Despite huge NFA rice stocks, hunger hounds sugar workers during “tiempo muerto” in Negros

PR TIEMPO MUERTO

AUGUST 19, 2015 |  FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Reference: John M. Lozande, Acting Chair, UMA; Secretary General, NFSW;
Contact Number: 09072522233

Every year, “Tiempo Muerto” or Dead Season inflicts economic hardship on the lives of the sugar workers in Negros. This annual phenomenon of hunger and dislocation has been a curse to sugar worker-families since the Spanish period. It lasts for 3 to 4 months every year and its severity peaks in the month of August to September.

Hunger is the twin image of Tiempo Muerto. It is a period in a year wherein the sugar worker-families do not earn any income as a result of the absence of jobs in most haciendas. Budgeted work in some haciendas only give sugar workers an income ranging from P200 to P300 pesos every week. It redounds to a measly P1.59 to P2.38 per meal budget for a sugar worker family with 6 members. Other haciendas offer no work at all.

Tiempo Muerto is firmly tied to land monopoly. Land monopoly in the sugar producing regions has not been eliminated by the land reform program of the government called CARP/CARPER after more than 28 years after of implementation since 1988 under Cory Aquino presidency. This government land reform program clearly failed in its supposed purpose to free sugarcane workers from the clutches of poverty and hunger.

If the government’s land reform program failed, so will the Sugar Industry Development Act (SIDA) and its main feature, the Block Farm program which, according to this act, must help agrarian reform beneficiaries. How can this program help ARBs when more than 80% of their land are in fact already back in the hands of big hacienderos and ariendadores?

None of the provisions of the SIDA will solve the problems of the sugar workers including perennial low wages, job insecurity and violations of many employers in labor standards law implementation and in Social Security System law. The main backbone of the sugar industry, the sugar workers, has no room to fare well within this Act.

SIDA cannot get rid of Tiempo Muerto, and therefore, cannot get rid of hunger of the sugar workers.

Tiempo Muerto is a heartbreaking reality that even our so called sugar leaders, government officials and agencies accept as fact. They however do nothing to address its roots causes or to embark on serious steps for genuine and pro-workers economic plans and programs.

Every Local Government Unit has millions of pesos in its 20% Development Fund and Calamity Fund every year. The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has millions of pesos from the Social Amelioration Bonus (SAB) socio-economic fund and several millions more from unreleased and unclaimed SAB funds. Where does all this money go?

Tiempo Muerto is a political calamity that strikes every sugar worker in various forms and degrees of severity. It is an annual calamity to the families of 780,000 sugar workers who depend on the industry. No amount of Marching for Peace brouhaha of the Philippine Army and the Provincial Government can put this disaster out of sight.

What’s even worse, NFA warehouses in Negros are reportedly full of rice stocks which are starting to rot while hundreds of thousands of our hacienda workers in the rural areas suffer food shortage. What are these huge stocks of rice being prepared for?

Are these stocks for the election campaign of our “honorable” politicians? Reserved to augment their campaign logistics and to perpetuate their hold on government positions? Why can they not release these stocks during Dead Season to help our starving sugar workers and their families in many haciendas?

If the government bureaucracy is serious enough to stop Tiempos Muertos, they should pass the House Bill 252 or the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB) to break land monopoly and introduce a comprehensive and inclusive economic program that includes the welfare of the sugar workers.

We call on the Governor of this province, Local Government Units and other concern agencies to release food assistance to the Sugar Workers!

Stop Tiempos Muertos in the Sugar Industry!

National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW)
Negros Island, August 18, 2015

UMA ADVISORY

The National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) will conduct a 2-day protest from August 19 to 20 to demand government instrumentalities for Tiempo Muerto-related assistance and policy advocacies for sugar workers.

This activity will address its demands to the Department of Agrarian Reform Provincial Office, the Social Security System Office, Department of Labor and Employment, National Food Authority and to the Provincial Government of Negros Occidental.

The protest will be joined by more than 1,000 farm workers from different haciendas.

NFSW is the local affiliate of the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) in Negros Island.

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