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.”