#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.

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

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.