Agriworkers hold successful national congress in Mindanao

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Anakpawis Partylist for Congress, Neri Colmenares for Senator, endorsed

Agricultural workers from different plantations and haciendas all over the country converged in Malaybalay City, Bukidnon for Third National Congress of the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA). More than 200 delegates from 9 member-unions, associations and federations and more than 20 organizations attended the activity at the Kaamulan Auditorium, near Bukidnon’s Provincial Capitol Grounds.

UMA, which was founded by farmworkers immediately after the Hacienda Luisita massacre has been in the forefront of the struggle of farmworkers in Luisita and other sugarcane haciendas in Batangas, Negros, and Bukidnon. The current UMA Congress vowed to boldly expand its membership to confront pressing issues affecting agricultural workers especially in vast plantations of export crops such as Cavendish bananas, pineapple, oil palm, rubber and other giant agribusinesses mostly owned and controlled by foreign and multinational corporations. These plantations are largely based in Mindanao.

The UMA assembly commenced February 20 and will end today with a solidarity night. Guests from prominent leaders of militant organizations include Ka Elmer “Bong” Labog, national chairperson of Kilusang Mayo Uno, and Antonio “Ka Tonying”Flores, secretary general of the Kilusang Magbubukid of the Philippines (KMP).

Danilo “Ka Daning” Ramos, UMA secretary general, described the theme of the Congress and exhorted the delegates and guests of UMA to continue with their struggle against neoliberal attacks against the workers, peasants, and the Filipino people.

The incumbent and “future” representatives of progressive partylist, Anakpawis, 1st nominee Ariel “Ayik” Casilao, and Representative Fernando “Ka Pando”Hicap, were also present to challenge the agricultural workers to forward the agenda of the toiling masses this year’s presidential elections. Ayik of Anakpawis meanwhile emphasized that he will continue the brand of the Anakpawis as a party list of the toiling masses to uphold their rights inside and outside of the halls of Congress, or in the “parliament of the streets.”

Makabayan senatorial candidate Neri Colmenares sent a video message to the agriworkers, and mentioned that the struggle for the P2,000 pension increase is not yet over. Colmenares emphasized that the country needs genuine land reform and national industrialization for genuine development.

Ramos said that “It would be an illusion for the common people including for agricultural workers to pin their hopes on any of the traditional politicians. Colmenares is the only senatoriable that will truly fight for agricultural workers’ rights.” Delegates from the Negros Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) said that Colmenares spent significant time as an activist and organizer working among sugar workers in his native Negros Occidental. The UMA Congress passed a resolution endorsing Anakpawis Partylist for Congress, and Neri Colmenares of Makabayan for Senator.

From its original member organizations in sugar plantations, UMA has now expanded to include agricultural workers’ associations in oil palm, banana, bioethanol plantations in Cagayan Valley, Misamis Oriental in Northern Mindanao, Compostela Valley and Davao City in the Northern Mindanao Region. “UMA is now in a better position to advance agricultural workers rights for genuine land reform, wages, benefits, and job security. UMA is steeled from its experience in Hacienda Luisita and in fighting no less that the cacique holding the highest office in the land, BS Aquino,” said Ramos.

UMA is poised to launch more mass campaigns for the interests of farmworkers who are among the poorest of the rural poor, enduring slave-like wages in harsh and hazardous labor conditions. The Congress will end with a solidarity night with the lumad of Bukidnon, who have evacuated due to continuing militarization, and are currently holding a camp-out at the Provincial Grounds.

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