UMA condemns illegal arrest of spokesperson, activists in Davao City

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Lito Lao, UMA-SMR Spokesperson at NFSW 8th Congress (file photo)

The Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) vehemently condemns the illegal arrest of Lito Lao, spokesperson of UMA-Southern Mindanao Region (UMA-SMR), who was held together with other peasant and human rights leaders last night, June 28, by elements of Task Force Davao (TFD) in a checkpoint in Lansang, Davao City.

Aside from Lao, also arrested were Pedro Arnado, regional chairperson of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP-SMR); Gerry Alborme, Secretary General of KMP in North Cotabato; and KARAPATAN-SMR secretary general Hanimay Suazo.

According to Danilo “Ka Daning” Ramos, UMA secretary general, the grounds for their arrest by TFD security personnel for being “suspicious individuals” is a great lie. “As leaders of people’s organizations, Lao and the other activists arrested by TFD are all well-known, and are practically local personalities especially in Davao City. The arrest is plain harassment and can be a prelude to a general crackdown on activists and people’s rights advocates.”

Only last May 8, President Duterte even met with Arnado and Lao, together with leaders and members of the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association, Inc. (MARBAI) during the President’s much-publicized visit at the farmers’ protest camp-out in Mendiola.

Lao and the others were eventually released after the intervention of Karapatan paralegals and Exodus for Justice and Peace.

The activists just came from Tagum City to document cases of human rights violations. According to Karapatan-SMR, cases of human rights violations are growing in the region since martial law was declared in Mindanao a month ago.

A partial list includes the following: 5 political killings; 2 frustrated killings; 8 strafing incidents; 3,417 individuals threatened, harassed, and intimidated; 14 cases of destruction of property; 23 illegally arrested; 2,000 individuals forcibly evacuated due to aerial bombing and mortar shelling; and 2 cases each of killed and frustrated killing due to indiscriminate use of weapons against civilians.

This includes the illegal arrest and detention of 3 banana workers and their supporters who organized and supported the strike of Shin Sun workers when some 100 military men, 30 police officers and 20 scabs attacked their picketline on June 2 in Compostela Valley.

These growing human rights violations including the arrest of the 4 human rights defenders must be vehemently condemned. “We call on Duterte to immediately lift Martial Law in Mindanao – this call echoes with people advocating for just and lasting peace not only in Mindanao but in the whole country as well,” said Ramos.

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Sugar farmworkers unite to dismantle various Cojuangco haciendas

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Nearly three decades after the implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program or CARP, farmworkers under sugarcane haciendas launch simultaneous actions against the powerful Cojuangco landlord clan.

In Tarlac, national agriworkers center Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) and the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) joined local farmworkers in a caravan yesterday in Hacienda Luisita barangays to assail undeclared “martial law” within the controversial sugar estate.

Hacienda Luisita is controlled since the 1950s by the family of former Presidents Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino, who enacted CARP in 1988, and Benigno Aquino III, under whose regime the CARP expired in 2014. Large parcels of prime agricultural land in Luisita is still heavily guarded by private security and armed state forces.

Yesterday, around 100 policemen were deployed to guard a 500-hectare fenced area in Brgy. Balete which is claimed by commercial bank RCBC. SWAT teams were also seen toting high-powered firearms in checkpoints. Today, farmers and their supporters formed a human chain near an army headquarters located right smack in the middle of a thriving land cultivation area also in the same barangay.

UMA Secretary General Danilo Ramos says successive land reform schemes under CARP failed to uplift the lives of downtrodden sugar workers in Hacienda Luisita. Instead, farmworkers were to exposed to various atrocities, including the Hacienda Luisita massacre of 2004.

“First, Cory implemented the oppressive Stock Distribution Option or SDO. Today, despite a Supreme Court decision for total land distribution, Hacienda Luisita is still under the effective control of the Cojuangco-Aquinos through the aryendo or illicit leaseback set-ups. The Cojuangcos are now also business partners with another despotic landlord family, the Lorenzos of Lapanday, who controls thousands of hectares of banana plantations in Mindanao,” said Ramos.

Meanwhile in Negros, notorious landlord and Marcos crony, Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco, Jr., an estranged brood of the Cojuangcos of Luisita, still controls around 5,000 hectares of land under the CARP’s “corporative scheme,” another non-land transfer scheme akin to the SDO.

According to NFSW Secretary General John Milton Lozande, more than 200 farmworkers from 11 Cojuangco haciendas in Negros Occidental have set up a protest camp in front of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) local office in in Bacolod City to demand the termination of Danding’s corporative scheme and revocation of various joint-venture agreements forged with CARP “beneficiaries.”

The corporative scheme was enforced in the following haciendas in 1998: Hda. Balatong, Hda. Nieva, Hda. Bonifacia, Hda. Soledad, Hda.Candelaria, Hda. Fe, Hda. Caridad and Candaguet, Hda. San Antonio, Hda. Ara-al, Hda. Kaiyaman and Hda. Adelina and has since comprised the Eduardo Cojuangco Jr or ECJ landholdings. The protests in Bacolod City are led by the ECJ Farmers and Farmworkers Alliance in Negros or EFFWAN.

“The SDO, corporative scheme and joint-venture are onerous contracts and landgrabbing schemes made legal by the CARP. This is the reason why farmworkers reject any extension of this pro-landlord policy and instead push for a genuine land reform program composed mainly of free land distribution to actual tillers,” said Ramos.

Ramos is referring to the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill filed as HB 555 by Anakpawis Partylist and Makabayan bloc, a piece of legislation which is widely supported by farmers across the country.

UMA also said that before the cancellation of the 5th round of peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front (NDF), the negotiations were nearing positive developments, especially since both parties have already agreed to free land distribution as component in the crafting of a Comprehensive Agreement for Socio-Economic Reforms or CASER.

“We are enraged that instead of addressing basic socio-economic problems to solve the roots of peasant unrest and armed conflict, the Duterte regime is gearing towards Martial Law and militarist solutions fed to him by ex-generals and other imperialist lapdogs within his Cabinet,” said Ramos.

“Duterte’s peace agenda now appears to be totally undermined with the piling up of various military atrocities in peasant communities in Mindanao and other parts of the country where state forces are under ‘red alert.’ The farmworkers of Hacienda Luisita and Negros have already showed us how to daring land occupation and cultivation actions. Farmers have no recourse left but to continue the fight and dismantle the centuries-old hacienda system,” ended Ramos.

 

 

 

Agriworkers Call for Release of Detained Union Leaders in Mindanao

The Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) is calling on the Duterte government to order the release of 3 banana workers and their supporters who were arrested on June 2 in Compostela Valley.

According to Danilo “Ka Daning” Ramos, secretary general of UMA, the arrests sends a chilling effect on the rights of workers to strike in the light of the martial law declaration in Mindanao.

Originally 14 workers and advocates were arrested by a combined force of 100 military men, 30 police officers and some 20 scabs. Most of those who were arrested were beaten up and the place where the workers stayed during their strike was destroyed.

Eleven of the workers were released on the same day except for three. Namely, those still detained at the Compostela police station are Vicente Barrios, union president of Nagkahiusang Mamumuo sa Suyapa Farm (SUMIFRU Packing Plant 232).

Another is Pio Salar (President, Freshmax Workers Union) and Eric Noble (Vice-Pres, Shin Sun Workers Union) are detained in the Compostela Police Station. There has been no case filed against them.

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) had earlier declared before the workers strike on March 23 that their recruiter, ECQ Serve Human Resources was engaged in the forbidden practice of Labor-only Contracting (LOC). DOLE also ordered the immediate return of the 287 workers previously employed under the agency.

In a research made by Ibon foundation on the conditions of the Shin Sun workers, it found out the following. They are only paid by their recruitment agency at P291 a day, even if the minimum wage in Davao region is set at P307 a day.

Their actual wage though is a measly P135 a day because of various salary deductions. These are for supplies, working tools, and mandated contributions for welfare benefits. The workers, however, found out that their agency never remitted their contributions to the SSS, Philhealth, and Pagibig.

Those who conducted the arrests and destruction of the strike area told the workers that the Labor Law is not enforced because of martial law.

This is absurd as the constitutional rights of the workers and the people have not yet been suspended even if martial law was declared. Thus we reiterate our call that the 3 union leaders should be released immediately and that the DOLE implement its earlier decision that was favorable to the workers.

Sugar workers to Duterte: Fight for Peace

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Sugar workers from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao march the streets of Bacolod City for genuine land reform and continuation of peace talks.

BACOLOD CITY — The National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), which just successfully held its 8th National Congress here in city, expressed apprehension over President Duterte’s recent pronouncements that may negatively affect prospects for just and lasting peace in the country.

In a protest action in downtown Bacolod today, Rolando Rillo, newly-elected President of NFSW, said that “Sugar workers were eagerly anticipating positive developments in the peace process (between the government and the National Democratic Front), especially after both have declared that they agree to free land distribution and wide-ranging socio-economic reforms.”

“But Duterte’s declaration of Martial Law in Mindanao and his inclination towards militarist solutions will only worsen state repression that workers and peasants suffer even without his open declaration of martial rule,” he said.

“Duterte must stop fighting against our own people. He must fight for peace,” added NFSW Secretary General John Milton Lozande.  Sugar workers also fear that Duterte’s public threats against communist peace negotiators in a speech in front of Navy officials in Davao City yesterday would be tantamount to the termination of the talks.

NFSW, a national federation under the wing of national agriworkers center  Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), said its members are not afraid to voice opposition against the bogey of Duterte’s martial law. UMA Secretary General Danilo Ramos called on its member-unions and associations nationwide to intensify campaigns for genuine land reform and a just and lasting peace, while launching bold protest actions against Duterte’s martial law.

“Bandying Martial Law about to solve deeply-rooted social problems should never be ‘normalized’ – no amount of government spin and fear-mongering will change the fact that the masses reject martial law,” said Ramos.

The military already admitted that the Marawi crisis is not the only problem that Martial Law seeks to solve – which could mean that it is geared towards Marcos-style fascist repression of people’s rights. “We will join ranks with those who have campaigned against the return of the Marcoses in Malacanang and those who protested against the Marcos burial, besides mobilizing our own members and networks nationwide,” said Ramos.

Aside from numerous active district chapters and local unions and associations in Negros Occidental, the NFSW Congress re-established its links to its organizations in Bukidnon, Socksargends, Panay, Batangas, Tarlac, and Cagayan Valley. NFSW was founded in 1971, and was immediately involved in the struggle against the US-Marcos dictatorship. Like other militant organizations during that time, NFSW members suffered human rights violations  such as arrests and torture under Marcos. The most appaling incident was the Escalante Massacre in 1985, where around 19 hacienda workers were killed, and many others were wounded.

Despite these challenges, NFSW still dared to continue its organizing work among sugar workers both in the field and mills, until its ranks swelled to 30,000 at the start of the 80’s. “NFSW’s contribution the downfall of the US-Marcos dictatorship is significant,”said Lozande. UMA and NFSW said that they are determined to solve the roots of unrest in the country such as land monopoly and the perpetuation of the hacienda system, and lack of basic industries.

“Duterte’s decision to cancel the 5th round of peace talks with the NDF, his threat to arrest communist consultants once they return to the country, and his toying with the idea of suspending the writ of habeas corpus in the Visayas, does not bode well in settling civil unrest. The masses of workers and peasants are most interested in forging socio-economic reforms through the peace process, and Duterte is undermining all the positive developments in the talks with his rash statements,” said Ramos.

“Duterte should not rely on militarists and neoliberal stalwarts in his Cabinet who are the most rabid supporters of declaring and expanding martial law, and scuttling the peace talks. Duterte’s coterie of rightists in his administration underestimate the strength of the masses who are struggling to end feudalism and imperialist control in the country,” added Ramos.

Lozande further emphasized that “NFSW was not cowed when martial law was declared a year after its formation in 1971. We only had only members in Negros island then. Today we are one with the rest of the Filipino people who are resolute in resisting further oppression and state repression.”

 

​Nat’l Sugar ​W​orkers ​F​ed​ ​r​e-established amidst Martial Law declaration

 

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The National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), a nationwide federation which made significant impact among sugar mill and field workers’ unions during the Marcos Martial Law era, was reestablished through a National Congress on May 30-31 in Bacolod City.

NFSW, whose influence remained in Negros Island since the 1990s, was re-established as a nationwide federation of sugar workers amidst a martial law declaration in Mindanao

NFSW which was founded in 1971, was borne out of the sugar workers and peoples’ struggles in the late 60’s and start of the 70’s. NFSW dared to advance sugar workers’ issues during the dark days of Marcos Martial Law.

Around 150 delegates from prominent sugar areas across the country – including Bukidnon, Cotabato and Davao, where sugar workers are affected by the blanket Martial Law declaration in Mindanao – are expected to attend the NFSW national congress. Most delegates will come from Negros Island, while representatives of sugar workers’ unions and associations from Panay, Batangas, Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac, Isabela, and Cagayan, vowed to strengthen the NFSW.

According to John Milton Lozande, secretary general of NFSW, sugar workers are resolute in the aim to consolidate the federation as the militant national federation to forward the interests and well-being of workers in the sugar industry, strengthen and sustain coordinated mass campaigns, and advance the mass movement to attain victories for sugar workers.

“The NFSW now adds its voice to the campaign against Martial Law in Mindanao and its possible nationwide implementation. Our ranks emulate the fierce stance of the NFSW founders who dared to stand against the Marcos dictatorship,” said Lozande.

“Martial Law and the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus is tantamount to the surrender of our democratic rights. Sugar workers in the mills and sugarcane fields including the most-oppressed sacadas from Negros and Mindanao must now learn to stand up for their rights and get organized, especially amid this Martial Law declaration,” added Lozande.

Sugar workers fear that the snag in the peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) would also embolden state security forces to further its repressive policy against organized workers, “But these unfortunate developments are not stopping NFSW from supporting the talks and pushing for genuine land reform and national industrialization. The roots of the armed conflict must be addressed for the country to achieve a just and lasting peace,” said Lozande.

NFSW must take pride in its history against the US Marcos dictatorship, according to NDF Chief Political Consultant Jose Maria Sison, who sent a solidarity message for the congress. Even when many members were arrested during the said period, NFSW persisted in its organizing work. A number also joined armed struggle against the Marcos dictatorship after its leaders and members were arrested.

Because of its creative and daring organizing work, NFSW membership grew to 30,000 at the start of the 80’s. NFSW was also a founding member of the Kilusang Mayo Uno, which was established in 1980.

It could be said that NFSW’s mass struggles contributed to the downfall of the US-Marcos dictatorship, which was ousted in a popular uprising only months after the Escalante massacre in September 1985.

“Militarists and imperialist lapdogs in the Duterte Cabinet should never underestimate the people’s movement, including the organized ranks of the sugar workers nationwide. For so long, they have endured oppression and repression from hacienderos and compradors who have utilized state and private security forces to deny them of their land, labor and human rights. We are referring to the Hacienda Luisita massacre in 2004, and the recent killings of prominent sugar workers leaders and organizers, Ariel Diaz of Isabela, and Alexander Ceballos of Negros.

“NFSW together with the rest of the Filipino people will never be cowed by martial law. We will resist it in all its forms and eventually prevail,” ended Lozande.

NFSW will stage a protest rally on June 1 in Bacolod City, to protest Duterte’s Martial Law declaration.