The Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), a national federation of agricultural workers, joins the ranks of the country’s peasant women in the fight for genuine land reform today, International Rural Women’s Day.
UMA Acting Chairperson John Milton Lozande said that the implementation of bogus land reform, since the years of the Marcos dictatorship and with the failed Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) from the elder Aquino to the current BS Aquino regime, resulted only to the growing number of landless peasants.
Nine of of ten Filipino farmers are now landless due to three decades of corrupt, bloody and anomalous implementation of CARP, according to the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP).
Lozande claimed that supposed agrarian reform beneficiaries have been largely relegated to being mere agricultural workers – many of them tilling land that they technically “own” but that remains under the effective control of despotic landlords and giant agricultural corporations.
“Rural women are among the growing number of landless and impoverished agricultural workers, slaving away in haciendas and plantations controlled by the local land-owning elite, foreign agricorporations, and powerful multinationals and transnationals,” said Lozande.
UMA said that non-land transfer schemes like the Stock Distribution Option (SDO) now exposed and revoked in Hacienda Luisita, and other similar agribusiness venture arrangements (AVAs) such as growership contracts and leaseback agreements are still imposed by the government. These schemes continue to deprive land to the tiller, especially in areas of vast haciendas and agricultural plantations where impoverished farmworkers and agricultural workers must benefit from land reform.
Lozande added that “Land reform beneficiaries may hold land ownership award, lot allocation, or stock certificates, co-ownership contracts, dividend receipts and other such useless documents under CARP. But still, agricultural workers do not have control over supposedly awarded farmlots. Farmworkers are still extremely poor,”
“Women bear the brunt of the destitute conditions in a typical peasant family. While their hard work in the fields and at home usually comprise unpaid family labor, women are further obliged to seek employment to augment the family’s income and to secure vital services for their children such as health and education,” said Lozande.
According to a study, women comprise 53% of the 3,435 workers in the field and in the cannery and packaging plant of the multi-national Dole Philippines corporation in South Cotabato. Women also comprise most of the workers in banana packaging plants all over Mindanao, where reports of sexual harassment are coupled with the fact that they usually work from morning until the wee hours or even until dawn of the next day just to meet quotas during harvest season.
Lozande said that “Like their male counterparts, women agricultural workers also face the reality of extremely low wages, long hours of work and insufficient protection from occupational health hazards. However, the women suffer additional burden due to discrimination, vulnerability to violence, sexual harassment and abuse, and the dominant practice of gender segregation in agricultural work,”
In Bukidnon, for example, UMA noted that wage rates in sugar plantations range from P279 ($6.3) to P294 ($6.4) daily but the real wage of male workers in the province is P100 ($2.3) per day, while their female counterparts get only P91 ($2).
In oil palm plantations in Agusan del Sur, meanwhile, males comprise 85% of the total working population while females constitute only 15%. This can be attributed to the nature of the work that requires physical strength and stamina. Rampant unemployment among women in a community dominated by oil palm mill and plantations, has resulted in women and children seeking odd jobs, like making amacan or woven materials from palm fronds, or cooking home-made poison for use in the plantations.
According to UMA, the plight and situation of women agricultural workers especially in Mindanao are just a few of the many urgent and compelling reasons why the public and the government must act to reexamine the expansion and the very existence of corporate agricultural plantations.
The insidious expansion of agricultural plantations is “the other face of plunder in Mindanao” aside from the violent intrusion of giant mining firms. The aggressive expansion of corporate agricultural plantations in Mindanao has also spawned the current spate of killings of indigenous peoples or the lumad.
To highlight the effects of these corporate plantations, UMA, KMP, the national office and Northern Mindanao chapter of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), and the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR) will spearhead the formation of a national action network resisting the expansion of agricultural plantations in Mindanao.
The formation to be called REAP Mindanao Network will be launched during the National Conference on Mindanao Plantations on October 28, 9:00 am at the UP College of Education Auditorium in Diliman, Quezon City. Dr. Romeo Quijano of the Pesticide Action Network (PAN-Philippines) , local labor leader Ariel Casilao of Anakpawis and other representatives of affected lumad, peasant and working class communities in Mindanao will provide testimonials on the impact of corporate agricultural plantations in the island.
The conference, which is part of activities of the island-wide protest caravan Manilakbayan ng Mindanao 2015, is open to the public.