National agriworkers center Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) welcomes recommendations forwarded by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) through Undersecretary for Labor Relations and Special Concerns Joel Maglunsod, against the recruiters and employers of Mindanao sakadas exploited in Hacienda Luisita.
Sanctions against Greenhand Labor Service Cooperative and Agrikulto, Inc. were recommended by DOLE in an inter-agency meeting called by Maglunsod yesterday at the department’s main office in Intramuros, Manila.
Findings of DOLE’s Special Assessment and Visit Establishment (SAVE) on the case of Mindanao sakadas in Hacienda Luisita were presented yesterday to UMA and representatives of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), who were also involved in assisting sakadas or migratory sugar workers. Also in attendance were officers and counsel of the recruiters and employers, Greenhand, Agrikulto and Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT).
According to DOLE’s findings, a total of 834 out of 864 sacadas recruited by Greenhand for Agrikulto have escaped from slave-like conditions in Hacienda Luisita. UMA was able to “rescue” a total of 70 individuals, including 4 child workers, and 2 infants who were brought to Luisita by working parents. Among the sakadas were lumad or indigenous people from the Manobo tribe of Bukidnon.
Maglunsod recommended the filing of cases against Agrikulto Inc. and Greenhand, specifically with regards child labor, illegal recruitment and trafficking of persons. Both companies were to be required to restitute the amounts illegally deducted from the sacadas’ wages. A payroll obtained by UMA shows that the workers were paid as low as P9.46 a day.
It was also recommended that Greenhand’s registration with the DOLE be cancelled, and a cease and desist order be issued barring Greenhand from entering into new contracting arrangements.
“These recommendations must be swiftly acted upon by DOLE,” said UMA Secretary General Danilo Ka Daning” Ramos who said that DOLE’s findings disprove claims recently made by the Cojuangco-Aquinos in the media.
After UMA’s expose, certain media outfits carried reports meant to tarnish the credibility of the sakada victims. Victims who are now back in Bukidnon also suffer harassment from their recruiters. Despite the pressure, a total of 60 sakadas filed labor complaints before National Labor Relations Commission branches in San Fernando City and Cagayan de Oro City since last month.
Agrikulto Inc. is helmed by Fernando Cojuangco, who co-owns the Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) sugar mill with Martin Lorenzo. The Lorenzos own Lapanday Foods Corporation (LFC) which is also embroiled in the violent suppression of land reform beneficiaries in Madaum, Tagum City where at least 10 farmers were wounded in shooting incidents last December.
While CAT consistently denies ownership of Agrikulto, the latter is listed as a wholly-owned subsidiary of CAT and its main office is located within the sugar mill’s compound in San Miguel, Tarlac City.
UMA emphasized that Agrikulto is the biggest proprietor of the aryendo or illicit leaseback scheme in Hacienda Luisita to supply raw cane for CAT. This means that thousands of supposed land reform beneficiaries have been clearly disenfranchised by the Cojuangco-Aquinos and the Lorenzos who are still in control of vast sugarlands in Luisita.
“The landlords stretch their exploitative practices from Tarlac to Mindanao. The local Luisita farmers are deprived of land, while the Mindanao sacadas become victims of human trafficking and slave wages,” said Ramos.