Update: Trafficking and Exploitation of Sakadas from Mindanao in Hacienda Luisita, Tarlac

FACT SHEET (AS OF MARCH 15, 2017)

sakada tboli

T’boli sakadas expoloited in Hacienda Luisita. Photo from DSWD Asec. Lorraine Badoy FB page.

In November 2016, the national secretariat of the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) received a report from its local affiliate in Bukidnon province, the Organisasyon sa Yanong Obrerong Nagkahiusa (OGYON) that a number of their member-farmworkers were recruited as cane cutters or sakadas (migratory sugar workers or MSWs) and transported to Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac. According to OGYON, the sakadas are enduring slave-like conditions.

Information on the recruiters and employers:

NAME OF CONTRACTOR / RECRUITER: GREENHAND LABOR SERVICE COOPERATIVE

Address: Dahlia St., Poblacion, Polomolok, South Cotabato

Status: Greenhand is registered with the Department of Labor and Employment’s (DOLE) list of contractors / subcontractors under Department Order 18-A, as of August 2016

Manager: Billy Baitus             Supervisor: Leo Mingo

Recruiters in Malaybalay, Bukidnon: Oscar Sihagan and Evangeline Balmores

 

NAME OF PRINCIPAL EMPLOYER: AGRIKULTO, INC. AND CENTRAL AZUCARERA DE TARLAC

Address: Official address is the Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) Compound, Brgy. San Miguel, Tarlac City while the sakada bunkhouse is located in Barangay Mapalacsiao, Tarlac City, both within the Hacienda Luisita sugar estate.

Status: According to the 2016 Annual Report of the Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT), Agrikulto Inc. is a wholly-owned subsidiary of CAT, now jointly-owned by the Cojuangco-Aquinos with the Lorenzos

Owners: Fernando Cojuangco, President and COO, and Martin Lorenzo, Chairman and CEO of CAT. CAT is the biggest sugar mill in Central Luzon while Agrikulto, Inc. is the biggest proprietor of the illicit aryendo or leaseback system also victimizing supposed land reform beneficiaries in Hacienda Luisita.

Other known officials: Lito Laus, business manager of Agrikulto, Inc.; Ronald Donasco, a known CAT supervisor presenting himself as the owner of Agrikulto, Inc.

sacada

In August 2016, the recruitment agency, Greenhand Labor Service Cooperative was requested by the Cojuangco firm Agrikulto Inc. to procure a thousand (1,000) sugar workers or cane cutters to work in Hacienda Luisita. The request letter is signed by a certain Lito Laus, Agrikulto business manager.

According to the victims, at least 160 of around 800 to a thousand sugar workers reportedly recruited from Mindanao have come from the province of Bukidnon. They arrived in batches to Hacienda Luisita since the first week of November 2016.

A few weeks into their work contract, hundreds of sakadas have reportedly escaped from Hacienda Luisita. They have either returned to Mindanao or sought other employment here in Luzon. On December 3, 2016, relatives of recruited sakadas from Pangantucan town sought the assistance of OGYON. OGYON then coordinated with local government officials and the national secretariat of UMA for the rescue of exploited sakadas.

Minors, lumad among rescued sakadas

From December 25 to 31, 2016, UMA was able to rescue a total of 43 sakadas. They are from different towns of Bukidnon province, namely Valencia City, Don Carlos, Maramag and Pangantucan. On January 5, 2017, nine (9) more sakadas escaped from Hacienda Luisita and sought the assistance of UMA, making 52 total sakadas from Bukidnon.

Through UMA’s intercession, the sakadas were also immediately assisted by the offices of Sec. Judy Taguiwalo of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Sec. Rafael Mariano of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and Undersecretary Joel Maglunsod of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).

Five (5) out of the 52 rescued sugar workers were minors (one of them turned 18 whilst working at Hacienda Luisita). Around half or 24 are lumad of the Manobo tribe. There is a lone female among the rescued workers; she came to Hacienda Luisita with her husband. Two needed immediate medical attention. Felix Palingcod, a senior citizen, was immediately sent home. The other patient, Jimboy Parin, was confined at a public hospital in Quezon City for a head injury. He underwent surgery before returning home to Bukidnon.

Brixcio Bagnaran, a sakada who was sent home to Bukidnon before Christmas because of an illness he acquired while working in Hacienda Luisita, died on January 4, 2017. Kin of Brixcio, namely his brother Mario and son, Junior are among the 52 rescued sakadas.

A number of the rescued sakadas are unable to read and write and were recruited through verbal agreements and/or upon endorsement of lumad chieftains. They were promised a “Tarlac package” consisting of a daily wage of P450 plus benefits, including free meals and provisions or board and lodging, and travel to and from Hacienda Luisita. They were also promised P7,000 cash advance in three tranches.

According to the victims, lumad cheftains or datus were also promised that if they were able to recruit people to work as sakadas, Baitus or Greenhand would help them in their ancestral land claims. Baitus also reportedly convinced the victims to work in Tarlac because it is part of a “livelihood project” of President Duterte.

Wages still P9.50 a day

The sakadas were housed in a cramped, poorly-ventilated bunkhouse in barangay Mapalacsiao, near the CAT sugar mill in Hacienda Luisita. They are guarded by armed security men, locked up in the bunkhouse at night and not allowed to leave. Some were also made to stay in makeshift tents and animal sheds in the middle of sugarcane fields until they have finished their quota for cutting and hauling cane.

They say that they were made to work from 4:00 in the morning up to 5:00 in the afternoon in sugar cane fields not just in Hacienda Luisita, but in other sugar plantations within Central and Northern Luzon. They were reportedly made to work in as far as Arayat in Pampanga, Pangasinan or almost or “near Baguio.”

Instead of daily wages, the victims say that they were offered a pakyaw rate (group rate) of P220 per ton for cutting and hauling cane. This rate is based on a quota of 18 tons a day for a sakada group composed of 8-13 cane cutters. The sakadas however complain that it is physically impossible even for a team to cut and haul 18 tons of cane within a day. They can only cut 10 tons a day and fill two trucks a week, making their take home pay averaging at a measly P100 per day.

Based on weekly payrolls that UMA obtained, the workers received weekly wages from a low of P66.21 to a high of P898.20 a week or from P9.46 to P128.31 a day – due to numerous deductions. The minimum wage for plantation agricultural workers in Central Luzon is P334 a day.

Workers had to pay for their own food and provisions. There were times that a group of sacadas would only eat congee and sardines for a team of 8-13 persons. Some experienced eating only salt along with rice, while some went to work in the fields with empty stomachs. The sakadas also did not receive any benefits. The promised P5,000 cash advance was further deducted for supplies such as plates, rice cooker and espading or the bolo used to cut cane.

More sakadas escape

After the initial batch of sakadas from Bukidnon assisted by UMA, more sakadas escape from slave-like conditions in Hacienda Luisita. The victims confirm that cane cutters were recruited from different parts of Mindanao:

  • On January 15, another 18 individuals escaped from the barracks in Hacienda Luisita and went to the DSWD, NCR office in Manila to seek help. They were later referred to the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) for accommodations. They come from Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur, Compostela Valley and South Cotabato. Women and infant children are among the escaped sakadas. They were also supported by UMA.
  • On February 22, 9 sakadas from T’boli in South Cotabato were sheltered and fed by a couple, Pia Castro and Ricky Medenilla, after sleeping a few nights in the streets beside Camp Aguinaldo. They were later assisted by the DSWD. Their pay was even lower than the P9.50 a day. Their payroll states that 4 of them received only P43.75 a week or P6.25 a day.
  • On March 5, 2017, 4 more sakadas from the same province (South Cotabato) were assisted by DSWD.
  • When an UMA national staff member visited Mindanao from February 22 – March 8, 2017, he found out from the local organizations and relatives that many other sacadas who had earlier escaped from Hacienda Luisita are still in Luzon because they do not have the means to travel back home. Some of the victims came from as far as Sultan Kudarat province.

There are also victims from Davao City, and Tupi and Marbel in South Cotabato province who have already returned home through various means. One former sacada from Polomolok, South Cotabato revealed that the lowest recorded pay for an 11-man team is P38.26 a week or P5.47 a day. He was able to refer other victims for travel assistance by the DSWD.

  • On March 6, 15 more T’boli sakadas were assisted by DSWD through UMA’s referral.
  • Up to the present, more sakadas are being assisted by UMA for them to avail of government assistance. The victims must also be able to file appropriate charges before returning to Mindanao.

 Status of Labor Cases and Legal Battle

A total of 50 victims from Bukidnon, South Cotabato, Davao del Norte and Compostela Valley have filed labor complaints against the recruiter, Greenhand, and the principal employer, Agrikulto Inc. and Central Azucarera de Tarlac at the National Labor Relations Commission Regional Arbitration Board-III in San Fernando, Pampanga. They are assisted by UMA and Atty. Remigio Saladero of the Pro-Labor Legal Assistance Center (PLACE).

In Cagayan de Oro City, 19 more sakadas from Bukidnon assisted by OGYON-UMA have filed complaints at the NLRC-RAB Region X.  More sakadas are poised to file labor cases and criminal complaints of human trafficking in local NLRC offices and courts in Mindanao. They are assisted by local human rights group Karapatan in Northern Mindanao Region (Karapatan-NMR) and the Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM).

Meanwhile, on February 16, the DOLE’s Special Assessment and Visit Establishment (SAVE) presented its findings before concerned groups and institutions including UMA, DSWD and the DAR. Some of its findings and recommendations include:

  • A group of 13 persons can attain the quota of 18 tons only four or five times a week. As such, they can only each earn a weekly wage of P1,523 or P217.57 per day, way below the minimum wage of P334 a day for plantation workers in Region 3 (Central Luzon).
  • The sacadas were not covered by social benefits such as the SSS, PhilHealth, and Pagibig and that their contributions to these were not paid.
  • A total 834 out of 861 sacadas absconded from their employer, starting December 2016. Of these, 586 ran away from the bunkhouse, 176 left after signing a waiver, and 72 T’bolis allegedly were accompanied home by Greenhand.
  • Cancellation of Greenhand’s license, (already implemented) and issuance of a cease and desist order forbidding it to recruit additional workers.
  • Require Greenhand and Agrikulto to restitute the amounts illegally deducted from the sacadas and institute appropriate action against Greenhand and Agrikulto for child labor, illegal recruitment, and trafficking of persons.

 

DOLE Usec. Joel Maglunsod, a former Anakpawis lawmaker from Mindanao, is scheduled to hold dialogues and consultations with the victims in their home provinces to implement these recommendations. Anakpawis Partylist Rep. Ariel Casilao and Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri have filed resolutions in Congress and the Senate to conduct investigations on the case of sakadas exploited in Hacienda Luisita.

There will be a tedious legal battle ahead for the victims. Labor and criminal cases must be filed against the perpetrators of human trafficking and exploitation. There are already reports of threat, harassment, and intimidation of victims.

The harvest and milling season in sugar areas like Hacienda Luisita, Negros and Bukidnon is almost over but the suffering of our sakadas and sugar workers will most definitely endure with the onset of the dreaded tiempo muerto or dead season. By April, joblessness and extreme hunger conditions will once again plague our sugar workers. The sakadas need the continued support of the public.

DEMANDS:

  1. Conduct a full-blown investigation on the trafficking of sacadas from Mindanao and the status of land reform in Hacienda Luisita.
  1. Ensure the welfare and safety of rescued and escaped sacadas. All other victims must be properly documented and immediately rescued or assisted by concerned agencies such as the DOLE and DSWD.
  1. Operations of Greenhand must be immediately and effectively stopped, recruitment of new sacadas to Hacienda Luisita must be halted pending investigations.
  1. Perpetrators of human trafficking, labor exploitation and other violations must be brought to justice.

 

 

REFERENCES:

Danilo “Ka Daning” Ramos, UMA Secretary General, 0999.436.3493

Gi Estrada, UMA Media Officer, 0916.611.4181

 

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