VALENCIA CITY, BUKIDNON – Forty out of the 52 sakadas or migratory sugar workers “rescued” from Hacienda Luisita are now back with their families in Mindanao.
But word is out that recruiters are already scouting for new sakadas to replace those who left Hacienda Luisita.
“The kabyaw or milling season in Hacienda Luisita will run until March or April. The biggest sugarcane planters – or ‘aryendadors’ like Agrikulto, Inc. – will definitely need manpower to cut and haul their cane,” said Danilo Ramos, secretary-general of Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA).
UMA-affiliated farm workers’ unions and associations under the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) also condemned the trafficking of sakadas from Mindanao to Hacienda Luisita. NFSW is based in Negros Island, the country’s biggest sugarcane-producing area.
“NFSW strongly condemns the trafficking of sakadas which has long been practiced by the likes of the Cojuangco-Aquinos, Lorenzos and their big contractors. Until now, nobody has been punished for repeatedly committing this heinous crime,” said Rolando Rillo, NFSW Chairman.
“The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) must assure the public that it is doing everything to go after the perpetrators,” said Rillo, who also said that the rest of the victims from Mindanao – which could number from 800 – 1,000 sakadas according to eyewitness accounts of rescued victims – must be properly accounted for by the DOLE.
UMA and NFSW noted that DOLE Sec. Bello seems to be still mum about the issue of sakadas, as they have not heard of any communication or public pronouncement coming from the Secretary himself.
The sakadas, who were recruited from Bukidnon by a certain Billy Baitus of the Greenhand Labor Service Cooperative to work for Agrikulto, Inc., suffered slave-like working conditions in Hacienda Luisita.
The sakadas were made to work long hours for measly wages as low as P9.46 a day, and were kept in a cramped bunkhouse in Barangay Mapalacsiao, adjacent to the Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) sugar mill. Agrikulto is a subsidiary of CAT, which is now jointly-owned by the Cojuangco-Aquinos with Martin Lorenzo, a scion of the Lorenzo landlord family of Mindanao.
Ramos accompanied the sakadas in their homecoming from Cagayan de Oro City to Valencia City, where a “panagtagbo” (welcome), picket protests and solidarity activities were held to drumbeat the issue of the sakada in Mindanao.
UMA’s local affiliate, OGYON or Onyon sa Yanong Obrerong Nagkahiusa and other progressive groups in the Northern Mindanao Region (NMR) such as the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas-NMR, BAYAN-NMR, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines-NMR, KADAMAY and Anakbayan led the activities.
However, a few of the rescued sakadas are still in Manila. One is still confined in a public hospital in Quezon City, while the rest are stranded due to technical problems with the shipping line signed by the DSWD. Among them is one sakada who was not able to attend the funeral of his father, Brixcio Bagnaran, another sakada who died of an illness reportedly contracted while working in Hacienda Luisita.
Feudal vestiges still alive
OGYON has also reached out to other “escaped” sakadas and their relatives to file labor complaints and criminal charges against Greenhand, Agrikulto and CAT for human trafficking. The victims are assisted by the Pro-Labor Legal Assistance Center for the complaints filed in Central Luzon, and the Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM) in NMR.
According to KMP-NMR and OGYON, sakada victims of human trafficking from Quezon, Bukidnon and Lanao del Norte have also sought their assistance.
“The case of sakadas in Hacienda Luisita is not isolated. The reign of hacienderos and aryendadors is still pronounced in other sugarcane areas such as Negros and Batangas. Sugarcane workers still endure serf-relations even in supposedly ‘modern’ ventures such as the flourishing bio-ethanol industry in the Visayas, Southern Tagalog and Isabela,” said Ramos.
“How can change arrive if the oligarchs are still free to trample upon the rights of lowly peasants and farmworkers? Feudal vestiges apparent in atrocities such as the Mendiola Massacre are still very much alive to this day. Government must decisively stop this despicable practice of labor exploitation and contractualization. The victims call for justice,” Ramos emphasized.
Meanwhile, UMA and its local chapters nationwide will join peasant camp-outs and protests to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Mendiola Massacre, to be held in various regional centers all all over the country this month. Protests led by the militant KMP will be held in Mendiola on January 20.