Sakadas continue fight against labor violations, seek support from government

By Ara Nacario

Three months after being rescued from Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac, Bukidnon-based migratory cane cutters—more commonly known as sakadas—filed their third labor exploitation complaint March 20, against recruiter Greenhand Labor Service Cooperative (GLSC) and principal employer Agrikulto Inc.

The 17 sakadas filed their most recent formal complaint at the National Labor Relations Commission Regional Arbitration Board (NLRCB) in San Fernando, Pampanga, while their first two filed in the Cagayan de Oro city branch of NLRCB two months ago.

“Ang habol namin [sa pagtatrabaho sa Tarlac] ay yung malaking sweldo na pinangakong maka-700 sa isang araw,” one of the sakadas said.

“Isipin mo yung 700 kada araw, tapos libre pa lahat, sino naman hindi sasama dun.”

National progressive group Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) rescued and brought the sakadas to the Department of Agrarian Reform in Quezon City after traveling from Tarlac.

The sakadas were all recruited from Brgy. Pangantucan in Bukidnon Province. The recruiter rented a bus to bring all the sakadas to Hacienda Luisita in November 2016.

A few weeks into their five-month work contract, the sakadas escaped Brgy. Mapalacsiao in Tarlac City after suffering from exploitation under the hands of their recruiter in the 6453-hectare hacienda.

‘Tarlac package’

According to UMA, Cojuangco-led firm Agrikulto requested recruitment agency Greenhand Labor Service Inc. to produce around 1,000 cane cutters to work in Hacienda Luisita.

Currently, Agrikulto Inc., a Filipino company that farms and markets sugarcanes and leases land for these purposes, is the biggest owner of the illicit leaseback system in Hacienda Luisita. A leaseback is an arrangement where the buyer of a property leases it back to the seller.

Davao-based sakada Edmond Prayon recalled how a certain Greenhand recruiter “Bong” promised daily P450 to P700 in wages, additional cash, benefits including hospitalization, PAG-IBIG, PhilHealth and SSS and P1500 worth of groceries, along with free hotel accommodation, clothing and workwear.

The victims said they were previously given an initial payment of P2,500 and told it was all part of President Rodrigo Duterte’s “livelihood program.”

“Pinangako nila sa amin na bibigyan nila kami ng P5,000 tapos yung P2,500 muna yung ibigay nila sa amin para may maiwan sa pamilya,” Prayon said. “Ngayon, ang sinabi nila, yung natirang P2,500 po, pagdating ng Tarlac, saka na nila ibigay.”

On a normal day, sakadas earn P200 a day for their labor in Mindanao. They also had to pay for their own food, provide food for their own families, and transportation.

Parang ‘selda’

Sakadas coming from different provinces including Compostela Valley, Davao del Norte, Koronadal, Pampanga and South Cotabato arrived in batches in Tarlac.

They stayed in poorly-ventilated, constrained compounds they described as “selda,” with windows obstructed with metal bars. Their compound was located near the sugar mill Central Azucarera de Tarlac.

They had to endure the heat, bad smell coming from the main plantation and poor facilities. They were guarded with armed security men and were not allowed to leave at night. The sakadas slept on the floor with only carton sheets.

“Nung nag-umpisa na kaming magtrabaho eh walang tubig kasi malayo yung pinagtrabahuhan namin tsaka yung pagkain, kaunti lang. Kaya yung iba, medyo nagkasakit na dahil sa sobrang init at sobrang pagod,” Prayon said.

There were many nights when they had to make do with what little amount of food that they were given.

“Sampu kami, isang kilo lang ibibigay sa isang grupo. Tapos limang piraso ng sardinas, tapos, limang pirasong noodles. Hindi naman magkakasya ‘yun,” another sakada, Bernie Caha said.

They said they were also forced to work from 4 a.m. until 5 p.m. even with empty stomachs. For their labor, the agency only provided panapas or bolo used to cut canes.

“Pangako rin ‘yang [mga helmet], wala nga kaming dalang jacket kasi ang sabi ‘wag na kaming magdala dahil libre lahat doon (sa Tarlac). ‘Yung helmet, gwantes, botas, wala. Yung panapas lang po ang binigay,” Prayon said.

These conditions led to the cane cutters suffering coughs, fever and colds, which eventually left one dead.

Based on the payrolls UMA reported, the sakadas received weekly wages from P 66.21 to P 898.20 a week, which ranges from P 9.46 to P 128.31 per day. In Central Luzon, the supposed minimum wage for plantation agricultural workers is P 334 a day.

UMA organizer Angie Ipong said victims were even offered a pakyaw rate (group rate).

Based on UMA’s consolidated reports, cutting and hauling cane costs P220 per ton. Victims were also given a quota of 18 tons a day which is physically impossible for a 8-13 team of cane cutters given the additional work of hauling canes.

On the night of Dec. 25 last year, the sakadas left the compound while the others were enjoying a small party prepared by GLSC. Unnoticed, one sakada jumped at the opposite side of the wall to gather all their bags while the rest told the guards about buying cigarettes.

“Wala po silang bag na nakita sa amin. Kasi yung bag, hinagis na po namin sa bakod, kaya po nakita nila, wala naman po kaming dalang bag, pumayag sila,” Caha said.

“Ang paalam namin, bili lang kaming sigarilyo.” he added.

The sakadas travelled on foot to the bus terminal going to Cubao, and again by foot going to the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in Elliptical Road, Quezon City.

Andronel Campo, 20, previously rescued by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) called Edmond Prayon to inform Prayon’s group what to do next.

“Siya po ang tumawag sa amin na, para tayo makauwi ng Mindanao. May tumulong sa atin taga-DSWD, pumunta kayo rito para pag-usapan natin yung dapat natin gawin,” Prayon said.

To the present, UMA is assisting the sakadas to avail government assistance and file appropriate charges before returning to their hometowns.

Call for government support

Ipong said the government should provide financial support to local farmers.

According to her, without support service, rent is the only way farmers can gain from their lands.

Support service includes irrigation, machineries, inputs, seeds, fertilizers and other chemicals for farming.

“Hindi pwedeng lupa lang kasi ibebenta ‘yan, ipapa-renta ‘yan, kasi anong gagawin sa lupa kung walang gagamitin?” Ipong said.  

“Support system ang palalaguin ng industriya natin dapat, ‘yun ang kailangan ng ating agriculture,”she added.

UMA demands for a full-blown investigation on the trafficking of sakadas, stopping the operations of Greenhand Labor Service Cooperative and the status of land reform in Hacienda Luisita.

Prayon said his fellow sakadas are determined to push the charges against the recruiter. For now, some sakadas consider staying in Quezon City to work as laborers.

“Support system ang palalaguin ng industriya natin dapat, paano magkaroon ng machinery, traktor, irrigation, yun ang kailangan ng ating agriculture,” Ipong said.

“Doon mapupunta yung sinasabing national industrialization. Mai-industrialize lang ‘yun at dapat naka-focus sa agrikultura natin,” she added. #

(Image grabbed from Luisita Watch’s Facebook page.)

 

EDITORIAL: Ties that bind

Illustrated by Gian Suyat

The Philippines is a country beset with the problems of feudalism – a system of landlord ownership over agricultural lands, at the expense of the farmers who only rely on land for their living.

This is the set-up of Philippine society the recent ruling of the Supreme Court has dared to challenge. In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the 4,900-hectare land of the Cojuangco-owned Hacienda Luisita be distributed among its 6,200 farmer beneficiaries.

The Cojuangco family gained ownership of the Hacienda Luisita and its sugar plant Central Azucarera de Tarlac through a loan from the Government Service Insurance System, with the condition that they distribute the land after ten years.

After the set date, the Cojuangco family still failed to distribute the land to its tenants. More so, they were able to escape land distribution by availing the stock distribution option in the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, a bogus land reform law approved by former president Corazon Aquino. The SDO allows the land owners to provide tenants stocks or shares of the income instead of distributing actual land to the farmers.

The farmers have organized to fight for the distribution of land since the 1960s, which culminated in November 16, 2004 when police officers opened fire to the protesters, killing 14 farmers in the picket line.

The farmers of the Hacienda Luisita have been fighting for their land for almost 50 years. Indeed, the SC ruling might be a sign of hope for an end to this long-running feudal set-up in the country.

However, much skepticism has been raised about the sincerity of President Aquino to transcend his family ties and distribute the hacienda of his relatives. Aquino is related to the Cojuangcos through his mother Corazon.

Aquino in news reports has declared that the Cojuangcos must follow the SC ruling. However, he maintained that his relatives must still be given “just compensation.”

“Farmers need to be empowered so they can have their own lands to till. But agrarian reform has a second part. Let us not deplete capital. That means there should be just compensation so that the owners of land do not end up having their land taken from them, that they be rightly paid,” Aquino has said.

He went on to say that no “one sector” must be sacrificed over the other – perhaps pertaining to the private sector which involved the sugar plantation business of his kin.

Remaining impartial throughout this phenomenal decision would then be a challenge for a President with a landlord history, given the slow-paced and cautious treatment he has been giving this agrarian dispute since he assumed power. True, he had proclaimed compliance to the ruling of the SC, mainly because he thinks any decision from the SC is an “order.” However, it remains to be seen when Aquino would entirely turn his back on his familial connections for the sake of genuine agrarian reform.

These are the two objectives of the President – give land to the farmers, but give his kin payment for their loss, as well. To wait for him to include in his objectives the provision of free land to the landless and an end to concentrated land ownership in the country would be a futile one, unless he strips himself of his landlord history.

The Philippines is a semi-feudal country run by a President with a landed family. The SC ruling is thus the first step to end this feudal set-up. For the decision to truly favor the landless, the farmers must then be given land for free without any payment to the owners. Aquino’s landed family who had for so long benefitted from this set-up need no more of just compensation.