BACOLOD CITY — Sugar workers under the national agriworkers federation Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) gathered here in the country’s sugar-producing capital Negros Island for a 2-day media training, a few weeks before the onset of tiempo muerto or dead season, when the sugar industry temporarily grinds to a halt and farmworkers are left without any stable source of income.
Revitalized by its successful national congress held in Bukidnon last month, UMA is now poised to intensify its campaigns for the rights and welfare of agricultural workers all over the country, especially with the onslaught of tiempo muerto this year, which can be aggravated by the El Nino dry spell.
“The tiempo muerto is a yearly crisis period for sugar workers. The public is largely unaware of the plight of the thousands of farmworkers during this dead season, and the hunger and poverty experienced by around 5 million of their dependents,” said Danilo Ramos, UMA Secretary General.
The media training, which was held during the weekend at the Sugar Workers Development Center in downtown Bacolod, is part of UMA’s the Tiempo Muerto media monitoring project supported by the Canada-based World Association for Christian Communication (WACC). The project aims to gather and evaluate the quality of mainstream media reports on poverty and hunger during this crisis period, in order to spur positive change in media practices and the public’s understanding and appreciation of sugar workers’ plight during tiempo muerto.
The sibling tandem of renowned journalists Inday Espina-Varona of ABSCBN News Online and Nonoy Espina of Interaksyon.com were among the training’s resource persons. Varona recently received the Hildegarde Award from the St. Scholastica’s College for her outstanding coverage of the spate of killings of the lumad or indigenous peoples in Mindanao.
“The Tiempo Muerto project is a challenge to our friends in the media to diligently cover the issues and uncover important matters hounding the sugar industry and its productive forces. Sugar workers who still endure slave-like conditions even after decades of the government’s land reform promises must not stay invisible in mainstream media. The media can help sugar workers illuminate the public; we must all draw inspiration from the toiling masses’ struggle for genuine land reform, food security and true economic development,” said Ramos.
Ramos added that “(UMA) likewise aims to shake this haciendero regime and its cabal of yellow spin doctors and trolls lurking in corporate and social media – we will not allow another six years of ‘tiempo muerto’ under another haciendero dispensation,” referring to the candidacy of Liberal Party presidentiable Mar Roxas, who hails from a family of local sugar barons who have consistently pushed their landlord interests in national politics.
After this training, Tiempo Muerto media monitors will also be active in other sugar-producing areas such as Isabela, Tarlac, Batangas and Bukidnon.
For news stories to be easily monitored by this project, UMA encourages journalists and alternative media groups to use its official hashtag #TiempoMuerto when sharing content on farmworkers issues and news on the sugar and bioethanol industry online.
Reference: Gi Estrada, UMA media officer, 01966114181