Increase in sugar workers’ benefits reveals gov’t inefficiency in handling sugar levy fund

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The recent announcement of outgoing Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz that there would be an increase of Php 3,000 for the maternity and death benefits of the sugar workers under the Social Amelioration Program (SAP) in the sugar industry only underscores the fact that more and more of the workers are not able to avail of their Cash Bonus Funds (CBF).

“This increase only means that many sugar workers cannot avail of bonuses and benefits from the sugar levy handled by the Labor Department through the SAP,” said Danilo Ramos, secretary general of the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA).

Secretary Baldoz admitted this when she said that the increase will be culled from the unutilized fund balances of the SAP. According to a Commission on Audit (COA) report, as of 4th quarter of 2014, the unclaimed and undistributed CBF has accumulated to more than Php 547 million.

Sugar workers say that the main problem with the SAP fund is that it is distributed through millers and planters and not directly to the workers.

Under Republic Act 6982, 80% of SAP’s fund is allotted for cash bonus fund (CBF) and is to be given to the sugar workers. The remaining 20% is for socio-economic program related fund (SEPRF) for socio-economic projects, death and maternity benefits and for the management of this fund. Unclaimed and undistributed CBF will be added to the SEPRF after a three year period if these have not yet been claimed nor distributed.

“While the increase in these benefits can be seen as a positive development, government must first ensure that the beneficiaries are able to access these with ease. The CBF and SEPRF should be directly granted to the workers through their organizations and unions instead of through the planters and millers,” said Ramos.

UMA also noted that a study published early this year on the SAP by the Sugar Industry Foundation Incorporated (SIFI) presents unnecessary recommendations to channel on a “voluntary” basis all CBF funds to the SEPRF. UMA says that the SIFI is practically a landlord and miller foundation also reported by the COA to be involved in several anomalies in allocating funds from the SAP in 2013. COA reported on the SAP’s payment of P1.7 million worth of medical insurance for rank and file employees of private sugar mills URSUMCO, DASUCESO, and First Farmers Holding Corporation, as recommended by the SIFI. The fund culled from the SEPRF practically grants financial aid to these millers who are obliged to ensure medical benefits for their workers.

“Despite the COA’s findings of anomalies in the handling of the multi-million SAP fund, no one has been charged or penalized by the outgoing administration of BS Aquino, whose family and close cohorts are known to be the country’s top sugar barons. The Social Amelioration Program is rocked with so many irregularities — unclaimed and undistributed cash bonus funds for sugar workers are steadily increasing, while our sugar workers are slowly dying of hunger caused by the annual tiempo muerto and calamities such as typhoons and drought,” said Ramos.

“We call on the incoming Duterte government to initiate a thorough investigation on the SAP fund and file appropriate charges against the erring officials and sugar barons hogging these funds,” ended Ramos.

Reference: Gi Estrada, UMA Media officer, 09166114181

Luisita farmers vow to revive massacre case vs Gen. Visaya, BS Aquino

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Luisita farmers led by AMBALA-UMA stage a picket in front of the Office of the Ombudsman August 2014, as survivors file a motion to reopen the case against massacre perpetrators including Gen. Ricardo Visaya, Gen. Gregorio Catapang and President BS Aquino. The motion was immediately junked. 

Farmworkers slammed Lt. Gen. Ricardo Visaya for his desperate ploy to wash his hands of responsibility in the Hacienda Luisita massacre so as to stay as top contender as chief of Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) under the administration of incoming President Rodrigo Duterte.

Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) Secretary General Danilo Ramos said that Gen. Visaya is resorting to blatant lies to clear his name. Visaya was quoted in news reports denying his infantry unit’s (69th IB) role in the dispersal operations which killed seven farmworkers and wounded hundreds more.

Visaya outrageously claimed that he was never investigated nor charged in connection with the incident. UMA said that it is of public knowledge that the PNP’s CIDG and the NBI submitted investigative reports which recounted then Col. Visaya’s role in the Nov. 16, 2004 massacre.

“We would like to remind Gen. Visaya that he was among the respondents in the January 2005 complaint filed at the Office of the Ombudsman by more than 50 survivors of the Luisita massacre. Outgoing President BS Aquino, Gen. Visaya, and retired Gen. Catapang, whom BS Aquino shamelessly appointed as AFP Chief during his administration, were among those charged with multiple murder, multiple frustrated murder, multiple attempted murder, physical injuries, malicious mischief, theft, grave abuse of authority, and conduct unbecoming of a public official,” said Ramos.

UMA reiterated that the complaints were actually “killed” twice during BS Aquino’s reign. Complaints against the police and military were dropped shortly after Aquino held power in 2010, while the survivors’ motion to reopen the case in 2014 was immediately junked. Survivors lament that the case was dismissed based solely on NBI reports, which ironically stated that there is basis to file charges against erring officials and that the testimonies of the survivors and protesters were more credible than that of the involved government personnel. The farmers’ complaints were junked without any other effort to conduct hearings or a more thorough investigation.

Furthermore, in a sworn statement made by respondent Capt. Gerry Pingen, which appeared in the NBI report, he described then Col. Visaya’s role during the massacre. In particular, he mentioned that Visaya through his cell phone ordered him to position the combat vehicles at the right side of the compound, fronting the gate. Visaya and Catapang are known to be the commanders of military units which opened fire at the unarmed protesters during the bloody dispersal.

The said NBI report on Hacienda Luisita only became public in November 2014, ten years after the massacre. By that time, the Ombudsman already junked the motion to reopen the case.

Farmers vow to revive their complaints as they hope that the incoming Duterte administration would be keen in dispensing justice for the victims of the massacre and other crimes committed thereafter such as the string of extra-judicial killings and the recent atrocities by the BS Aquino regime, including bulldozing of crops, burning of huts, physical injuries and illegal arrests.

“Gen. Visaya cannot simply erase his crimes with lies. Going after Aquino and his minions should not be seen as Duterte merely going after his political opponents. Grave crimes were committed. The injustice done to the victims and survivors must now be reversed with these murderers promptly investigated and prosecuted, not promoted. Aquino, Visaya, Catapang and all others involved in Luisita and many other atrocities deserve to rot in jail for their crimes against the peasant masses,” said

 

 

 

Luisita massacre Gen. Visaya deserves to be in jail with Aquino – agriworkers

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Agricultural workers under the national federation Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) added their voices to human rights defenders urging President-elect Rodrigo Duterte to drop Gen. Ricardo Visaya from the shortlist as new chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

“Visaya deserves to be in jail with Aquino,” said UMA Secretary General Danilo “Ka Daning” Ramos. Visaya was ground commander of the 69th Infantry Battalion involved in Hacienda Luisita massacre of November 16, 2004.

At least seven farmworkers were killed and hundreds more were injured in the violent dispersal of striking farmworkers, widely-believed to be ordered by President Benigno Aquino III and his family. Aquino was then a Congressman of Tarlac and active administrator of the controversial sugar estate.

Gen. Visaya is also notorious as the “right hand man” and “protégé” of Ret. Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan’s in the reign of terror in Central Luzon which claimed the lives of seven more supporters of Luisita farmers, including Tarlac City Councilor Abel Ladera, Father William Tadena and Bishop Alberto Ramento of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente. Visaya is also implicated in lumad killings and harassment of agricultural workers and unionists in Mindanao.

After Luisita, Visaya’s infamous army unit was also involved in the massacre of lumads in Paquibato, Davao City in June last year. Visaya also headed the 27th IBPA in Polomolok, South Cotabato which perpetrated harassment against farmworkers of Dole Phils. during a union election in 2011, targeting leaders of the incumbent union affiliated with the Kilusang Mayo Uno.

The 2005 Ombudsman case filed by 52 survivors against perpetrators of the Hacienda Luisita massacre was “killed” twice during the BS Aquino administration. Immediately after BS Aquino held power in 2010, charges were dropped against police and military personnel including Visaya and retired Gen. Gregorio Catapang, whom Aquino later appointed as AFP Chief.

Ten years after the massacre, in 2014, survivors moved to reopen the case, but this was also immediately junked by the Office of the Ombudsman.

Luisita farmers also seek justice for recent rights violations perpetrated by the BS Aquino regime such as bulldozing of crops, burning of huts, physical assault and illegal arrests. Hundreds of complaints filed by farmers in 2014 are yet to be acted upon by the Department of Justice.

“Visaya and his men are murderers who prey on the poorest of the poor to favor the landed elite and the oligarchs. The people are truly counting on Mayor Duterte to make good on his promise to dispense justice and curb crime. As the incoming Commander-in-Chief, Duterte must not allow notorious criminals like Visaya to be at the helm of the country’s armed forces,” said Ramos.

REFERENCE: Gi Estrada, UMA Media officer, 09166114181

 

Bukas na Liham sa Bagong Pangulo ng Bansa, Rodrigo Roa Duterte

 

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Rodrigo Duterte sa isang electoral forum na inorganisa ng  mga magsasaka noong Pebrero. (Photo by Friends of Anakpawis)

Kaming mga manggagawang agrikultural ay mga buhay na patunay ng pang-aapi sa Daang Matuwid – patuloy naming dinaranas ang mala-aliping kalagayan at marahas na panunupil sa kamay ng mga haciendero, dambuhalang korporasyon at sa kamay ng mismong gobyerno.

Sa eleksyon ay nanaig kayo sa maruming pulitika ng mga hacienderong Cojuangco, Aquino, at Roxas-Araneta, na matagal nang nambubusabos sa mga manggagawang-bukid sa malalawak na asyendang tubuhan na ilang dekada o daantaon nang kontrolado ng kanilang mga angkan. Gayunman, sa ilalim ng inyong panunungkulan, makakapanaig na rin po ba ang tinig naming maliliit na manggagawa sa agrikultura?

Kami ang bumabalikat ng pinakamabibigat na trabaho sa mga asyenda at plantasyon ng tubo, saging, pinya, palmera, goma at iba pa – ngunit kami rin ang may pinakamababang antas ng pasahod ayon sa itinakda ng regional wage boards ng gobyerno. Kami’y nagtatrabaho nang seasonal at kontraktwal kaya karaniwang walang permanenteng trabaho at walang benepisyo. Ang hinuhulugang pensyon ay karaniwan ding kinukupit ng kumpanya o haciendero. Kami ay bulnerable sa sakuna, kalamidad at taunang pagtigil ng paggawa dulot ng off-milling season o tiempo muerto. Kahit walang bagyo, tagtuyot o delubyo, natural na kami at ang aming mga pamilya ay gutom.

Ang mga manggagawang-bukid ng Hacienda Luisita, halimbawa, ay makailang ulit nang pinangakuan ng repormang agraryo at hustisyang panlipunan – ngunit mula kay Magsaysay noong 1957 na kilala bilang “makamasang pangulo” hanggang sa populistang rehimen ng erederang si Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino noong 1986, at hanggang sa ilalim ng pinakahuling hacienderong pangulo na si BS Aquino – puro panloloko, pandarahas at pangangamkam ang dinanas ng mga manggagawang-bukid sa Luisita. Ang desisyon ng Korte Suprema noong 2012 para sa kumpletong pamamahagi ng lupain ng asyenda sa libu-libong magbubukid ay maibabaon na lang ba sa limot ngayon o maisasama na lang sa hukay ng pumanaw na punong mahistrado?

Mananatili ba kaming nagbubungkal ng lupa na hindi namin pag-aari? Patuloy ba kaming aasa sa lupang ipinapangako ng isang lipas at pekeng programa sa repormang agraryo na binalangkas at ipinapatupad ng mga haciendero? Patuloy ba kaming lilinlangin sa mga iskemang corporative, Stock Distribution Option (SDO), leaseback at iba pang Agribusiness Venture Arrangement (AVA) na nagsasabi na ang lupa ay amin na diumanong pag-aari at amin nang malilinang, ngunit malilinang lang kung patuloy kaming magiging aliping sahuran at lilikha ng limpak-limpak na produkto at tubo para sa pakinabang ng iilan? Ganito ang kalagayan ng mga manggagawang agrikultural lalo na sa mga plantasyon sa Mindanao kung saan daan-daan libong ektarya ng lupain ang kontrolado ng mga Cojuangco, Lorenzo, Floirendo at ng mga dambuhalang multinasyunal. Ang aliping kalagayan ng mga manggagawang agrikutural ay mas palalawakin ba sa planong ekspansyon ng mga plantasyong ito sa Negros, Bohol, Palawan at iba pang panig ng bansa?

Sa ilalim ng bagong administrasyon, ang pagsasabi namin ng katotohanan at pagtuligsa sa mga makapangyarihan ay patuloy bang susuklian ng pangungutya, marahas na panunupil at masaker na gaya ng aming naranasan mula Escalante, Mendiola, Hacienda Luisita at Kidapawan? Kami na siya na ngang mga biktima ng karahasan ay itinuturing pa na mga kaaway ng estado at patuloy na tinutugis ng pulis at militar, sinasampahan ng patung-patong na gawa-gawang kaso, at pinagdurusa sa iligal na pagkakabilanggo.

Kadusta-dusta ang aming kalagayan. Hayaan po ninyo na iparating namin sa inyo ang ilan sa aming mga kagyat na panawagan:

Lupa at hustisya para sa mga manggagawang-bukid ng Hacienda Luisita – imbestigahan ang mga anomalya gaya ng panunuhol at kumpensasyon gamit ang milyun-milyong pera sa DAP, at tuluyang ipawalambisa ang pekeng pamamahagi ng lupa na ipinatupad ng gobyernong Aquino. Imbestigahan at parusahan ang lahat ng sangkot sa masaker noong 2004 at sa patuloy na panloloko, pandarahas, pangangamkam sa mga manggagawang bukid ng Hacienda Luisita.

Seguridad sa trabaho – Wakasan ang kontraktwalisasyon sa paggawa. Ibasura ang Labor Department Order No. 18-A Series of 2011 at iba pang naglelegalisa sa kontraktwalisasyon sa mga probisyon ng Herrera Law at Labor Code.

Nakabubuhay na sahod – Suportahan ang pagtataas ng sahod ng mga manggagawa. Buwagin ang mga regional wage boards at ipatupad ang pambansang minimum na sahod na P750 para sa mga manggagawa sa pribadong sektor, kabilang na rito ang mga manggagawa sa agrikultura.

Benepisyo at serbisyo, hindi korapsyon at negosyo – Imbestigahan ang mga tiwaling opisyal at ganid na haciendero at miller na nagpapasasa sa sugar levy mula sa Social Amelioration Program (SAP) na dapat ay para sa mga manggagawang agrikultural at manggagawang-bukid sa tubuhan. Direktang ipamahagi ang daan-milyong pondo ng SAP para sa mga tunay na benepisyaryo. Itulak ang pagpapasa ng P2,000 SSS Pension Hike na hinadlangan ni Aquino sa pamamagitan ng veto.

Bigas, hindi bala – maagap na ayuda sa mga magbubukid at mamamayan sa panahon ng sakuna at kalamidad; partikular na suporta para sa mga manggagawang-bukid sa tubuhan na apektado ng taunang tiempo muerto.

Kalayaan, katarungan at kapayapaan – Wakasan ang pampulitikang panunupil at militarisasyon sa kanayunan. Itaguyod at pangalagaan ang karapatang mag-organisa, umanib sa mga asosasyon, magmobilisa at magpahayag ng mga saloobin at hinaing. Katarungan para sa Kidapawan at lahat ng biktima ng panunupil ng estado. Ibasura ang lahat ng mga gawa-gawang kaso laban sa mga magsasaka at mamamayang nakikipaglaban para sa kalayaan at karapatan. Palayain ang lahat ng mga bilanggong pulitikal. Ipagpatuloy ang usapang pangkapayapaan.

Lupang sakahan, hindi libingan – Ipatupad ang tunay na reporma sa lupa. Itigil ang ekspansyon ng mga dambuhalang agrikultural na plantasyon. Suportahan o i-“certify as urgent” ang pagpapasa ng bagong batas sa reporma sa lupa o Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill.

Kung walang tunay na reporma sa lupa, walang tunay na pag-unlad sa buong bayan. Patuloy na maghihirap ang masang anakpawis kung masasailalim pa rin ang bansa sa mga neoliberal na patakaran, at sa mga dikta o imposisyong pang-ekonomiya, pampulitika at militar na pabor lamang sa mga dayuhan at imperyalista.

Kung kami’y mananatiling busabos at alipin, kami at ang nakararaming magbubukid sa kanayunan lalo na ang ating kabataan, ay patuloy na dadayo at magpapalabuy-laboy sa mga syudad at hanggang sa ibayong dagat para sa walang kapararakang paghahanap ng disenteng pamumuhay at hanapbuhay. Araw-araw na nakaamba sa mamamayan ang panganib na masadlak sa mas masahol na kalagayan gaya ng droga, prostitusyon at kriminalidad – mga salot na ipinangako ninyong pupuksain sa lalong madaling panahon.

Ang pagtugon sa laganap na kaguluhan sa ating bayan, sa armadong tunggalian, at sa malawakang gutom at kahirapan ay nagsisimula sa pakikinig at pagbibigay-tinig sa maliliit na mamamayan na tulad namin – sa tulad naming mga manggagawa sa agrikultura at manggagawang-bukid na matagal nang hinahamak ngunit patuloy na nakikibaka para sa hustisyang panlipunan, tunay na kalayaan at demokrasya sa ating bansa.

 

DANILO RAMOS
Pangkalahatang Kalihim
Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA)

Agriworkers support fight for a National Minimum Wage

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On International Labor Day, agricultural workers under the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) reiterated support for the clamor for a national minimum wage, set at P750 a day for workers in the private sector and P16,000 a month for government employees.

At the same time, UMA Secretary General Danilo Ramos said that the group is also calling for an end to contractualization and other neoliberal attacks against workers and the peasants. The oppressive practice of labor-only contracting among agricultural workers who are usually paid by result is especially rampant in large-scale agricultural plantations and haciendas.

“Presidentiables and big-time politicians should not wait for poll victory before they implement this. The hacienderos among them – like the braggart Mar Roxas – may instantly end contractualization in firms and sugar estates bearing their surnames if they so wish,” said Ramos.

Ramos said that while the country’s presidentiables have all vowed to end contratualization, concrete legislation co-authored by Anakpawis Rep. Fernando Hicap and Rep. Neri Colmenares are still pending in Congress. House Bill 5140 or An Act Prohibiting Contractualization And Promoting Regular Employment was filed by Anakpawis in as early as October 2014.

The seasonal nature of work in plantations and haciendas has become an excuse for big agricorporations and landlords to make contractual hiring the norm. Workers are usually paid by various schemes including the oppressive “pakyaw” or wholesale/piece rate scheme which is declared legal by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE). Government standards have always set wages of agricultural workers at the lowest, slave-like levels, despite obscenely huge amount of net profits that landlords and foreign and local capitalists amass from plantations and haciendas.

“Throughout our history, the sweat and blood of agricultural workers in vast haciendas have always been the wellspring of economic and political power of the landed elite who also wield state power – like the Cojuangco Aquinos, Floirendos, Lorenzos, Aranetas, Arroyos, and Roxases,” according to UMA.

DOLE regional wage boards have set wage rates of agricultural workers from P233 to P335 a day. In reality, however, they usually receive only P200 daily wage, while in parts of Isabela some sugar workers still reportedly earn a measly P11. There is also discrimination against women workers who are paid lower wages than men. Child labor prevalent in haciendas and plantations is the result of desperation to augment family income. These slave-like levels are sorely lacking compared to the family living wage of P1,088.00 for an average Filipino household per day, according to a study by IBON Foundation.

The campaign for a national minimum wage should inspire agricultural workers to advance local campaigns for wage increase, based on particular conditions in specific haciendas, plantations, towns, districts and other basic levels.

“This can only be realized if agricultural workers unite and get organized. Agricultural workers must form militant unions to fight for their rights to just wages, job security, and benefits and to further the struggle for genuine land reform and national industrialization.”

 

Reference: Gi Estrada, UMA Media Officer, 09166114181