National agriworkers center Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) salutes the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), Northern Negros Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (NNAHRA) and Teatro Obrero in its efforts to highlight the historical impact of the Escalante Massacre with a National Cultural Conference and Community Theatre Festival held in Escalante City, Negros Occidental from September 15-20.
The said activities, presented with support from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), will culminate today with the reenactment of the Escalante Massacre which happened exactly 31 years ago on September 20, 1985.
The cultural conference, co-presented by the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP), Sinagbayan, and other such groups brought together hundreds of cultural workers and activists from various national-democratic cultural organizations across the country to “strengthen the unity for a cultural revolution.”
UMA Secretary General Danilo Ramos said that the Escalante Massacre “is a stark reminder of the atrocities of the US-sponsored Marcos fascist dictatorship and the deep social inequalities in Negros and the rest of sugar-producing areas in the country still prevalent up to this day.”
The Escalante Massacre was the result of the violent assault against the 5,000-strong Welgang Bayan (People’s Strike) against Marcos held in Escalante on the 13th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law. The rally was composed mainly of hacienda or sugar workers and other progressive sectors such as fisherfolk, students, urban poor, professionals and church people. It is remembered as “one of the most heinous incidents during the Marcos dictatorship.”
In Escalante City, the NFSW, NNAHRA, Martyr and the cultural organization Teatro Obrero have made commemoration activities particularly momentous with a yearly reenactment that involves the whole community. This year, hundreds of artists and cultural workers will participate in the event.
Ramos said that Escalante is one of the strongest reasons against a Hero’s Burial for Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. “We must not forget history, and the sacrifices of our martyrs as we continue to struggle against the same injustice, violent repression and exploitation under a backward, semifeudal set-up,” emphasized Ramos.
A report released by UMA and NFSW from its recently-concluded National Sugar Workers Summit, states that sugar cane field workers still endure slave-like wages, earning a maximum of only P1,000 weekly or P4,000 a month. The “pakyaw” (group rate) system is also institutionalized by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) in Negros Occidental by incorporating this oppressive wage scheme into the rates approved by its Regional Wage Board.
Such low pay is further exacerbated by the tiempo muerto (dead season) or off-milling season when hunger and destitution is felt especially in Negros Island. More than half of sugarcane in the country is produced in Negros.
“Artists and cultural workers who joined the theatre festival and conference vow to advance a ‘cultural revolution’ and must therefore push for social justice and peace and support the call for genuine agrarian reform and national industrialization,” said Ramos.
“In Negros, where hacienderos have lorded over sugar workers since the Spanish era, unions and associations under the NFSW have embarked on land cultivation initiatives, tilling farmlots for food production as their militant assertion of land rights. The experience in Negros has empowered farmworkers to boost production, sustainable agriculture and organic farming practices through unity, cooperation and fierce struggle,” he added.
“The practice of land cultivation for food security in destitute sugar areas, especially during tiempo muerto, must be recognized, supported and replicated. The life-and-death struggle of sugar workers and our toiling masses – as in Escalante, Hacienda Luisita and many such realms of intense struggle – must continue to become subjects of vivid cultural expression that should in turn resonate to serve the people, and strengthen the call to end exploitation, state violence and fascism, and imperialist domination,” ended Ramos.