Peasant groups led by the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon (AMGL) – Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and BAYAN-Central Luzon today staged a picket-protest in front of the National Labor Relations Commission Region III (NLRC-III) office in San Fernando City, Pampanga in support of Mindanao sacadas exploited in Hacienda Luisita.
UMA Secretary General Danilo Ramos said that more sacadas or migratory sugar workers have filed complaints against their recruiters and employers, Greenhand Labor Service Cooperative, Agrikulto Inc., and Central Azucarera de Tarlac.
Today’s picket coincides with the first hearing of labor complaints initially filed at the NLRC III by 36 sacadas before leaving for Mindanao.
A total 52 sacadas recruited from Bukidnon province were earlier rescued by UMA and its local affiliate, OGYON or Onyon sa Yanong Obrerong Nagkahiusa during the Christmas holidays.
On January 15, another 18 individuals – including women and infant children – escaped from slave-like conditions in Hacienda Luisita. They were also recruited by Greenhand from different Mindanao provinces – Davao del Sur, Davao del Norte, South Cotabato and Compostela Valley. They will file complaints before the NLRC-III today.
The new batch of sacadas corroborate earlier testimonies that there were 800-1,000 sacadas cramped into a bunkhouse in Mapalacsiao, Hacienda Luisita to cut and haul cane for Agrikulto Inc, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the sugar mill Central Azucarera de Tarlac. The mill is now jointly owned by the Cojuangco-Aquinos with Martin Lorenzo, a scion of the Lorenzo landlord family of Mindanao.
According to OGYON Secretary General Fructuoso Carpentero, new complaints have also been filed by 18 sacadas in Malaybalay, Bukidnon before the NLRC – Region X last Monday, January 23. Among the complainants are sacadas who had escaped Hacienda Luisita even before UMA’s rescue, and a lumad chieftain or datu that the recruiter, Billy Baitus of Greenhand, lured into enlisting the sacadas with the promise of assistance in their ancestral land claims. The first hearing is set tomorrow, January 26.
“Baitus, the Cojuangco-Aquinos and Martin Lorenzo are also ‘wanted’ for massive human trafficking and ill treatment of hundreds of sacadas from Mindanao. We have documented at least 4 minors among the victims,” said Ramos, who noted that Greenhand’s registration states that it is a cooperative exclusively engaged in job contracting for pineapple plantation operations in Polomolok, South Cotabato.
“National minorities – 24 lumad from the Manobo tribe and some Calagan Moros were also exploited to work for a measly P9.46 a day – the same paltry sum that the Cojuangco-Aquinos gave their ‘stockholders’ 12 years ago.
Agrikulto also responsible for sham land reform in Luisita
Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang-Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA), UMA’s local affiliate in Hacienda Luisita also joined today’s protest to support the Mindanao sacadas.
“Twelve years ago, we were also paid only P9.50 for our toil as farmworkers and ‘stockholders’ of the oppressive Stock Distribution Option (SDO) land reform scheme,” said Francisco Dizon, one of the leaders from AMBALA.
“Our martyrs offered their lives so that we could take back our lands from the Cojuangcos. The Supreme Court already ruled for land distribution almost five years ago – but the Cojuangco-Aquinos and their new partner, Martin Lorenzo are still encroaching on our lands through the illicit aryendo or leaseback scheme,”
UMA emphasized that the plight of the sakadas proves that land reform in Hacienda Luisita is a total sham. “There would be no need to import sacadas from Mindanao if land reform was truly implemented – local Luisita farmworkers have been clearly disenfranchised by the illicit aryendo and the ‘tambiolo’ land reform scheme imposed by BS Aquino,” said Ramos.
The ongoing dismantling of AMBALA’s bungkalan or land cultivation area in Barangay Mapalacsiao, the same barangay where the sakadas were kept by Agrikulto, is seen as ‘landlord reprisal’ for the sakada expose.
“There must be a full-blown investigation on the sakada issue. Operations of Greenhand must be immediately stopped and its license forfeited, to prevent Baitus from recruiting new sacada victims. The perpetrators of human trafficking and exploitation of our sugar workers must be brought to justice,” ended Ramos.