BACOLOD CITY – “Tiempo Muerto” protests here in the country’s sugar bowl entered its second day today, as affected farmworkers trooped to concerned government institutions to hold picket-dialogues with local officials.
Tiempo Muerto (dead season) or the annual off-milling season in the sugar industry spells extreme hunger and bitter suffering for the thousands of affected farm workers and their dependents in Negros Island. During this lull between planting and harvest, workers are left without any source of income.
Yesterday, farmworkers led by the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) and the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) in Negros were joined by Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) Secretary General Danilo Ramos in protests in Bacolod City. NFSW member unions and associations in Escalante City, 63 kilometers north of Bacolod, also held protest marches and camp-outs to demand government aid.
Ramos said that farm workers have been suffering under slave-like conditions since the establishment of the hacienda system. “Sugar farmworkers endure perennial hunger and poverty year-in, year-out since the Spanish colonial period. But conditions are far worse during tiempo muerto.”
UMA said that hunger during off-milling season is also felt in other major sugar-producing areas such as Bukidnon, Isabela, Tarlac, Pampanga, Batangas; and Leyte and Panay islands. Minimum wage rates prescribed by regional wage boards are blatantly violated by hacienderos and aryendadors who perpetuate the oppressive “pakyaw” or piece-rate scheme.
Government statistics show that 30.5% of families in Region VI where Negros Occidental used to belong live in poverty, while in Negros Oriental, the figure is 46.6% of families. In Bukidnon province, the largest sugar cane producing area next to Negros Island, 58.7% of families live in poverty.
“Wages can be as low as Php 13 a day in Isabela, while Php 200 a day is the highest average daily wage rate in all other areas. But we should remember that the hacienda system is also wrought with feudal patronage and usury. The encargados, or supervisors even frown upon workers who can take home more than a hundred pesos in cash for their weekly toil – it is still very common for workers to use up all their wages through debts in the hacienda’s management or ‘cooperative’ store even before they actually receive the money,” said Ramos.
“During tiempo muerto, wages can go as low as Php 500 for 15 days work, that is if the hacienda can even provide work for the dumaan (regular hacienda workers). How about the sakada (seasonal migratory workers)? How does government expect them to survive under these circumstances?”
Sugar workers demand that the provincial government’s Php 40 M calamity funds, and the multi-million Social Amelioration Fund (SAF) handled by DOLE, be utilized to provide immediate relief to affected sugar workers.
Aside from immediate aid, UMA also called on the Duterte administration to heed the farmworkers’ demand for genuine land reform and national industrialization. “Tiempo Muerto will continue to be a season of hunger and death for sugar workers every year, if the country’s fundamental land problem is not seriously addressed,” ended Ramos.