A total of 36 sakadas from Bukidnon filed labor complaints against their recruiters and employers Greenhand Labor Service Cooperative, Agrikulto Inc. and Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) at the National Labor Relations Office – Regional Arbitration Board (NLRC-RAB III) in San Fernando City last week, following their “rescue” from slave-like working conditions in Hacienda Luisita.
But Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Sec. Silvestre Bello III is still eerily silent on the plight of Mindanao sakadas, observed the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA).
“The public is outraged by this practice of modern-day slavery by despotic kontratistas (labor contractors) and the Cojuangco-Aquino and Lorenzo oligarchs helming Agrikulto Inc. and Central Azucarera de Tarlac. We demand immediate action from the DOLE chief and the Duterte administration,” said Danilo Ramos, UMA Secretary General.
UMA assisted more than 50 sakadas or migratory sugar workers (MSWs) who have had enough of hard toil in Hacienda Luisita. They claim that they were made to work long hours for slave wages as low as P9.46 a day.
Four of the rescued workers are minors, while one is currently confined in a public hospital in Quezon City for sustaining a head injury. Almost half, or 24 are indigenous people or lumad from the Manobo tribe whose datu or chieftains were allegedly duped to recruit workers with the promise of assistance in their ancestral land claims.
Contractor Billy Baitus, head of the manpower agency Greenhand based in Polomolok, South Cotabato is a notorious anti-worker dummy also employed by giant multinational plantations such as Dole Philippines.
Documents obtained by OGYON from local recruiters in Bukidnon show that in as early as August last year, Greenhand was requested “to supply Agrikulto Inc. approximately 1,000 migratory sugar workers to work in our farm as cane cutters for the coming crop year 2016-2017.” The information matches the testimonies of sakadas that they were 800 to 1,000 workers cramped in a bunkhouse in Barangay Mapalacsiao, Hacienda Luisita in November.
OGYON is UMA’s local affiliate in Bukidnon. The sakadas, represented by the Pro-Labor Legal Assistance Center or PLACE also plan to file criminal charges against their recruiters and employers for human trafficking.
“Luisita bunkhouse offers the best accommodations”
Ramos said that papers OGYON obtained also show that DOLE Regional Director Ana Dione approved Greenhand’s permits in Central Luzon. In a dialogue with UMA last week, Dione said she already inspected the workers’ bunkhouse in Luisita last December and noted that Agrikulto, Inc. and CAT offers the “best accommodations” for sakadas.
“Sakadas working in Central Luzon must be suffering extremely horrific conditions, if the subhuman living quarters in Hacienda Luisita is touted by DOLE officials as the best,” said Ramos.
Workers were promised a daily wage of P450 but received even less than this amount for their weekly toil. Numerous deductions for food, provisions, work tools, and ‘cheating’ further reduced their pay to as low as P66.21 a week or P9.46 a day.
According to one report, a P450 daily wage can be culled from the pakyaw or group rate of P250 per ton for an 18-ton daily quota which could be accomplished in 10 hours. This purportedly translates to P4,500 daily pay for a group of 10 cane cutters or P450 each.
“This rate that Hacienda Luisita planters – or aryendadors like Agrikulto – supposedly pay the sakadas from Mindanao or other provinces like Negros is a fantasy especially since the locals or workers from Tarlac and Pampanga are paid only P200-300 a day, still lower than the regional minimum of P334.
“Also note that the planters themselves admitted that sakadas must work more than 8 hours a day to fulfill the impossible daily quota. They assume that cane cutters must work 10 hours a day – but it could be up to 15 hours a day, as attested to by the sakadas,” said Ramos.
Sakadas said they were made to wake up as early as 2 am if they were to be transported to distant cane farms in Pampanga or Pangasinan which Agrikulto controls aside from Hacienda Luisita. Most say they work from 4 am up to 5 pm. Their leader, Mario Memper Jr, said sakadas were not allowed to stop work even on Sundays until they asserted that they should be granted one day for rest.
The sakadas of Bukidnon who are also from a known sugarcane-producing area, said that it was physically impossible to accomplish the 18 ton daily quota because of the poor quality of cane in Tarlac. Even if they did accomplish the quota, they were still cheated by CAT, Agrikulto and Greenhand.
“At times the trucks were already yielding to its side because of the weight of the cane, but we still get very low pay,” sakada Mario Bagnaran complained.
Rudy Mando Sr who came to Tarlac with his sons noted that they were never given copies of tonnage tickets that could prove that they were cheated of the exact weight of cane they were able to cut and haul to the CAT sugar mill.
A group of 9 more workers just recently escaped from Hacienda Luisita and are processing assistance from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) for them to be able to return to Mindanao. Meanwhile, the first batch of sakadas who have boarded trips back to Mindanao are currently stranded due to typhoon Auring.
“The hiring of sakadas who are made to endure slave-like conditions and wages is one of the worst forms of exploitation and contractualization, technically legalized and tolerated by government for years,” said Ramos.
“Government cannot make true its promise to end contractualization if the most horrible conditions we’ve seen in sugarcane plantations here in Hacienda Luisita and in the whole of Negros Island still exist,” said Ramos.
UMA also urged Congress to conduct full-blown investigations on the plight of the sakada. Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao, a labor leader from Mindanao, filed a resolution to initiate a probe.
Agrikulto and CAT is now jointly-owned and managed by the Cojuangco-Aquinos led by Fernando Cojuangco with Martin Lorenzo, a scion of the Lorenzo landlord family also currently embroiled in land disputes with farmworkers in banana plantations under Lapanday Foods Corporation in Mindanao.
Reference: Danilo Ramos, UMA Secretary General, 09994363493