UMA welcomes DOLE sanctions vs sacada recruiters, employers

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Sakadas file complaints vs Greenhand, Agrikulto and CAT.

 

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.

 

Sacadas elevate complaints vs Cojuangcos, Lorenzos of Hacienda Luisita

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Sacadas elevate their complaints before the NLRC Region 10 in Cagayan de Oro City. Photo by OGYON-UMA.

“President Duterte promised to end contractualization in six months but here are sacadas from his home island of Mindanao, exploited through human trafficking and the most despicable form of labor-only contracting in the oligarch playground called Hacienda Luisita,”

This is the statement made by Danilo Ramos, Secretary General of the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), as they assisted sacadas to elevate their complaints against recruiter Greenhand Labor Service Cooperative managed by Billy Baitus, based in Polomolok, South Cotabato; and their primary employers Agrikulto, Inc. and Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT), firms jointly-owned by the Cojuangco-Aquino family with Martin Lorenzo, a scion of the Lorenzo landlord family of Mindanao.

The migratory sugar workers (MSWs) or sacadas from Mindanao have now filed separate complaints against their Hacienda Luisita recruiters and employers before local branches of the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) in Central Luzon and Northern Mindanao.

Complaints of constructive illegal dismissal, violations of labor laws on minimum wage, overtime, deductions and occupational safety and health standards were filed January 31 by 18 sacadas at the NLRC in Cagayan de Oro City, while the others, represented by sacada leader Mario Memper Jr of OGYON-Bukidnon and Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) will file complaints at the NLRC in San Fernando City, Pampanga today.

The complaints were filed after earlier mediation meetings have failed to forge amicable settlement between the parties.

The mediation meeting held in Malaybalay, Bukidnon on January 26 established the issues of the recruiter’s failure to secure Authority to Transport MSWs, and the employer’s illegal deduction of wages, underpayment, labor-only contracting or non-coverage of benefits, presence of child laborers and non-compliance with occupational safety and health standards.

The sacada complainants and representatives from Greenhand both agreed to elevate the case to the NLRC in Cagayan de Oro City. However, Agrikulto and CAT representatives were absent in the mediation meeting in Bukidnon.

The UMA-affiliated OGYON or the Onyon sa Yanong Obrerong Nagkahiusa (United Small Farmworkers Union) based in Bukidnon province was instrumental in the rescue of 52 sacadas from Hacienda Luisita during the Christmas holidays. OGYON also assists the sacada complainants in Northern Mindanao.

Meanwhile, in the mediation meeting held yesterday in San Fernando City, the sacadas rejected Central Azucarera de Tarlac’s (CAT) manifestation to be excluded from the labor case. The manifestation, made by CAT lawyers during the first mediation meeting on January 25, stated that CAT does not have any stake in the case since it does not own Agrikulto, Inc.

Unlike the mediation meeting in Bukidnon where the issues were clearly established, Leonides Mingo and Roland Donasco, who represented Greenhand and Agrikulto respectively in the San Fernando meeting, asserted that “there is no basis to the claims of the sacadas.” This prompted complainants to elevate the case to the NLRC Region 3.

Roland Donasco identifies himself as the owner of Agrikulto, Inc. while the Cojuangcos and Central Azucarera de Tarlac publicly deny any involvement with Agrikulto and the hiring of the sacadas.

Agrikulto is documented with the DOLE as the firm which requested Greenhand to hire 1,000 sugar workers from Mindanao. UMA’s Ramos noted that Agrikulto’s latest registration papers with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) identifies Fernando Cojuangco as its president.

Cojuangco, son of former President Corazon Aquino’s brother, Don Pedro, is also the president of CAT, while Martin Lorenzo is its CEO and chairman. Agrikulto’s official business address is the CAT compound in Hacienda Luisita. Agrikulto is also publicly known as a wholly-owned subsidiary of CAT.

Donasco, whose online LinkedIn profile says that he is the “operations manager of Agrikulto (Central Azucarera de Tarlac)” was not named as director, officer or stockholder in Agrikulto’s latest SEC General Information Sheet.

UMA however noted that Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Central Luzon director Ana Dione identifies Donasco as the owner of Agrikulto in the Certificates of Jobs Availability and Adequate Temporary Dwelling Facility which it provided the firm. In an earlier dialogue with UMA, Dione even described Agrikulto’s sacada bunkhouse in Mapalacsiao, Hacienda Luisita as “one of the best accomodations” for sugar workers.

“Duterte and the DOLE are now challenged end the trafficking and exploitation of sacadas,” said Ramos who also said that all perpetrators and even government officials involved in this long-uninterrupted oppressive practice must be thoroughly investigated and punished.

“UMA welcomes the initiatives of Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao and Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri who filed House and Senate resolutions to investigate the plight of the sacadas,” said Ramos.

Ramos also called on Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Secretary Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano to investigate Agrikulto’s hand in the illicit aryendo or leaseback scheme which has disenfranchised thousands of Hacienda Luisita farmworker-beneficiaries.

“The sacadas would not be transported to cut cane in Luisita if genuine land distribution was implemented. Today, local farmworkers have lost control over land, while the heavy work in the fields is shouldered by cheap labor from Mindanao,” said Ramos.

More peasant killings surface as slain farmworkers’ leader buried in Negros

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BACOLOD CITY – Hundreds of farmers and sugar workers marched the streets of Murcia, Negros Occidental to call for justice for slain peasant leader Alexander Ceballos, who was killed by suspected paramilitary elements last January 20.

Members of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) in Negros organized a series of burial marches-turned-protests here in the province since January 22, the 30th anniversary of the Mendiola Massacre. A luksang parangal or tribute program for Ceballos was also organized by NFSW beside the Murcia town church the night before the burial which was held yesterday, February 1, at the Murcia municipal cemetery.

Ceballos is a regional council member of the NFSW and district area coordinator for Murcia and Salvador Benedicto towns where the bungkalan or land cultivation areas have been established by organized farmworkers. NFSW is affiliated with the national farmworkers center Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura or UMA.

UMA Secretary General Danilo Ramos said that another farmer, Wenceslao Pacquiao, was shot dead January 25 while ploughing a land cultivation area in Barangay San Benito, Calatrava town, around 75 kilometers east of Bacolod City. Pacquiao was a member of the KMP.

Human rights group KARAPATAN reported that Ceballos and Pacquiao are among four peasants across the country killed in January 2017 – the two others are lumad or indigenous peoples’ leaders in Mindanao.

But on January 31, farmworkers here in Negros marched with three mock coffins to symbolize the killing of three local farmers. Aside from Ceballos, two other farmers were shot dead last month in connection to agrarian disputes in the upland town of Don Salvador Benedicto alone.

The other victims were identified as Jovani Paguntalan and Iver Mulasi, both residents of Barangay Pandanon, Don Salvador Benedicto. Paguntalan was reportedly shot dead January 2, while Mulasi, chairman of the Nieves Agro Cooperative was also felled by gunshots on January 16 – only a few days before Ceballos was gunned down in front of his home in Barangay Pandanon Silos in Murcia, a village very near the boundary of Don Salvador Benedicto.

This means that counting Pacquiao, four farmers were shot dead within the first month of 2017 in Negros Occidental province alone.

NFSW Chairperson Rolando Rillo said gangster-type violence and impunity reign in Don Salvador Benedicto town where the incumbent mayor, Marxlen dela Cruz is the son of notorious landgrabber, ex-Mayor Nehemias “Nene” dela Cruz. The elder dela Cruz is also a known ringleader of the paramilitary group RPA-ABB.

Ceballos received death threats from the dela Cruz camp for leading the land cultivation campaign in Barangay Igmaya-an and other areas in Don Salvador Benedicto and Murcia. A few days before the killing, a certain Jigger Costan, close-in security of ex-Mayor dela Cruz, was seen loitering near the NFSW office in Bacolod City, where a meeting of council members was then taking place.

There are also reports that local leaders of the NFSW, KMP and BAYAN in Negros have also been receiving threats and harassment from Costan and suspected state elements following Ceballos’s killing.

“The spate of peasant killings will not stop until the country’s fundamental land problem is addressed. Negros Island remains to be a bastion of feudal oppression and the centuries-old hacienda system. Farmers continue to fight for genuine land reform,” said Ramos.