Agriworkers Join Calls for Veto Override on SSS Pension Hike Bill


Reference: Gi Estrada, UMA Media Officer, 0916.611.4181
Follow @UMApilipinas on Twitter

The Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) joins the nationwide clamor for the Congress and Senate to override President Aquino’s Veto of the SSS Pension Hike Bill.

Ranmil Echanis, UMA secretary general, totally agrees with the statement made by Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares that many companies are not penalized for non-remittance of membership payments to the SSS. This is rampant among landlords and agricultural corporations employing agricultural workers in the country.

Added Echanis, “Colmenares, the principal author of the SSS pension hike bill, worked as an organizer among sugar cane cutters in his native Negros Occidental during his early activist years. Many agricultural workers toil for landlords and agri-corporations as casual workers without benefits and social security.”

Echanis explained that most sugar agricultural workers including those for bioethanol production are not covered by the SSS even if they contribute to the pension fund. This includes the more than 1,500 workers of Ecofuel-GFII (Green Future Innovations, Inc.) in Isabela and in almost all of the haciendas in Negros Occidental.

This is also true in the banana plantations of Marsman-Drysdale in Davao where the company continues to deduct SSS contributions from its 3,000 workers, but the company does not remit anything.  Those with SSS accounts are instructed to declare themselves as self-employed.

Even former farmworkers of Hacienda Luisita have declared that when Cory Aquino was running against Marcos in the elections in 1986, their SSS contributions were never remitted to the pension fund from 1985 – 1990.

Many of these farm workers are now SSS pensioners and like most other senior citizens can barely survive on the measly pensions they get that has had no increase since 1997.

“These pensioners should be able to enjoy the P2,000 across the board increase which they deserve especially after enriching a lot of landlords and transnational and local companies engaged in agri-business through their sweat and blood,” said Echanis.



29 Years after the Mendiola Massacre: “Land Reform Beneficiary” Tortured, Killed in Negros


Reference: Gi Estrada, UMA Media Officer, 0916.611.4181
Follow @UMApilipinas on Twitter

BACOLOD CITY – Townsfolk of Murcia, Negros Occidental appeared in droves Saturday for the funeral march of Benjie Sustento, 30, the latest victim of summary execution related to land dispute and the bogus Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) in this island region.

Sustento was a member of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NSFW), local affiliate of the national agricultural workers center Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) in Negros Island.

The victim was also a listed CARP beneficiary of a parcel of land reportedly disputed and sought by new landlords or land speculators running the aryendo or lease system in Murcia. Sustento was abducted by unidentified men from his home in Purok Eslabong, Barangay Lopez Jaena around 10:00 in the evening of January 9, and was blindfolded, gagged, hogtied and dragged several hundred meters on the street from a motor vehicle.

Witnesses reported the incident to Murcia police authorities who apparently refused to respond to the scene. Sustento was found dead 6:00 am the next day, with torture marks and close-range gunshot wounds in the eyes and ear.

The bereaved family led the mourners in silent protest over Sustento’s gruesome killing. The family marched to Sustento’s final resting place with the word “JUSTICE” emblazoned in their black garb. In the religious service preceding the march, Sustento’s brother called on the public to help them identify the killers.

The NFSW has led farmworkers in asserting land rights through land cultivation activities to produce food and sustained livelihood for the community, including in the area tilled by the Sustentos in Murcia. This bold initiative provided strong, viable alternative to the farmworkers’ usual toil as cane cutters enduring slave-like conditions and wages in vast sugar haciendas.

Land cultivation, however, has been consistently blocked by the landlords, their dummies and new land speculators. UMA believes that the aryendo system, which offers measly amounts to beneficiaries for the annual lease of CARP-awarded farm lots, was established precisely to complement the bogus CARP in re-concentrating lands back to the control of landlords and undermining these land cultivation efforts by organized farmworkers.

Prior to the killing, the Sustento family and other tillers faced continuous harassment while defending their collective land cultivation area. A trumped-up criminal charge of arson was filed against Sustento’s brother by one scheming land speculator, who reportedly ordered goons to burn a sugarcane field in the area just to fabricate the case against the tillers. Hired goons of these notorious aryendadors are therefore prime suspects in the killing of Benjie Sustento.

UMA said that the torture and killing of Sustento further highlights the failure of agrarian reform in Negros Island, widely-known as a landlord feudal stronghold since the Spanish colonial era.

“Sustento was merely a toddler when farmers seeking land rights were massacred in Mendiola by the first Cojuangco-Aquino dispensation. Today, even at the last few months of the oppressive regime of another Cojuangco-Aquino landlord president, young farmers like Sustento still become victims of cacique-style murder,” said Ranmil Echanis, UMA secretary general.

With the absolute failure of CARP, farmworkers led by UMA and NFSW have been pushing for the enactment of House Bill 252 or the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB) co-authored by Anakpawis Party-list and Rep. Neri Colmenares in Congress.

Farmers and NFSW members have started to mount local protests and picket-dialogues with the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in several municipalities in Negros Occidental, which are set to culminate in a peasant camp-out led by the militant Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP-Negros) here in Bacolod City from January 19 to 22.

UMA will also join the national KMP, Anakpawis Partylist and other militant peasant organizations and multi-sectoral groups in a protest at the very site of the Mendiola Massacre in Manila on Friday, to commemorate the 29th anniversary of the bloody dispersal which claimed the lives of 13 farmers on January 22, 1987.

New Luisita land reform swindle, more reason to jail BS Aquino after term ends

Reference: Gi Estrada, UMA Media Officer, 0916.611.4181
Follow @UMApilipinas on Twitter


The Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) slammed President BS Aquino and the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) for aggravating the swindle of supposed farmworker-beneficiaries in Hacienda Luisita through another round of sham land distribution a few months before the 2016 National Elections.

“After President BS Aquino’s dismal failure to fulfill his campaign promise to finally distribute land and dispense justice to Luisita farmers, the DAR and this heartless haciendero president can only attempt a last ditch effort to earn ‘land reform pogi points’ from the public through this deceptive and misleading announcement,”  said Ranmil Echanis, UMA Secretary General.

UMA is referring to the DAR’s announcement and list of potential beneficiaries posted last December 29 in barangays of Hacienda Luisita for contested agricultural areas claimed by Cojuangco-Aquino firm Tarlac Development Corporation (TADECO) located in Barangays Balete (258 hectares) and Cutcut II (100 hectares) in Hacienda Luisita.

The DAR announcement came two years after it issued a belated Notice of land reform coverage (NOC) for the 358-hectare property on December 17, 2013. The controversial Hacienda Luisita sugar estate has a total land area of 6,453 hectares.

“If BS Aquino is trying to prettify Luisita for the 2016 Elections, he is only fooling himself. Aquino seems to be creating more reason and solid basis for the people to put him in jail after his term ends this year,” said Echanis.

UMA and the Luisita Watch network can cite a long list of crimes committed by Aquino against Hacienda Luisita farmers starting from the Hacienda Luisita massacre in 2004 to various forms of human rights violations, corruption, swindle, and landgrabbing especially under his presidency. Aquino’s controversial and patently illegal Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) was used to grant P471.5 million in compensation to Presidential kin for lands that are now back to their effective control.

The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said that a “pabaon” or another tranche of millions of pesos in public funds will be granted to the Aquino-Cojuangcos for this 358-hectare Luisita property.

Luisita farmers are also protesting the construction of the Tarlac Solar Power Project (TSPP), another anomalous public-private partnership (PPP) project worth Php 3.6 billion sanctioned by BS Aquino, adjacent to the contested TADECO property in Barangay Balete. In fact, electrical posts are already erected right inside the said contested area in barangay Balete.

UMA reminded Aquino and his alter-egos at the DAR and the Department of Justice (DOJ), that farmers have already filed hundreds of criminal complaints against the Aquino-Cojuangcos who committed grave atrocities against farmers in 2013 and 2014 just to maintain control of these contested agricultural areas in Hacienda Luisita.

Hundreds of farmers were forcibly evicted from their farmlots, a number assaulted and seriously injured by goons and wrongfully arrested and detained by police. Farmers’ crops and huts were either bulldozed or burned to the ground, with remaining produce, farm tools and animals looted before the areas were fenced off from its tillers. Even Anakpawis Party-list Rep. Fernando Hicap who is immune from arrest, was among those manhandled and detained by police in Hacienda Luisita for trying to uncover anomalies through a fact-finding mission in 2013.

The farmers’ complaints have been gathering dust at the DOJ.

“The DAR, whose officials are complicit in the monumental swindle of supposed land reform beneficiaries, would be rubbing salt on the farmers’ open wounds if this haciendero government would subject them to another round of the tambiolo land reform farce just to settle the claims of more than 1,700 individuals – most of them probably dummies of the Cojuangcos who are trying to earn a slot in this 358-hectare area,” Echanis added.

The Supreme Court ordered total land distribution in Hacienda Luisita through a landmark decision promulgated on April 24, 2012. Hacienda Luisita farmers and UMA’s local affiliate in Tarlac, the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA) have consistently criticized the Aquino administration for its bogus land distribution scheme, done through raffling off of farmlots to beneficiaries via tambiolo (lottery drum) and heavy deployment of armed state forces to coerce and intimidate farmers.

This sham process has led to dislocation and confusion among farmers which aided the swift reconcentration of land back to the control of landlords through illicit lease arrangements and sale of farmlots.

UMA says that TADECO, the original Cojuangco-Aquino firm which acquired Hacienda Luisita in 1957, should not have been able to maintain hundreds of hectares of agricultural land after Luisita was put under the stock distribution option (SDO) land reform scheme in 1989.

The 358-hectare TADECO area that the DAR is now offering farmers through a carrot-and-stick approach should have been distributed along with the rest of agricultural lands that the Cojuangco-Aquinos should have returned to the farmers in 1989, if not for the oppressive SDO scheme.

The DAR deliberately excluded from lot allocation choice agricultural land under various corporate avatars of the Aquino-Cojuangcos including TADECO, making the total land area smaller and each individual parcel allocated to farmers equal to only 6,600 square meters. UMA and AMBALA contend that aside from the 4,099 hectares supposedly allocated to beneficiaries but are now largely reconcentrated back to landlord control, more than a thousand hectares of agricultural land are still under Aquino-Cojuangco ownership.

Hacienda Luisita farmers have been clamoring for free land distribution and have embarked on a groundbreaking land cultivation campaign since 2005, during the height of the Hacienda Luisita strike. UMA supports the enactment of House Bill 252 or the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB), filed by Anakpawis Partylist and co-authored by Rep. Neri Colmenares in Congress.