Agriworkers, Church people add voice to peace clamor

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AUGUST 5, 2016 — The Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) and the Church People – Workers Solidarity (CWS) called on both the Duterte government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) to ensure that the long-awaited resumption of peace talks push through as scheduled on August 20.

Agriworkers and church people came together for a symbolic action today along E. Rodriguez Avenue in New Manila, Quezon City to express their strong call for the continuation of stalled negotiations amid recent “spoilers” that may disrupt the peace process.

“At stake in the resumption of the talks is the welfare of ordinary folk like peasants and agriworkers. Poverty, hunger and slave-like working conditions in the countryside have pushed many to take up arms,” said Danilo “Ka Daning” Ramos, UMA Secretary General.

He also noted that last week’s uproar over incidents after Duterte declared a unilateral ceasefire must not hinder both parties from sincerely addressing the root causes of the armed conflict. Ramos said that the concerns of agricultural workers would hopefully be discussed in the talks’ substantive agenda on Socio-Economic Reforms (SER).

Earlier, representatives from agricultural workers and church people gathered at the Fr. Dela Cruz Mission Hall in New Manila to discuss the dire situation of the country’s agriworkers in banana, pineapple, sugar cane, and oil palm plantations.

According to UMA, agricultural workers are burdened with heavy and hazardous workload in haciendas and plantations in exchange for very low and slave-like wages. They are the victims of various forms of exploitation while creating massive wealth and profits for big landlords and local businessmen, and giant multinational and transnational agricorporations.

Testimonials from Luisita farmworkers led by Florida Sibayan of Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang-Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA), meanwhile emphasized that peace can be achieved by hearing out their cry for land and justice.

Ramos said that agriworkers had high hopes for the success of the peace process after an agreement between the Government of the Philippines (GPH)  and the NDFP was immediately forged during preliminary talks in Oslo, Norway last June.

“We particularly call on the Duterte government make true his commitment to release all political prisoners, most of whom are peasant advocates fighting for the rights of the rural poor,” said Ramos, himself many times a victim of trumped-up charges and harassment suits filed by state actors to suppress legitimate dissent.

“Violent suppression of the right to organize and criminalization of agrarian disputes leave many peasants and agriworkers with no choice but to rebel. Agriworkers in Mindanao plantations are harassed, intimidated, and  shot at by the military because of their union activities,” Ramos also urged Duterte to pull-out military and paramilitary troops victimizing civilian communities and workplaces.

“The worst case was the Hacienda Luisita massacre on November 16, 2004 when sugar workers were killed in a bloody dispersal. Peace is equal to silencing dissent, for the warmongers and militarists in government who are still profiting from protection rackets in favor of despotic landlords and big businesses like mining and plantations. The peace we want is a peace based on justice,” ended Ramos. ##

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