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

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