More sacadas recruited from Mindanao – including women with infant children – recently escaped from slave-like conditions in Hacienda Luisita.
According to the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), a total of 18 individuals have sought the assistance of government agencies for them to be able to return to Mindanao.
“This issue should no longer be discussed in whispers. There must be a full-blown investigation on massive-scale human trafficking of sacadas to Hacienda Luisita. The perpetrators Greenhand Labor Service Cooperative, Agrikulto, Inc., and Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) must be punished,” said Danilo Ramos, UMA Secretary General.
The trafficking of Mindanao sakadas to Hacienda Luisita was first exposed by UMA, when it “rescued” a total of 52 sacadas during the Christmas holidays. Relatives of that batch of sakadas – who were all from Bukidnon province – first sought the assistance of UMA’s local affiliate, OGYON or Onyon sa Yanong Obrerong Nagkahiusa in Pangantucan town.
Around 1,000 sakadas were said to be recruited from Mindanao to work for Agrikulto, Inc., which controls vast sugarcane farms in Hacienda Luisita through illicit lease deals and encroaching on supposed land reform areas.
Agrikulto is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Central Azucarera de Tarlac, which is now jointly-owned by the Cojuangco-Aquinos with Martin Lorenzo, scion of the Lorenzo landlord family of Mindanao, owners of Lapanday Foods Corp (LFC).
Ramos said that the latest batch of sacadas come from different Mindanao provinces – Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur, South Cotabato and Compostela Valley – also known areas of Lapanday plantation operations.
“They fared worse than those from Bukidnon because they had to stay longer in dire conditions,” said Ramos who noted that new payrolls obtained by UMA show that their salary ranged from P80.01 – P269.52 per week or only P11.43 to P38.50 per day. The first batch received up to P128.31 a day.
The sacadas claimed that they were treated more strictly after most of the workers have already escaped. The security guards now carried long firearms. One of the sacadas said that he was beaten up by the guards just because they suspected that he would escape.
When the sacadas finally left Luisita, they initially planned to just walk from San Miguel, Tarlac to Manila because they had no money. However they were able to get rides from good samaritans. The sacadas corroborated earlier revelations that they were around 800 to a thousand of them housed in Mapalacsiao, Hacienda Luisita and they were made to work in other sugarcane areas outside Tarlac, such as Pampanga.
“When we worked in one sugarcane area in Pampanga, we were made to sleep in a goat’s shed for weeks. We had no roof and we had to sleep on the cold ground. Once they seemed to forget to bring us back to the bunkhouse in Mapalacsiao, we just slept on the curbside for three days. We ate just salt with rice,” the sacadas narrated.
Ramos said that Secretary Bello of the Department of Labor must realize that this kind of inhumane treatment and exploitation is the reason why farmers take up arms. Bello is also the head of the government peace panel currently engaged in the third round of talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF).
“DOLE must immediately act to shut down the operations of Greenhand, which is reportedly recruiting new sugar workers from Mindanao to replace those who have left Hacienda Luisita,” said Ramos who emphasized that the welfare and safety of hundreds of others of sacadas trafficked to Tarlac must also be ensured by government.
“The sakada issue also proves that land reform in Hacienda Luisita is a total sham. The Department of Agrarian Reform must immediately investigate the operations of Agrikulto, Inc. which is openly encroaching on land reform areas either through the illicit aryendo, or by brute force,” said Ramos.
A few days ago, the headquarters of local farmworkers’ organization AMBALA was demolished. Destruction of crops in land cultivation areas in Mapalacsiao is ongoing. “There can be no peace until the Cojuangco-Aquinos and the Lorenzos are made to pay for their atrocities against farmers,”
“The issue of land reform in Hacienda Luisita and the plight of the sacada are important matters that should be tackled in the peace talks,” ended Ramos.