Farmers travel from Mindanao to denounce Lapanday land grab, violence

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Farmer-members of the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries, Inc. (MARBAI) travelled all the way from Madaum, Tagum City in Southern Mindanao to denounce landgrabbing and violence perpetrated by Lapanday Foods Corp. (LFC), a fresh fruit production company owned by the Lorenzo landlord family.

The farmers, along with the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) and Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) held a protest action Thursday, March 30, in front of the Lapanday Foods Corp. (LFC) Office in Makati City. They pelted the LFC office with rotten bananas, while chanting “Land grabber!” and “Berdugo!” (butchers)

They called for the junking of the onerous Agribusiness Ventures Agreement (AVA) that Lapanday uses as legal basis to take over 119.25 hectares of lands intended for MARBAI with 159 ARB members. Despite MARBAI not being a party to the said AVA, Lapanday’s claims has resulted in the dispossession of farmworkers.

According to MARBAI spokesperson Antonio Tuyak, the land formerly owned by the Hijo plantation was voluntary offered for coverage in the 1990s. The land was awarded to employees and three groups of ARBs were formed. In 1999, the Hijo Employees Agrarian Reform Cooperative 1 (HEARBCO1) entered into a growership contract with Lapanday and Global Foods Corp. for a period of 10 years.

After a decade, the HEARBCO1 incurred debts amounting to P1M. A majority of HEARBCO 1 farmworkers rejected the renegotiated contract with Lapanday because it is highly disadvantageous to the farmworkers.

The said employees organized and formed MARBAI and filed for a petition to reinstate them to their tillage. A compromise agreement was reached in 2011, reducing the farmworkers’ debt to P800,000. On December 2015, the Department of Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board issued a final and executory order reinstating MARBAI farmworkers to the land. The current DAR under Secretary Rafael Mariano, started the installation process in October last year.

But LFC, time and again defied said orders of the DAR Secretary. On December 9 last year, farmers under MARBAI and their supporters were able to successfully occupy their lands. But security guards shot and wounded ten farmers in 2 incidents – on December 12 and 14. At dawn of December 31, 2016, armed security guards of Lapanday forcibly evicted MARBAI farmers from their lands.

UMA Secretary General Danilo Ramos said that the MARBAI farmers will be here in Manila until the DAR finally executes the actual installation of beneficiaries. “The Madaum farmers are determined to take back their lands from Lapanday and the Lorenzos,” said Ramos.

A scion of the Lorenzo family, businessman Martin Lorenzo, is now also part-owner of the Cojuangco-Aquinos’s Central Azucarera de Tarlac in the controversial Hacienda Luisita sugar estate.

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

FACT SHEET (AS OF MARCH 15, 2017)

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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.

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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

 

Email: uma.pilipinas@gmail.com       URL: http://www.umapilipinas.wordpress.com

Telefax: (02) 799.2009                       Twitter: @UMApilipinas

UMA welcomes DOLE sanctions vs sacada recruiters, employers

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Sakadas file complaints vs Greenhand, Agrikulto and CAT.

 

National agriworkers center Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) welcomes recommendations forwarded by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) through Undersecretary for Labor Relations and Special Concerns Joel Maglunsod, against the recruiters and employers of Mindanao sakadas exploited in Hacienda Luisita.

Sanctions against Greenhand Labor Service Cooperative and Agrikulto, Inc. were recommended by DOLE in an inter-agency meeting called by Maglunsod yesterday at the department’s main office in Intramuros, Manila.

Findings of DOLE’s Special Assessment and Visit Establishment (SAVE) on the case of Mindanao sakadas in Hacienda Luisita were presented yesterday to UMA and representatives of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), who were also involved in assisting sakadas or migratory sugar workers.  Also in attendance were officers and counsel of the recruiters and employers, Greenhand, Agrikulto and Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT).

According to DOLE’s findings, a total of 834 out of 864 sacadas recruited by Greenhand for Agrikulto have escaped from slave-like conditions in Hacienda Luisita. UMA was able to “rescue” a total of 70 individuals, including 4 child workers, and 2 infants who were brought to Luisita by working parents. Among the sakadas were lumad or indigenous people from the Manobo tribe of Bukidnon.

Maglunsod recommended the filing of cases against Agrikulto Inc. and Greenhand, specifically with regards child labor, illegal recruitment and trafficking of persons. Both companies were to be required to restitute the amounts illegally deducted from the sacadas’ wages. A payroll obtained by UMA shows that the workers were paid as low as P9.46 a day.

It was also recommended that Greenhand’s registration with the DOLE be cancelled, and a cease and desist order be issued barring Greenhand from entering into new contracting arrangements.

“These recommendations must be swiftly acted upon by DOLE,” said UMA Secretary General Danilo Ka Daning” Ramos who said that DOLE’s findings disprove claims recently made by the Cojuangco-Aquinos in the media.

After UMA’s expose, certain media outfits carried reports meant to tarnish the credibility of the sakada victims. Victims who are now back in Bukidnon also suffer harassment from their recruiters. Despite the pressure, a total of 60 sakadas filed labor complaints before National Labor Relations Commission branches in San Fernando City and Cagayan de Oro City since last month.

Agrikulto Inc. is helmed by Fernando Cojuangco, who co-owns the Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) sugar mill with Martin Lorenzo. The Lorenzos own Lapanday Foods Corporation (LFC) which is also embroiled in the violent suppression of land reform beneficiaries in Madaum, Tagum City where at least 10 farmers were wounded in shooting incidents last December.

While CAT consistently denies ownership of Agrikulto, the latter is listed as a wholly-owned subsidiary of CAT and its main office is located within the sugar mill’s compound in San Miguel, Tarlac City.

UMA emphasized that Agrikulto is the biggest proprietor of the aryendo or illicit leaseback scheme in Hacienda Luisita to supply raw cane for CAT. This means that thousands of supposed land reform beneficiaries have been clearly disenfranchised by the Cojuangco-Aquinos and the Lorenzos who are still in control of vast sugarlands in Luisita.

“The landlords stretch their exploitative practices from Tarlac to Mindanao. The local Luisita farmers are deprived of land, while the Mindanao sacadas become victims of human trafficking and slave wages,” said Ramos.

 

Sacadas elevate complaints vs Cojuangcos, Lorenzos of Hacienda Luisita

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Sacadas elevate their complaints before the NLRC Region 10 in Cagayan de Oro City. Photo by OGYON-UMA.

“President Duterte promised to end contractualization in six months but here are sacadas from his home island of Mindanao, exploited through human trafficking and the most despicable form of labor-only contracting in the oligarch playground called Hacienda Luisita,”

This is the statement made by Danilo Ramos, Secretary General of the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), as they assisted sacadas to elevate their complaints against recruiter Greenhand Labor Service Cooperative managed by Billy Baitus, based in Polomolok, South Cotabato; and their primary employers Agrikulto, Inc. and Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT), firms jointly-owned by the Cojuangco-Aquino family with Martin Lorenzo, a scion of the Lorenzo landlord family of Mindanao.

The migratory sugar workers (MSWs) or sacadas from Mindanao have now filed separate complaints against their Hacienda Luisita recruiters and employers before local branches of the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) in Central Luzon and Northern Mindanao.

Complaints of constructive illegal dismissal, violations of labor laws on minimum wage, overtime, deductions and occupational safety and health standards were filed January 31 by 18 sacadas at the NLRC in Cagayan de Oro City, while the others, represented by sacada leader Mario Memper Jr of OGYON-Bukidnon and Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) will file complaints at the NLRC in San Fernando City, Pampanga today.

The complaints were filed after earlier mediation meetings have failed to forge amicable settlement between the parties.

The mediation meeting held in Malaybalay, Bukidnon on January 26 established the issues of the recruiter’s failure to secure Authority to Transport MSWs, and the employer’s illegal deduction of wages, underpayment, labor-only contracting or non-coverage of benefits, presence of child laborers and non-compliance with occupational safety and health standards.

The sacada complainants and representatives from Greenhand both agreed to elevate the case to the NLRC in Cagayan de Oro City. However, Agrikulto and CAT representatives were absent in the mediation meeting in Bukidnon.

The UMA-affiliated OGYON or the Onyon sa Yanong Obrerong Nagkahiusa (United Small Farmworkers Union) based in Bukidnon province was instrumental in the rescue of 52 sacadas from Hacienda Luisita during the Christmas holidays. OGYON also assists the sacada complainants in Northern Mindanao.

Meanwhile, in the mediation meeting held yesterday in San Fernando City, the sacadas rejected Central Azucarera de Tarlac’s (CAT) manifestation to be excluded from the labor case. The manifestation, made by CAT lawyers during the first mediation meeting on January 25, stated that CAT does not have any stake in the case since it does not own Agrikulto, Inc.

Unlike the mediation meeting in Bukidnon where the issues were clearly established, Leonides Mingo and Roland Donasco, who represented Greenhand and Agrikulto respectively in the San Fernando meeting, asserted that “there is no basis to the claims of the sacadas.” This prompted complainants to elevate the case to the NLRC Region 3.

Roland Donasco identifies himself as the owner of Agrikulto, Inc. while the Cojuangcos and Central Azucarera de Tarlac publicly deny any involvement with Agrikulto and the hiring of the sacadas.

Agrikulto is documented with the DOLE as the firm which requested Greenhand to hire 1,000 sugar workers from Mindanao. UMA’s Ramos noted that Agrikulto’s latest registration papers with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) identifies Fernando Cojuangco as its president.

Cojuangco, son of former President Corazon Aquino’s brother, Don Pedro, is also the president of CAT, while Martin Lorenzo is its CEO and chairman. Agrikulto’s official business address is the CAT compound in Hacienda Luisita. Agrikulto is also publicly known as a wholly-owned subsidiary of CAT.

Donasco, whose online LinkedIn profile says that he is the “operations manager of Agrikulto (Central Azucarera de Tarlac)” was not named as director, officer or stockholder in Agrikulto’s latest SEC General Information Sheet.

UMA however noted that Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Central Luzon director Ana Dione identifies Donasco as the owner of Agrikulto in the Certificates of Jobs Availability and Adequate Temporary Dwelling Facility which it provided the firm. In an earlier dialogue with UMA, Dione even described Agrikulto’s sacada bunkhouse in Mapalacsiao, Hacienda Luisita as “one of the best accomodations” for sugar workers.

“Duterte and the DOLE are now challenged end the trafficking and exploitation of sacadas,” said Ramos who also said that all perpetrators and even government officials involved in this long-uninterrupted oppressive practice must be thoroughly investigated and punished.

“UMA welcomes the initiatives of Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao and Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri who filed House and Senate resolutions to investigate the plight of the sacadas,” said Ramos.

Ramos also called on Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Secretary Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano to investigate Agrikulto’s hand in the illicit aryendo or leaseback scheme which has disenfranchised thousands of Hacienda Luisita farmworker-beneficiaries.

“The sacadas would not be transported to cut cane in Luisita if genuine land distribution was implemented. Today, local farmworkers have lost control over land, while the heavy work in the fields is shouldered by cheap labor from Mindanao,” said Ramos.

More peasant killings surface as slain farmworkers’ leader buried in Negros

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BACOLOD CITY – Hundreds of farmers and sugar workers marched the streets of Murcia, Negros Occidental to call for justice for slain peasant leader Alexander Ceballos, who was killed by suspected paramilitary elements last January 20.

Members of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) in Negros organized a series of burial marches-turned-protests here in the province since January 22, the 30th anniversary of the Mendiola Massacre. A luksang parangal or tribute program for Ceballos was also organized by NFSW beside the Murcia town church the night before the burial which was held yesterday, February 1, at the Murcia municipal cemetery.

Ceballos is a regional council member of the NFSW and district area coordinator for Murcia and Salvador Benedicto towns where the bungkalan or land cultivation areas have been established by organized farmworkers. NFSW is affiliated with the national farmworkers center Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura or UMA.

UMA Secretary General Danilo Ramos said that another farmer, Wenceslao Pacquiao, was shot dead January 25 while ploughing a land cultivation area in Barangay San Benito, Calatrava town, around 75 kilometers east of Bacolod City. Pacquiao was a member of the KMP.

Human rights group KARAPATAN reported that Ceballos and Pacquiao are among four peasants across the country killed in January 2017 – the two others are lumad or indigenous peoples’ leaders in Mindanao.

But on January 31, farmworkers here in Negros marched with three mock coffins to symbolize the killing of three local farmers. Aside from Ceballos, two other farmers were shot dead last month in connection to agrarian disputes in the upland town of Don Salvador Benedicto alone.

The other victims were identified as Jovani Paguntalan and Iver Mulasi, both residents of Barangay Pandanon, Don Salvador Benedicto. Paguntalan was reportedly shot dead January 2, while Mulasi, chairman of the Nieves Agro Cooperative was also felled by gunshots on January 16 – only a few days before Ceballos was gunned down in front of his home in Barangay Pandanon Silos in Murcia, a village very near the boundary of Don Salvador Benedicto.

This means that counting Pacquiao, four farmers were shot dead within the first month of 2017 in Negros Occidental province alone.

NFSW Chairperson Rolando Rillo said gangster-type violence and impunity reign in Don Salvador Benedicto town where the incumbent mayor, Marxlen dela Cruz is the son of notorious landgrabber, ex-Mayor Nehemias “Nene” dela Cruz. The elder dela Cruz is also a known ringleader of the paramilitary group RPA-ABB.

Ceballos received death threats from the dela Cruz camp for leading the land cultivation campaign in Barangay Igmaya-an and other areas in Don Salvador Benedicto and Murcia. A few days before the killing, a certain Jigger Costan, close-in security of ex-Mayor dela Cruz, was seen loitering near the NFSW office in Bacolod City, where a meeting of council members was then taking place.

There are also reports that local leaders of the NFSW, KMP and BAYAN in Negros have also been receiving threats and harassment from Costan and suspected state elements following Ceballos’s killing.

“The spate of peasant killings will not stop until the country’s fundamental land problem is addressed. Negros Island remains to be a bastion of feudal oppression and the centuries-old hacienda system. Farmers continue to fight for genuine land reform,” said Ramos.

More Mindanao sacadas file complaints vs Hacienda Luisita employers

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Peasant groups led by the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon (AMGL) – Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and BAYAN-Central Luzon today staged a picket-protest in front of the National Labor Relations Commission Region III (NLRC-III) office in San Fernando City, Pampanga in support of Mindanao sacadas exploited in Hacienda Luisita.

UMA Secretary General Danilo Ramos said that more sacadas or migratory sugar workers have filed complaints against their recruiters and employers, Greenhand Labor Service Cooperative, Agrikulto Inc., and Central Azucarera de Tarlac.

Today’s picket coincides with the first hearing of labor complaints initially filed at the NLRC III by 36 sacadas before leaving for Mindanao.

A total 52 sacadas recruited from Bukidnon province were earlier rescued by UMA and its local affiliate, OGYON or Onyon sa Yanong Obrerong Nagkahiusa during the Christmas holidays.

On January 15, another 18 individuals – including women and infant children – escaped from slave-like conditions in Hacienda Luisita. They were also recruited by Greenhand from different Mindanao provinces – Davao del Sur, Davao del Norte, South Cotabato and Compostela Valley. They will file complaints before the NLRC-III today.

The new batch of sacadas corroborate earlier testimonies that there were 800-1,000 sacadas cramped into a bunkhouse in Mapalacsiao, Hacienda Luisita to cut and haul cane for Agrikulto Inc, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the sugar mill Central Azucarera de Tarlac. The mill is now jointly owned by the Cojuangco-Aquinos with Martin  Lorenzo, a scion of the Lorenzo landlord family of Mindanao.

According to OGYON Secretary General Fructuoso Carpentero, new complaints have also been filed by 18 sacadas in Malaybalay, Bukidnon before the NLRC – Region X last Monday, January 23. Among the complainants are sacadas who had escaped Hacienda Luisita even before UMA’s rescue, and a lumad chieftain or datu that the recruiter, Billy Baitus of Greenhand, lured into enlisting the sacadas with the promise of assistance in their ancestral land claims. The first hearing is set tomorrow, January 26.

“Baitus, the Cojuangco-Aquinos and Martin Lorenzo are also ‘wanted’ for massive human trafficking and ill treatment of hundreds of sacadas from Mindanao. We have documented at least 4 minors among the victims,” said Ramos, who noted that Greenhand’s registration states that it is a cooperative exclusively engaged in job contracting for pineapple plantation operations in Polomolok, South Cotabato.

“National minorities – 24 lumad from the Manobo tribe and some Calagan Moros were also exploited to work for a measly P9.46 a day – the same paltry sum that the Cojuangco-Aquinos gave their ‘stockholders’ 12 years ago.

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Agrikulto also responsible for sham land reform in Luisita

Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang-Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA), UMA’s local affiliate in Hacienda Luisita also joined today’s protest to support the Mindanao sacadas.

“Twelve years ago, we were also paid only P9.50 for our toil as farmworkers and ‘stockholders’ of the oppressive Stock Distribution Option (SDO) land reform scheme,” said Francisco Dizon, one of the leaders from AMBALA.

“Our martyrs offered their lives so that we could take back our lands from the Cojuangcos. The Supreme Court already ruled for land distribution almost five years ago – but the Cojuangco-Aquinos and their new partner, Martin Lorenzo are still encroaching on our lands through the illicit aryendo or leaseback scheme,”

UMA emphasized that the plight of the sakadas proves that land reform in Hacienda Luisita is a total sham. “There would be no need to import sacadas from Mindanao if land reform was truly implemented – local Luisita farmworkers have been clearly disenfranchised by the illicit aryendo and the ‘tambiolo’ land reform scheme imposed by BS Aquino,” said Ramos.

The ongoing dismantling of AMBALA’s bungkalan or land cultivation area in Barangay Mapalacsiao, the same barangay where the sakadas were kept by Agrikulto, is seen as ‘landlord reprisal’ for the sakada expose.

“There must be a full-blown investigation on the sakada issue. Operations of Greenhand must be immediately stopped and its license forfeited, to prevent Baitus from recruiting new sacada victims. The perpetrators of human trafficking and exploitation of our sugar workers must be brought to justice,” ended Ramos.

 

More sacadas escape from Hacienda Luisita

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Sacadas recruited from Mindanao escape Hacienda Luisita

More sacadas recruited from Mindanao –   including women with infant children – recently escaped from slave-like conditions in Hacienda Luisita.

According to the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), a total of 18 individuals have sought the assistance of government agencies for them to be able to return to Mindanao.

“This issue should no longer be discussed in whispers. There must be a full-blown investigation on massive-scale human trafficking of sacadas to Hacienda Luisita. The perpetrators Greenhand Labor Service Cooperative, Agrikulto, Inc., and Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) must be punished,” said Danilo Ramos, UMA Secretary General.

The trafficking of Mindanao sakadas to Hacienda Luisita was first exposed by UMA, when it “rescued” a total of 52 sacadas during the Christmas holidays. Relatives of that batch of sakadas – who were all from Bukidnon province – first sought the assistance of UMA’s local affiliate, OGYON or Onyon sa Yanong Obrerong Nagkahiusa in Pangantucan town.

Around 1,000 sakadas were said to be recruited from Mindanao to work for Agrikulto, Inc., which controls vast sugarcane farms in Hacienda Luisita through illicit lease deals and encroaching on supposed land reform areas.

Agrikulto is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Central Azucarera de Tarlac, which is now jointly-owned by the Cojuangco-Aquinos with Martin Lorenzo, scion of the Lorenzo landlord family of Mindanao, owners of Lapanday Foods Corp (LFC).

Ramos said that the latest batch of sacadas come from different Mindanao provinces – Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur, South Cotabato and Compostela Valley – also known areas of Lapanday plantation operations.

“They fared worse than those from Bukidnon because they had to stay longer in dire conditions,” said Ramos who noted that new payrolls obtained by UMA show that their salary ranged from P80.01 – P269.52 per week or only P11.43 to P38.50 per day. The first batch received up to P128.31 a day.

Slave-like conditions

The sacadas claimed that they were treated more strictly after most of the workers have already escaped. The security guards now carried long firearms. One of the sacadas said that he was beaten up by the guards just because they suspected that he would escape.

When the sacadas finally left Luisita, they initially planned to just walk from San Miguel, Tarlac to Manila because they had no money. However they were able to get rides from good samaritans. The sacadas corroborated earlier revelations that they were around 800 to a thousand of them housed in Mapalacsiao, Hacienda Luisita and they were made to work in other sugarcane areas outside Tarlac, such as Pampanga.

“When we worked in one sugarcane area in Pampanga, we were made to sleep in a goat’s shed for weeks. We had no roof and we had to sleep on the cold ground. Once they seemed to forget to bring us back to the bunkhouse in Mapalacsiao, we just slept on the curbside for three days. We ate just salt with rice,” the sacadas narrated.

Ramos said that Secretary Bello of the Department of Labor must realize that this kind of inhumane treatment and exploitation is the reason why farmers take up arms. Bello is also the head of the government peace panel currently engaged in the third round of talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF).

“DOLE must immediately act to shut down the operations of Greenhand, which is reportedly recruiting new sugar workers from Mindanao to replace those who have left Hacienda Luisita,” said Ramos who emphasized that the welfare and safety of hundreds of others of sacadas trafficked to Tarlac must also be ensured by government.

“The sakada issue also proves that land reform in Hacienda Luisita is a total sham. The Department of Agrarian Reform must immediately investigate the operations of Agrikulto, Inc. which is openly encroaching on land reform areas either through the illicit aryendo, or by brute force,” said Ramos.

A few days ago, the headquarters of local farmworkers’ organization AMBALA was demolished. Destruction of crops in land cultivation areas in Mapalacsiao is ongoing. “There can be no peace until the Cojuangco-Aquinos and the Lorenzos are made to pay for their atrocities against farmers,”

“The issue of land reform in Hacienda Luisita and the plight of the sacada are important matters that should be tackled in the peace talks,” ended Ramos.

Protests over killing of peasant leader mark 30th year of Mendiola Massacre in Negros

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The Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) condemns the killing of Alexander Ceballos, a leader of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) in Negros Occidental. Ceballos is the 20th peasant leader to fall victim to extra-judicial killing under the Duterte administration.

Ceballos was brutally shot in the head by a masked assailant in front of his home in Murcia town around 8 pm of January 20. The gunman sped off riding in tandem in a single motorcycle, escorted by two other men in their respective motor bikes. His wife and children witnessed the killing.

The killing coincided with protest actions in Manila commemorating the 30th year of the Mendiola Massacre. Today, farmworkers will march the streets of Bacolod City to condemn the killing of Ceballos.

Exactly 30 years ago, 13 farmers were killed when state forcers opened fire on a peaceful farmers’ march at the gates of Malacanang on January 22, 1987.

Ceballos is a regional council member of the NFSW and district area coordinator for Murcia and Salvador Benedicto towns where the bungkalan or land cultivation areas have been established by organized farmworkers.

Ceballos has been receiving death threats for leading the land cultivation campaign in Barangay Igmaya-an, Don Salvador Benedicto town. A few days before the killing, a certain Jigger Costan, known as close-in security of Don Salvador Benedicto ex-Mayor Nehemias dela Cruz, was seen loitering near the NFSW office in Bacolod City, where a meeting of council members was then taking place.

Ceballos led the cultivation of a 25-hectare area in Barangay Igmaya-an which was made productive since 2013 through the efforts of around 50 farmworkers under NFSW. The area is now planted to rice, corn, cassava, and bananas.

This area is being coveted by ex-Mayor dela Cruz, whose camp directly issued threats against Ceballos and eleven other members of NFSW during a dialogue at the local agrarian reform office years before. Ceballos’ son Ariel and a companion survived an ambush in July 2015 where the elder Ceballos is believed to be the main target.

De la Cruz is also a former member of the RPA-ABB, a paramilitary group collaborating with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

UMA Secretary General Danilo “Ka Daning” Ramos said that the killing of Ceballos and other recent atrocities against peasants must be tackled by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) in the ongoing peace negotiations in Rome, Italy.

“The killing of Ceballos is also a chilling reminder that the new counter-insurgency program of the Duterte administration called Oplan Kapayapaan is no different from those of previous regimes.  There can be no peace until gangster groups such as the RPA-ABB would be disarmed and disbanded. There can be no justice if the mercenary AFP and corrupt police force still exist to protect the interests of landlords and landgrabbers,” said Ramos.

 

Violent land disputes still hound agriworkers 30 years after Mendiola

 

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Photo from Facebook

 

“Intruders will be shot, survivors will be shot again”

Thus warned a tarpaulin sign put up at the wooden gates of a banana plantation in Madaum, Tagum City in Davao del Norte. Private security guards of Lapanday Foods Corporation (LFC) manning the gates are also making rounds to keep the “intruders” and “survivors” out.

A few weeks before Christmas, the so-called “intruders” faced these armed guards in daring protests  – they successfully occupied the land but not before ten of them were shot and wounded by Lapanday. On New Year’s Eve, while the rest of the world drowned in revelry, the farmers of Madaum were violently driven away from their own land.

The rightful owners of the land – members of the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association, Inc (MARBAI), now affiliated with the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) through their local union, Unyon sa mga Mag-Uuma Alang Sa Tinood Nga Repormang Agraryo (UGMAD –TRA or Farmers’ Union For Genuine Agrarian Reform) – are forbidden by Lapanday to till the land already awarded to them by government land reform.  

Violent land disputes continue to hound agricultural workers 30 years after the Mendiola Massacre. On January 22, 1987, 13 farmers were killed right before Malacanang gates in a peasant march calling for land reform.

Because of the carnage, the peace talks – then ongoing between the government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) representing the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA) – collapsed.

Then-President Corazon Aquino, heiress of controversial sugar estate Hacienda Luisita, soon enacted the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), the effectivity of which expired 26 years after in 2014, during the term of her son, Benigno Aquino III.

Still, unrest persists in Luisita and Lapanday areas in Mindanao. This reflects the brutality of feudal land monopoly in the Philippines which no government land reform law has ever resolved. But under Duterte, the next round of peace talks between government and NDF will resume today in Rome.  

“Those who joined the rally in Mendiola 30 years ago aspired for change through genuine agrarian reform, but the CARP has obviously failed our farmers and agricultural workers,” says Danilo Ramos, UMA Secretary General.

“Land reform should be the meat of the next phase of the talks, with a serious and thorough discussion of the country’s fundamental land problem and the forging of a comprehensive agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER).

Non-stop abuses by Cojuangco-Aquinos, Lorenzos

Thirty years after Mendiola, 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.

The CARP has allowed for anomalous non-land transfer schemes such as the Stock Distribution Option (SDO) implemented in Luisita, and various Agribusiness  Venture Arrangements (AVAs) such as the lease agreement with agrarian reform beneficiaries imposed by Lapanday in Madaum.

In Luisita, hacienderos are still in control of vast tracts of land even after so-called “land distribution” through the aryendo or illicit leaseback practiced by Agrikulto, Inc. and Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT), firms owned by the Cojuangco-Aquinos and Lorenzos.  

Agrikulto engages in sugarcane farming through aryendo or lease of farmlots in land reform areas to ensure the steady supply of cane for the CAT sugar mill. Only last week, it was revealed that Agrikulto “hired” via human trafficking around 1,000 sacadas or migratory sugar workers from Mindanao to cut and haul cane. The sakadas were given slave-like wages while working in deplorable conditions.

Sakadas from Bukidnon “rescued” by UMA and its local affiliate OGYON, have already filed labor complaints against their recruiters and employers.

But the landlords have no qualms in using brute force. Yesterday, in an act of bitter reprisal, farmhuts were demolished and crops were destroyed in Barangay Mapalacsiao, Hacienda Luisita by dozens of goons led by a known Cojuangco-Aquino aide, Lourdes Barangay Captain Edison Diaz, assisted by a certain Sgt. Bañaga of the local police.

The huts are within the bungkalan or land cultivation area of the local farmworkers organization, Alyansa ng Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA), also an affiliate of UMA. Diaz, who is directly involved in previous violent incidents against farmers, is also a known broker of the illicit aryendo or leaseback deals for the landlords.

“It is no surprise that farmers in Madaum have already sought the assistance of the Communist Party’s ‘people’s court’ to hear their case. Until powerful people like the Cojuangcos, Aquinos and Lorenzos are made to pay for their atrocities, feudal oppression will continue to push peasants to join the armed struggle waged by the NPA,” said Ramos.

UMA believes that the issue of land reform in Luisita, the plight of the sakada, and the monopoly control of powerful families and multinationals over vast agricultural plantations and haciendas especially in Negros and Mindanao, must be decisively tackled during the ongoing peace talks.

“There can be no justice for victims of Mendiola, no genuine peace to be had until the country’s fundamental land problem is addressed,” ended Ramos.

After “sakada” issue, Hacienda Luisita farmworkers’ huts demolished

 

Huts or kubol used as headquarters of the local farmworkers’ organization Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang-Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA) in Barangay Mapalacsiao, Hacienda Luisita were reportedly demolished around noon today. Monggo crops were also reportedly destroyed.

The huts are located within AMBALA’s bungkalan or land cultivation area in Barangay Mapalacsiao, the same village where around a thousand sakadas or migratory sugar workers from Mindanao were kept by Cojuangco firm, Agrikulto, Inc.

Reports from AMBALA say that the ongoing forcible eviction of farmers in Mapalacsiao was initiated by Brgy. Captain Edison Diaz of nearby village Lourdes, with assistance from local police led by a certain Sgt. Banaga.

Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) Secretary General Daniol Ramos said that Diaz has been using the claim of farmworker-beneficiaries from his barangay, Lourdes, who were awarded farmlots in Mapalacsiao through the anomalous ‘tambiolo’ system implemented by the previous haciendero administration of BS Aquino.

Diaz is a rabid Cojuangco-Aquino aide and broker of the illicit aryendo or leaseback scheme effected by Agrikulto, Inc. and other prominent ‘aryendadors’ engaged in maintaining sugarcane farms in supposed land reform areas.

“Diaz, the PNP and the Cojuangco-Aquinos cannot use land reform as an excuse for their atrocities. The dislocation and destruction of property of the organized ranks of farmworkers who fought so hard for land distribution is definitely not land reform,” said Ramos, who said that AMBALA was one of the original petitioners who called for land distribution and revocation of the oppressive stock distribution option (SDO) land reform scheme.

The petition led to the historic Supreme Court decision for land distribution in 2012 – but AMBALA laments that its implementation by the previous Aquino administration – done through a lottery raffle or ‘tambiolo’ – was designed to dismantle their land cultivation areas and cause chaos among the farmworkers.

The unannounced attack against AMBALA comes at a time when “rescued” sakadas have filed labor complaints against Agrikulto, Inc. and Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) and are also mulling to file criminal cases for massive-scale human trafficking of sakadas from Mindanao.

AMBALA’s bungkalan area and the sakada bunkhouse are both located in barangay Mapalacsiao.

Fifty-two sakadas from Bukidnon were “rescued” through the efforts of national agriworkers center Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) and its Bukidnon affiliate, OGYON or Organisasyon sa Yanong Obrerong Nagkahiusa. AMBALA is UMA’s local affiliate in Hacienda Luisita.

“It is the haciendero’s bitter reprisal,” said Ramos.

The dismantling of the bungkalan and exploitation of sacadas in Hacienda Luisita are both intended to ensure 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 of Mindanao. Agrikulto, Inc. is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the CAT.

“Agrikulto’s aryendo actively targets to dismantle AMBALA’s bungkalan areas while brokers like Diaz swindle land reform beneficiaries into these illicit lease deals. Farmers who dare till the land through the bungkalan become targets of harassment,”

“The aryendo enables Agrikulto to maintain and control vast tracts of sugarlands for CAT but they can no longer get manpower from defiant local farmworkers, thus the need to ‘import’ sakadas from far-off places like Mindanao,” explained Ramos.

“This cycle of brutal oppression must stop. The hacienderos and their minions must be punished. We demand a full-blown investigation on the atrocities against farmworkers in Hacienda Luisita,” said Ramos.

Reference: Danilo Ramos, UMA Secretary General, Contact # 09994363493