FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 3, 2015
Reference: Gi Estrada, UMA media officer, 09166114181
Agricultural workers under the national federation Unyon ng mga Mangggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) slammed President BS Aquino’s alter-egos at the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) for dangling billions of pesos in public funds to finance sugar block farms, a new devious scheme favoring business interests of big sugar barons – or Aquino’s haciendero kind.
“This multi-billion budget will benefit only President Aquino’s kin and other big hacienderos and sugar barons, probably including the Liberal Party and its allies,” said John Milton Lozande, Acting Chairperson of UMA.
According to reports, DA Secretary Proceso Alcala, the DAR and SRA administrator Maria Regina Bautista-Martin, recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for a convergence program on the local sugarcane development program.
The DAR recently announced that it will provide P424.6-million assistance for sugar block farms. The SRA, meanwhile, allocated P30 million for block farms on top of the DA’s 1.7 Billion block farm budget sourced through the General Appropriations Act of 2015 and the Sugar Industry Development Act (SIDA).
“Nobody believes thieves like Alcala or Aquino when they say that the sugar block farm program will improve the lives of farmworkers,” said Lozande.
“Only the hacienderos and sugar barons would receive funds from these government agencies because they control the block farms. Even the funding for farm equipment and farm to market roads, which we all know is mired in corruption, could be used by the ruling party for next year’s presidential elections,” he added.
UMA said that the haciendero government of Aquino is most insensitive in publicizing the allocation of billions of pesos in public funds for landlords, while the thousands of farmworkers are currently mired in poverty and hunger due to “tiempo muerto” or dead season, when the sugarcane industry temporarily grinds to a halt for a period of 4-6 months while waiting for the next milling season.
In Negros island, thousands of farmworkers under UMA’s local affiliate, the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) conducted a series of protests since July to highlight their plight during “tiempo muerto.” Lozande is also the secretary-general of NFSW.
The DAR meanwhile said that for a three year period, it would fund 99 block farms nationwide including 10 in Hacienda Luisita. “With this plan, the DAR alone is allocating a hefty average of P4.288 million per block farm. What more the funds coursed through the SRA and DA?”
Sugar block farms are consolidation of small farms into 30-50 hectares to take advantage of plantation-scale production. Essentially, block farms are designed to reconcentrate lands back to landlords and their dummies acting as “farm managers.”
“Under block farming, agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) only retain ownership of the lands in paper while they are rehired as farmworkers. Block farming enjoys financing schemes much like various Agribusiness Ventures Agreements (AVAs) such as joint-venture, contract growing, leaseback and others,” said Lozande.
UMA decried that majority of sugar cane farms supposedly distributed under the bogus Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) are already back in the hands of big hacienderos and sugar barons.
In Negros Occidental, 80% of the ARBs have had their lands entered into onerous lease agreements with the landlords or big sugar planters, while it is widely believed that most farmworker-beneficiaries in Hacienda Luisita have had their lot allocations leased to financier-dummies of the Cojuangco-Aquino family at a measly rate of P7,500 per .66 hectares per year.
“Agriworkers know how corrupt Alcala, Aquino, and his whole cabal of hacienderos and trapos in the LP are,” said Lozande. “They will earn the ire of starving farmworkers nationwide come election time.”