcos and Lorenzos to sign sakadas as slaves.

“There is even an order specifically for sacadas that institutionalizes the oppressive ‘pakyaw’ wages or group rates, and allows for the employer to oblige sacadas to pay for work tools and facilities,” Ramos noted.

In effect DO159, or the Guidelines for the Employment of Migratory Sugar Workers, which was signed on June 22, 2016 and reinforced by DO 168 institutionalizes labor-only contracting, unfair deductions and daily pay way below the minimum wage.

“These orders are rather puny attempts by the DOLE to make it appear that they are protecting sacadas – majority if not all of migratory sugar workers are paid below the wage rates of local workers who also receive meager pay.

Agrikulto Inc. had no qualms in making Greenhand ‘supply’ them a thousand sugar workers from Mindanao to work in Hacienda Luisita and in other parts of Central and Northern Luzon – the hacienderos behind this cult have been practicing the worst forms of contractualization for decades,” he said.

According to Ramos, DOLE officials such as Regional Director Ana Dione are fully-aware of the CAT’s appalling labor practices. Dione approved Greenhand’s permits in Central Luzon and told UMA that she already inspected the workers’ bunkhouse in Luisita last December. Dione even noted that Agrikulto, Inc. and CAT offer the “best accommodations” for sakadas.

“Why should this kind of cruelty and oppression exist to this day? All forms of contractualization must be banned,” ended Ramos.

 

Reference: Danilo Ramos, UMA Secretary General, 09994363493