The sakadas worked from 4 a.m. until 5 p.m. for a pay way below the minimum wage of P334 per day in Tarlac. They received P9 to P128 (US$0.18 to $2.6) per day due to numerous deductions.
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Some 200 sakadas or seasonal agricultural workers from Bukidnon left for Hacienda Luisita in November with the hope of getting higher wages and better working conditions.
They were duped.
A copy of the contract between the Greenhand Labor Service Cooperative and the workers showed that the sakadas were to be paid P220 per ton of sugarcane. They would be provided with free lodging, water and electricity, and health and accident insurance. Not one of these promises had been fulfilled.
Based on weekly payrolls obtained by Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (Uma), the sakadas got P9 to P128 per day due to numerous deductions.
Deductions were for food and other provisions, including plates, rice cooker, and even the bolo they used to cut sugar canes.
The sakadas worked from 4 a.m. until 5 p.m. for a pay way below the minimum wage of P334 ($7) per day in Tarlac. They were housed in cramped, poorly ventilated bunkhouses in barangay Mapalacsiao near the Central Azucarera de Tarlac.
Mario Bagnaran, 58, is one of the 52 sakadas who escaped from their supervisors in Hacienda Luisita. Bagnaran used to work in one of DOLE’s pineapple plantations in Bukidnon. His P6,000 monthly salary was not enough for a family of nine, especially with four children still in grade school.
Bagnaran and seven of his relatives left Maramag, Bukidnon on Nov. 5, hoping to send higher income to their families. After more than a month, they were not able to send any money home.
His brother, Brixcio, 62, fell ill while working in the hacienda. Bagnaran said Brixcio was only given medicines for fever and transportation for his trip back home. He went back to Bukidnon on Dec. 18. Without any money, Brixcio did not go to a hospital for checkup. He died yesterday, Jan. 4, at around 1 p.m., leaving behind his wife and eight children.
Bagnaran said his brother, who seemed healthy before they left Bukidnon, succumbed to tuberculosis. The backbreaking work was so tiring, Bagnaran said.
Nine of the sakadas just escaped from Hacienda Luisita last night. Risking their remaining cash, they rode a bus to Cubao. From the bus station, they travelled on foot going to the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to join their colleagues.
Rosalito Ravo, 40, said their conditions forced them to leave. Often, they worked with empty stomach. “Sometimes, we would catch frogs just to fill our stomach.”
Victims of trafficking, labor violations
Labor lawyer Remigio Saladero Jr. of Pro-Labor Assistance Center (Place) said the Greenhand Labor Service Cooperative and the Agrikulto Inc. and CAT, which are the primary employers of the sakadas, should be held accountable for violating the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act.
Four of the 52 rescued sakadas are minors. One is a woman and 24 are Lumad.
Saladero added that Greenhand, Agrikulto and CAT violated several labor laws for not paying the minimum wage and the overtime pay; making illegal deductions; and, not ensuring occupational health and safety of the workers, among others.
Saladero said the victims are set to file the criminal charges soon.
The sakadas, accompanied by their lawyers, went to the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Region 3 office in San Fernando, Pampanga yesterday to seek redress. A conciliation-mediation hearing was set Jan. 25.
Agrikulto Inc. was bought by CAT and now jointly owned and managed by Martin Lorenzo, a scion of the landlord clan in Mindanao and Fernando Cojuangco. According to Uma, Agrikulto is also the biggest proprietor of the illicit aryendo or leaseback system victimizing agrarian reform beneficiaries in Hacienda Luisita.
Antonio Flores, secretary general of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), said that the suffering of the sakadas shows that feudal bondage exists to this day.
Danilo Ramos, Uma secretary general, noted that the measly wage received by the sakadas was the same pay received by Hacienda Luisita workers who went on strike in November 2004.
Challenge to Duterte
Flores said landless agricultural workers would not be forced to work in slave-like conditions if they have their own land to till. He called for the passage of House Bill 555 or the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill.
Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao, meanwhile, challenged President Duterte to go after the oligarchs – the Lorenzos and Cojuangcos—and hold them accountable for committing human trafficking on a massive scale.