Sacadas elevate complaints vs Cojuangcos, Lorenzos of Hacienda Luisita

sacada-cdo

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.

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