The Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) today stated that President Duterte’s regime is full of bluster but lacks concrete policies on how to improve the conditions of agricultural workers in the country.
In fact, his economic and political thrusts are turning right and would only benefit big plantation and hacienda owners. The extension of martial law in Mindanao up to the end of December and the scrapping of the peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), on the other hand, would further impinge on the labor and human rights of agricultural workers and the Filipino people in general.
According to UMA acting secretary John Milton “Butch” Lozande, President Duterte has never stated that the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB) is one of his priority legislative measures. He has not also made an Executive Order on the 2 year moratorium on land use conversion, even if this was the decision on September 12, 2016 of the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) which he heads.
But more disturbing is his scrapping of the peace talks with the NDFP, wherein the government peace panel agreed in principle for free land distribution as part of its agrarian reform program. This is in jeopardy right now, coupled with the extension of martial law in Mindanao.
His rightist Cabinet members still want to expand plantations of mainly export crops especially in Mindanao as part of the country’s economic program. Martial law would help facilitate this expansion as dissent would be suppressed.
The PNP is also in the process of setting up Special Cafgu Active Auxiliary (SCAA) groups in plantations in Mindanao which will surely lead to further violations of labor and human rights of agricultural workers.
With regards to job security, living wages, and benefits and services, these remain a dream for agricultural and all other workers in the country. The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has come out with Department Order (DO) 174 but this only regularizes workers under recruitment agencies and not on the workers principal employers.
Sacadas from Mindanao were even recruited by companies owned by the Cojuangcos-Aquinos-Lorenzos and made to work in slave like conditions in Hacienda Luisita and other parts of Central and even Northern Luzon. A number earned only a measly P50 a week and justice for the way they were exploited remains elusive.
President Duterte did not even utter a single word to express solidarity with them, but instead frequently visits military camps to condole with soldiers.
The Social Amelioration Program (SAP) for sugar workers continues to be denied to many of them because only the landlords and millers have the right to distribute this and corner even the socio-economic projects it funds.
Tiempo Muerto or the dead season continues to be a yearly ritual of hunger for sugar workers especially in Negros Island because most are denied to cultivate food crops by the hacienderos unless these are asserted by the sugar workers themselves.
Agricultural workers lives will only improve if there is genuine agrarian reform, and their wages dramatically increased to P750 a day, and their job security ensured through the eradication of contractualization.
In all three aspects, President Duterte is a failure. Instead he is obsessed with security measures that would turn him into a dictator and a puppet of the US government which controls his military and dictates the country’s economic policies.
Agricultural workers should instead assert their national and democratic rights and aspirations and together with the rest of the Filipino people struggle for genuine change. This includes calling for the lifting of martial law in Mindanao and the resumption of peace talks with the NDFP.