Military Should Pull Out of Workers Strike Area in Mindanao

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66th IB personnel entered back the packing plant of Shin Sun tropical Corp

If GRP chief peace negotiator to the NDFP, Sec. Silvestre Bello III is saying that martial law in Mindanao is not meant to target the left, then he should order the 66th Infantry Battalion (IB) of the Philippine Army to withdraw from a Korean owned banana plantation in Compostela Valley plagued by a labor dispute.

According to Danilo “Ka Daning” Ramos, secretary general of the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), elements of the 66th IB occupied the packing plant of Shin Sun Tropical Corp. on the night of May 24. Martial law was declared in Mindanao on the same day.

Earlier death threats were made on May 23 on the organizers of said strike. Its members are affiliated with Shin Sun Workers Union-NAFLU-KMU. 80 of its workers staged a strike on March 16 for being dismissed by the company because of labor only contracting.

The 66th IB has been harassing them and the workers have been accused of being members of the New Peoples’ Army (NPA). It is just one of too many cases of legitimate labor disputes being criminalized by state security forces.

Ironically, Sec. Bello is also the head of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE). Besides ordering the military from pulling out of the strike area, the DOLE should also take jurisdiction of the case and act favorably on the demands of the workers.

Martial law or no martial law, this should be always the case.

Oligarchs and Multinationals to Benefit from Martial Law in Mindanao

Business as usual, that is the reaction today of the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) in President Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao as only oligarchs and multinationals will benefit from this.

This was ensured by one of the most rightist and pro-neoliberal member of President Duterte’s cabinet, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana. He was one of those who persuaded the chief executive to declare martial law in the whole of Mindanao, even if fighting on the so-called Maute and Abu Sayyaf Groups were only confined in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur.

UMA is also one with the people of Marawi City in condemning on the violence inflicted on them by these groups, but at the same time in using this as an excuse to declare martial law.

According to Danilo “Ka Daning” Ramos, secretary general of UMA, it is calling on its members nationwide to oppose martial law in Mindanao and its possible extension to the whole country. He added that martial law will only further suppress the labor, land and human rights of agricultural workers and of the Filipino people.

Such is the case of the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association Inc. (MARBAI). They were installed by Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Sec. Rafael Mariano back to their lands grabbed by Lapanday Foods Corp. (LFC) on May 18 this year on the orders of President Duterte himself.

Recent reports though indicate that LFC guards are harassing MARBAI members and their supporters. Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao might embolden said oligarch owned company to once again forcibly eject them from their lands.

Another is the continued harassment and death threats made on May 23 by elements of the 66th Infantry Battalion (IB) of the Philippine Army on striking workers of Shin Sun Tropical Corp in Compostela Valley.

The company is a Korean owned banana plantation and 80 of its workers staged a strike on March 16 for being dismissed by the company because of labor only contracting. Its members are affiliated with Shin Sun Workers Union-NAFLU-KMU.

All organizers and members of agricultural workers in Mindanao are at risk of being attacked by state security forces as Defense Chief Lorenzana branded the place as a haven of the New Peoples’ Army (NPA).

Agricultural workers should emulate the example of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) which was organized in 1971 or a year before the dictator Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law. NFSW in coordination with UMA will hold a Congress this coming May 30-31 in Bacolod City to re-establish itself as a national federation.

Even when Marcos declared martial law, NFSW continued to successfully organize sugar workers in the fields and mills across the island even with arrests made on their ranks. A number of them also joined the armed resistance against the dictatorship.

Because of the intense exploitation and oppression against the sugar workers, NFSW was able to expand up to the 80’s and it was even a founding member of the KMU. It also contributed immensely to the ouster of Marcos from power in 1986 despite suffering deaths during the Escalante massacre a year before that.

Agricultural workers already have their own organizations in Mindanao and have been steeled in struggle as their collective actions like in the rest of the country have been met by fascist attacks. They should be ready to face further attacks because of the declaration of martial law and engage in all forms of struggle necessary.

They have the support of the Filipino peasantry, workers and people in defending their labor, land and human rights and in shouting never again to martial law. President Duterte should lift martial law because even if it is very harsh, the people would definitely struggle and win against it.18698676_1385240054892079_833020321_o.jpg

MARBAI Farmers Serve Lapanday ‘Notice to Vacate’ Agrarian Reform Lands

vacateIn a protest action a day before going back to Mindanao to affirm their resolve to continue with their installation on the land, farmers belonging to the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association Inc. (MARBAI) and their supporters today served a ‘Notice to Vacate’ to Lapanday Foods Corporation’s (LFC) Makati office today. The farmers also symbolically padlocked the main gate of LFC.
“These symbolic actions are a prelude to what will happen in the coming days,” said Danilo Ramos of Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura.
One hundred MARBAI farmers served the notice together with supporters from multi-sectoral groups from Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN), Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) and Anakpawis Partylist.
“Lapanday should abide by the President Duterte’s directive to return the land to us,” stated Antonio Tuyak, spokesperson of MARBAI.
During a dialogue with the farmers in Mendiola on May 9, Duterte said the lands do not belong to Lapanday and that it should be returned to its rightful owners. “We expect to be installed on the 145-hectares of land next week,” Tuyak said.
The determination and strong resolve of the MARBAI farmers to claim back their lands from LFC was crucial in persuading the President to give his support to their cause.
MARBAI, together with other farmers in Mindanao have been campaigning for almost a year which culminated in their reclaiming of their lands on Dec. 9 despite harassment and violence inflicted upon them by security guards and goons of LFC which resulted in the wounding of ten farmers in two shooting incidents on Dec. 12 and 14.
LFC guards were able to forcibly evict them on Dec. 31, but they did not falter as they held strong their camp outside the LFC compound in San Isidro Tagum City.
Fify-nine of them went to Manila and started a camp-out at the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) main office in Quezon City to demand the fast-tracking of their installation.
However, the local Philippine National Police (PNP) refused to assist them in their installation, exposing its subservience to the oligarch Lorenzo clan, which owns the LFC.
After the failed installations on April 18 and 21, two hundred MARBAI members and their supporters decided to camp-out in Mendiola starting May 1, until President Duterte himself pledged his support to them.
“The rising agrarian unrest in Lapanday and other big landholdings is a testament of the need for a genuine land reform,” said Pedro Arnado of KMP Southern Mindanao.
MARBAI expressed resolve that they shall be installed to their lands next week.

#OccupyLuisita |  Farmers have all the right to occupy Luisita

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The Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) reiterates that government must now immediately address the just demand of Luisita farmers for free land distribution, since land reform in this controversial sugar estate has been overdue for more than half a century.

Barangay Balete, where yesterday’s “Occupy Luisita” took place, is one of first settlements in the area, cultivated by farmers way before the Cojuangcos acquired the estate in 1957. It is named thus because the very first residents felled huge balete trees to build their community. It is but just for them to tear down the walls built by the landlords – the Cojuangco-Aquinos and their business partners, the Yuchengcos of RCBC and Lorenzos of Lapanday. These walls prevent farmers from tilling the land that is morally, historically and legally theirs.   

Despite the 2012 Supreme Court decision for total land distribution, the landlords with the backing of the previous administration of BS Aquino and his alter egos at the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), transformed Barangay Balete into a virtual garrison. Balete became literally surrounded by concrete walls, barbed wire fences, elevated outposts guarded by armed security, a police detachment, and headquarters of a mechanized battalion where bulldozers and army tanks are occasionally parked.  

Residents of Balete and other barangays or villages in Hacienda Luisita are in constant threat of dislocation – the landlords have been planning to completely wipe-out the farming community to make way for ‘development plans’ that would further their business interests.

Out of the total 6,453-hectare estate, the SC explicitly ruled to distribute 4,335 out of the original 4,915 hectares incorporated in the Hacienda Luisita, Inc. (HLI) stock distribution option (SDO) scheme, since 500 hectares were approved by the DAR for land conversion, and 80.5 hectares were utilized in the construction of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX). The Cojuangco-Aquino family sold these land assets and therefore owe their “stockholders,” the farmworkers, Php 1.33 Billion, according to the SC ruling.

There is no record proving that HLI has already paid farmworkers Php 30 million as their share of the sale. The audit of the assets is currently being undertaken by accounting firms which the SC chose from nominees of the Cojuangco-Aquinos and pro-Cojuangco supervisors like the renegade Noel Mallari, much to the chagrin of farmworkers.   

The SC indeed ruled that commercial bank RCBC is but an “innocent purchaser” which acquired 184 hectares of land in Hacienda Luisita on November 25, 2004 – and not in 1996, as reported. Note that the date is only a few days after the gruesome Hacienda Luisita massacre. What occurred way back in 1996, is the DAR’s  issuance of a land conversion order for 500 hectares of HLI property. In 2012, farmworkers under the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang-Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA) challenged the RCBC and HLI’s other succesors-in-interest with a petition to revoke the said conversion order.  

 More than two decades after, the firms have failed to usher in any development in the area. The only form of employment that they have since provided only pits residents against each other. Desperate farmworkers are hired to build the walls that bar their fellow farmers from tilling the land. Luisita farmers are no strangers to years of violent eviction and confrontation perpetrated by landlords.    

However, the new DAR administration, under Sec. Rafael Mariano recently issued a partial revocation of the conversion of 384 out of 500 hectares of RCBC and areas under the Luisita Land Corporation (formerly Luisita Realty Corporation) removing all legal impediments for farmers to take back what is rightfully theirs. The pro-Cojuangcos like Noel Mallari contend that the payment of Php 1.33 B  to farmworkers would mean that the area will no longer be covered by land reform. But Luisita farmworkers are now legally entitled both to the proceeds of the land sale – and to the land itself – because RCBC and LLC have failed to develop the area under the terms of the 1996 conversion order.  

The outright opposition of despotic landlords like the Cojuangcos and their partners, who are behind heavy militarization, killings and terror in the area, has always been the biggest hindrance to genuine land reform in Luisita and all other haciendas and big landholdings across the country.  

MARTYR demands land and justice in Hacienda Luisita

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Mothers and Relatives against Tyranny and Repression or MARTYR, an organization of kin of victims of the Hacienda Luisita massacre and other related killings, gathered in Tarlac last April 21.

The gathering was timed three days before the 5th year anniversary of the Supreme Court decision for total land distribution in Hacienda Luisita. On April 24, 2012, the SC ruled in favor of farmers with the principle “land to tiller.”

The Hacienda Luisita massacre occurred in 2004, leaving 7 farm workers killed and hundreds wounded. Survivors and kin of victims filed a case against the Cojuangco-Aquino owners of the estate, including Noynoy Aquino who was then a congressman, officials of the Department of Labor, and several PNP and AFP armed personnel.

Unfortunately, accused personnel were given only minor administrative sanctions. Aquino who was earlier cleared from the case, practically “killed” the massacre case during his reign as President. The Ombudsman dropped charges against police and military personnel in 2010, while an appeal by the victims’ families was junked in 2014.

Emy Ladera-Facunla, acting spokesperson of MARTYR, lamented that justice remains elusive after more than 12 years. No one was punished. More injustice was shouldered by farmworkers and the families of the victims with maneuvers of the Cojuangco-Aquino to circumvent the SC decision.  Facunla is the sister of Abel Ladera, a Tarlac City councilor vocal against injustices perpetrated by the Cojuangco-Aquinos. Ladera was shot and killed by unknown assailants in 2005.

“Our resolve to launch the bungkalan, or land cultivation initiatives in Hacienda Luisita is part of our quest for justice,” said Facunla who noted that the Cojuangco-Aquinos are still in direct control of more than a thousand hectares of land in Hacienda Luisita, aside from the more than 4,000 hectares supposedly allocated to land reform beneficiaries.

Last February, The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) issued a partial revocation of the land conversion order for a 500-hectare property made idle by RCBC, LIPCO and Luisita Land Co. (formerly Luisita Realty Corp.) since 1996.

“These lands should be rightfully returned to farmers to till. We are one with the struggle for land rights for the Hacienda Luisita farm workers no matter how long does it takes” said Erwin Laza, brother of Jesus Laza, one of the victims of Hacienda Luisita massacre. Laza said that most land reform beneficiaries in Luisita have become victims of the illicit aryendo or leaseback scheme.

MARTYR is one with farmworkers’ organizations in calling for free land distribution.

“This land was already paid for by sweat and blood of generations of farmworkers and our martyrs. The best way to honor them is to fight for genuine land reform. We must till and make the land productive for the benefit of the people and future generations,” said Laza.

The victims of the Hacienda Luisita massacre were Jesus Laza, Jaime Fastidio, Jessie Valdez, Adriano Caballero Jr, Jhaivie Basilio, Jhune David and Juancho Sanchez. After the massacre, other leaders and advocates of the Luisita struggle were killed and forcibly disappeared. They are Marcelino Beltran, Abel Ladera, Fr. William Tadena, Ricardo Ramos, Tirso Cruz, Ronald Intal (desparecido) and Bishop Alberto Ramento.

MARTYR members also include kin of activists who died in the course of the struggle due to sickness and other causes.

Mga magsasaka ng Hacienda Luisita, ginigipit pa rin 5 taon matapos ang desisyon ng Korte Suprema

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Patuloy na ginigipit ang mga magsasaka ng Hacienda Luisita, limang taon matapos ang makasaysayang desisyon ng Korte Suprema para sa kumpletong pamamahagi ng lupa sa naturang asyenda.

Matatandaang noong April 24, 2012, ibinaba ng Korte Suprema ang desisyon para ibasura ang Stock Distribution Option (SDO) na porma ng reporma sa lupa na ipinatupad ni Cory sa asyenda. Kasabay nito, ipinag-utos ng Korte na pisikal na ipamahagi ang lupa sa mga magsasaka at bayaran sila ng P1.33 bilyon na pagkakautang ng mga Cojuangco-Aquino mula sa mga lupaing ibinenta nito.

Gayunman, namataan ang presensya ng dagdag na pwersa ng pulis at militar sa erya kasabay ng nakatakdang makasaysayang pagsasama-sama ng mga magbubukid at mamamayan ng Hacienda Luisita. Ang aktibidad sa bungkalan ay nasa pangunguna ng Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang-bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA),  Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), at Anakpawis.

Lalahukan ng iba’t ibang sektor ang sama-samang bungkalan na magaganap ngayong Abril 23-24, 2017 sa Brgy. Balete. Ang pagkilos na ito ay kasabay ng ika-5 anibersaryo ng desisyon ng Korte Suprema. Ayon sa AMBALA, ang lupain ng Hacienda Luisita ay wala pa rin sa kontrol ng magsasaka.

Ayon kay Danilo “Ka Daning”Ramos, pangkalahatang kalihim ng UMA, “Ilulunsad ang sama-samang bungkalan upang bawiin ang lupa at kabuhayan na matagal nang ipinagkakait ng Cojuanco-Aquino at upang paunlarin ang kooperasyon at kasanayan sa agrikultura.”

“Ang mga magsasaka ay matagal nang sinusupil – hinaharas, pinagbabantaan, sinasaktan at ipinipiit. Bukod pa ito sa ginawang masaker noong 2004. Pinag-away-away din ang mga magsasaka sa pamamagitan ng mapanlinlang na tambiolo, pananakot at panunuhol upang isuko ang laban,” ani Ramos.

Ilang dekada nang nagpapasasa ang Cojuanco-Aquino sa pawis at dugo ng magsasaka at manggagawang bukid ng Hacienda Lusita. Patuloy na ipinagkakait nila ang mahigit 1,000 ektarya pang lupain kabilang na ang 358 ektarya ng TADECO, 500 ektarya ng RCBC at Luisita Land Corp. / Luisita Industrial Park 3 at higit pang 200 ektarya ng CAT upang hindi ito maipasakamay ng mga magbubukid.

Ipinatupad ni dating Pangulong Aquino ang mapanlinlang at mapanghating “tambiolo land reform” upang takasan ang desisyon ng Korte Suprema. Ang dagdag na deployment ng pulis at militar sa Hacienda Luisita ay nakikita ng mga magbubukid na tahasang pagpalag sa mga utos ng bagong pamunuan DAR. Sa ilalim ni Ka Paeng Mariano, nagpapatupad ang DAR ng mga utos na pabor sa mga magsasaka, kabilang na ang pagbasura sa conversion order sa 384 ektaryang sakop ng RCBC at LLC.

Tulad din ng nagaganap sa iba’t ibang panig ng bansa, dinarahas ng mga yunit ng AFP, PNP, CAFGU ang mga magsasaka. Mula sa tahasang pagpaslang at pagbabanta sa kanilang buhay hanggang sa makailang-ulit nang palihim at lantarang paninira sa mga pananim sa mga lugar na bahagi ng bungkalan.

Mariin na panawagan ng UMA ang pagpapalayas ng militar sa Luisita at sa iba pang lugar sa kanayunan, kung saan apektado ang buhay at kabuhayan ng milyon-milyong magsasaka.

Compostela banana workers triumph in record “13-hour strike”

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The Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), a national federation of unions, associations and organizations of agricultural workers congratulates banana workers in Compostela Valley for the successful general strike participated in by more than a thousand workers against the “pakyaw” or piece-rate scheme implemented by Japanese fruit giant Sumifru in Compostela Valley.

The Maparat-Montevista Workers’ Union (MaMWU) in Compostela town commenced the strike yesterday, April 18 at 10:00 in the morning and was joined by 8 other unions from 7 banana packing plants and field operations.

The participation of several unions and workers effectively paralyzed the operations of Sumifru.

Sumifru is a subsidiary of Sumitomo Fruit Corporation. It is one of the largest producers and marketers of fresh Cavendish bananas in the world.

The MaMWU and representatives of Sumifru and labor agencies reached an agreement to revoke the pakyaw scheme at around 11:00 pm, after an exhaustive dialogue. The workers are affiliated with the National Federation of Labor Unions-Kilusang Mayo Uno (NAFLU-KMU).

The “13-hour strike” in Compostela is one of the shortest successful mass actions led by KMU.

Two years before, a month-long strike joined by growers and workers from 9 packing plants in the same province supposedly revoked the pakyaw scheme. However, instead of implementing the hourly rate scheme, Sumifru and its associate labor agencies deliberately imposed the pakyaw scheme.

The pakyaw system reduces workers’ wages by at least half compared to what they earn based on the hourly rate. At the same time, they have to work longer hours to pack more boxes of export bananas, compared to the hourly rate.

Workers laboring more than 12 hours or with an overtime of over 4 hours – only receive a measly P341 (P28.42/hour) based on the piece-rate system, while the hourly rate could earn as much as P495.40 (P41.28/hour).

The new minimum wage in Region 11 would be P335.00 per day starting May 1, 2017 and is only P41.875/hour.

UMA supports KMU’s call for a P750 daily minimum wage for all workers in the private sector including those working in haciendas and plantations.

UMA Secretary General Danilo Ramos said that “Workers across the country should draw inspiration and emulate the militant action of banana workers in Compostela Valley. We must organize and launch bigger industrial actions against exploitation of workers and neoliberal attacks against labor.”

Sacadas suffer the worst forms of contractualization

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Last Christmas, the story of Mindanao sacadas – lowly cane cutters recruited to work in the controversial Hacienda Luisita sugar estate – first surfaced. Around a thousand sacadas were brought from Mindanao to a cramped bunkhouse in Tarlac to work during the kabyaw or annual sugar harvest and milling season which starts in November.

Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), whose local affiliate OGYON based in Bukidnon province was instrumental in the initial rescue of around 50 sacadas, say that “the usual suspects” are behind this despicable practice of modern slavery.

UMA Secretary General Danilo Ramos says that the recruitment of sacadas ensures the continued production and profitability of the Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) sugar mill which is now jointly-owned by the Cojuangco-Aquinos with Martin Lorenzo, a scion of the Lorenzo landlord family. The Lorenzos are also currently embroiled in land disputes with farmworkers in banana plantations under Lapanday Foods Corporation in Mindanao.

“The hiring of sacadas – called ‘migratory sugar workers’ by government – has been a long undisturbed practice by landlords and sugar barons during sugarcane harvest. It is one of the worst forms of contractualization, where workers are hired en masse to work in deplorable conditions and then paid slave-like wages through a group rate or ‘pakyaw’ wage system,” said Ramos

The sacadas have become victims of a giant human trafficking scam – promised  by their recruiters 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.

Greenhand Labor Service Cooperative, a Mindanao-based hiring agency disguised as a ‘labor cooperative,’ is responsible for transporting the sacadas to Hacienda Luisita. Agency-hiring in industries and services is among the most notorious practices perpetuating contractualization, or the ‘end of contract’ or ENDO scheme.

The sacadas received as low as P38.27 a week or a measly P5.47 a day to a high of P898.20 a week or P128.31 a day – due to numerous deductions. One initial payroll revealed that the workers received only P9.50 a day, the same pittance that Luisita farmworkers received more than a decade ago in 2004, when thousands of workers rose up to strike against the Cojuangco-Aquinos.

The Cojuangco-Aquinos of Luisita and their new business partners, the Lorenzos of Lapanday, seem to be on a roll – non-stop and hell-bent in trampling upon the rights of peasants and agricultural workers from Tagum to Bukidnon to Tarlac.

UMA says that government has not done enough to end the reign of these oligarchs. The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) in issuing Department Order 174, permits contractualization to continue unhampered.

“With its unfulfilled promises, government practically allows the Cojuangcos and Lorenzos to sign sakadas as slaves,” said Ramos.

“The sakadas were subjected to worst forms of exploitation and contractualization in Hacienda Luisita. The new DOLE DO 174 does nothing to end contractualization. Instead, it glosses over liabilities of despicable contractors like Greenhand and exploiters like the Cojuangcos and Lorenzos,” said Ramos.

“Sacadas and other workers have suffered enough from contractualization and the seasonal nature of farm labor, especially since our agricultural produce like sugarcane and fresh fruit exist because of interests of imperialists and multinational giants,” added Ramos.

Aside from UMA-member unions and organizations, Kilos Na Manggagawa, an organization of workers against contractualization, is currently gaining ground among plantation workers. Today is a national day of action against ENDO led by Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) and Kilos Na Manggagawa chapters around Metro Manila.

“The contractual or seasonal nature of our work is not holding back thousands of agricultural workers from forming unions and associations, and from pouring out into the streets on May 1, Labor Day to demand the end of contractualization and other neoliberal attacks against labor,” ended Ramos. #

Agriworkers demand stop to HFCS imports, other neoliberal attacks

 

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Sugar workers join anti-imperialist protests in Negros. Photo by NFSW.

The Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) and the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) support sugar workers and planters in their call to stop the importation of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS).

Hundreds of sugar workers from Batangas, led by UMA affiliate KAISAHAN based in Batangas province will hold a picket in front of the Senate today to oppose this most recent neoliberal onslaught against the sugar industry and the livelihood of sugar workers.

UMA Secretary General Danilo Ramos said that the recent effects of HFCS importation on the price on domestic sugar clearly demonstrates the vulnerability and weakness of the Philippine sugar industry against so-called global competition within the imperialist neoliberal economic framework.

HFCS which only has 3% ad valorem tax in 2016 flooded the market from 2011-2016 with almost 800,000 metric tons of imports coming into the country. This threatened the Philippine sugar industry by lowering the price of sugar. One of the biggest users of HFCS is Coca-Cola Philippines.

“The sugar industry has always been tied to US imperialist interests and demands, and not for our domestic needs and development of our national industries. Coca Cola and other beverage companies where sugar barons are selling our domestic sugar are US-dominated multinational giants,” said Ramos.

Since 2011, HFCS importation volumes have already displaced almost 1 million metric tons of our domestic sugar resulting in billions of pesos in losses for the Philippine economy. In 2011 to 2014, the average annual importation of HFCS is only 77,967 metric tons. But in 2015 and 2016, the average importation tripled to 227,510 metric tons annually.

This also came at the same time when the Philippines agreed to gradually lower the tariff of imported sugar from 38% in 2011 to just 5% in 2015, due to “zero tariff” impositions of the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (AFTA).

To offset the competition from lower priced imported sugar from other countries including Thailand, the government adopted two Sugar Industry Roadmaps which failed from the onset. This was even institutionalized by a new law, the Sugarcane Industry Development Act (SIDA), which was signed by former Pres. Aquino in 2015.

Not only did government fail to meet its target expansion of sugarcane areas, sugar importation also hit a high of 200,000 tons in 2016. According to Ramos, with these sugar road maps giving premium to interests of big landlords and sugar barons, the government is simply prescribing a neoliberal cure for the same neoliberal malady.

Low sugar prices because of cheaper imports give landlords and sugar barons more reason to press down already low – almost slave-like wages – of sugar workers both in the field and in the mills.

NFSW Secretary General John Milton Lozande said that in Negros Occidental where 60% of sugar is produced, the average monthly net wage of sugar field workers is only P700 – P1,000. In Hacienda Luisita, it was recently exposed that almost a thousand sacadas or migratory sugar workers from Mindanao were paid an average of P9.50 a day. The lowest obtained payroll revealed that a worker was paid only P38.26 a week or P5.47 a day.

Workers in the most prominent sugar mills such as Victorias Milling Corporation in Negros and Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) in Tarlac are increasingly becoming contractuals.

UMA warned that the case of HFCS is also true with other Philippine agricultural commodities like rice and corn where imminent volume and tariff restrictions of importation will be lifted in June 2017 as per commitment to the AFTA. Thus cheap rice imports from ASEAN member states will flood the Philippine market at the expense of millions of our local farmers.

“This current crisis could replicate poverty and famine experienced by Negros sugar workers during the mid-1970s to later part of 1980s. This will recur if the Duterte government turns a blind eye to the necessary socio-economic reforms for the sugar industry and local agriculture,” said Lozande.

UMA and NFSW share the call for genuine land reform and national industrialization through the passage of the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB) or House Bill 555 authored by Anakpawis Partylist and the Makabayan bloc in Congress, or the crafting and signing of a Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER) in the GRP-NDFP peace talks.

“We need to review all international economic-trade agreements and policies entered into by the government and redirect our national economic programs to truly develop our domestic economy and protect the welfare of our local work force,” said Ramos.

 

Banana workers win land despite violence in Lapanday plantation

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Agrarian reform beneficiaries travelled from Madaum, Tagum City in Mindanao to picket the Lapanday main offices in  Makati City a few weeks ago. Photo by MARBAI Beneficiaries.

Thousands of banana workers are set to reclaim areas controlled by the Lapanday Foods Corporation at the Hijo plantation area in Madaum, Tagum City today, after years of fierce struggle.

National agriworkers center Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) said that the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association, Inc (MARBAI) was able to secure a writ of installation from the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), for a 145-hectare portion of the contested banana plantation.

“The re-installation of agrarian reform beneficiaries set today in Madaum would not be possible if not for the militant collective action of MARBAI members, who were not deterred by Lapanday’s violent maneuvers,” said UMA Secretary General Danilo Ramos, referring to the series of shooting incidents perpetrated by private security guards of Lapanday December last year which resulted in the wounding of at least 10 farm workers.

UMA lauded the efforts of its local affiliate, the Unyon sa mga Mag-uuma Alang sa Tinood Nga Repormang Agraryo (UGMAD-TRA or Farmers’ Union for Genuine Agrarian Reform), in leading daring actions such as the unprecedented land occupation of the contested Lapanday farms since October last year, and the series of protests at the local and national offices of the DAR and Lapanday.

“A genuine agriworkers union as the UGMAD-TRA served to unite banana workers affiliated with splinter groups of agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARB) under Lapanday’s control. Today, MARBAI’s installation will be joined by two other ARB cooperatives which they previously considered as rivals. Members of HEARBCO1 and GMARBAI have now decided to assert their rights through ‘self-installation.’ These cooperatives are now united in fighting the landgrabbing of the Lorenzos,” said Ramos.

Ramos added that the case of Lapanday banana workers in Madaum reminds one of the violence in Hacienda Luisita, especially now that the Lorenzo family are involved in the management of both agricultural firms.

“The banana workers of the Lapanday Foods Corporation in Tagum City and the sugar workers of Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac are both called ‘agrarian reform beneficiaries’ by the state. Both are also victims of bloody shooting incidents perpetrated by landlords who insist on their immoral claims over these land reform areas,” said Ramos who added that Hacienda Luisita farmers are still fighting for their rights years after the massacre and spate of extra-judicial killings in the controversial sugar estate.

Martin Lorenzo, a scion of the Lorenzo landlord family who controls Lapanday, is now a co-owner of the Central Azucarera de Tarlac in Hacienda Luisita with the Cojuangco-Aquinos.

UMA said that the onerous agribusiness venture agreement (AVA) between ARB cooperatives and Lapanday practically legitimized land grabbing and unfair labor practices in the banana plantation.

“The AVA in Lapanday is similar in essence to the failed Stock Distribution Option scheme in Hacienda Luisita, which was also implemented through the bogus Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). In both schemes, farmworkers are told that they are now landowners or stockholders in control of business, but they practically remain landless farmworkers who earn measly wages and token dividends, if any,” said Ramos.

In Hacienda Luisita, farm workers earned a measly Php 9.50 a day as stockholders when workers decided to strike in 2004. This practice is replicated by the Cojuangco-Aquino-Lorenzos today in hiring sacadas or migratory sugar workers. Sacadas in Luisita are still paid Php 9.50 a day or even less.

“The practice of contractualization among agricultural workers is actually made worse by the CARP’s SDO scheme and AVAs. Agriworkers fighting for jobs, decent wages and benefits this coming Labor Day will also be marching for genuine land reform and free land distribution,” ended Ramos.