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Vol. V,    No. 4      February 27- March 5, 2005      Quezon City, Philippines











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Copyright 2004 Bulatlat


Luisita Labor Talks in Near Collapse
Cojuangcos out to close milling operations?

By failing to settle the contentious issues in the four-month long strike at Hacienda Luisita, the Cojuangco-Aquino family has caused a deadlock in the negotiations between management and striking workers, union leaders say. 


HACIENDA LUISITA, Tarlac City – Striking workers here said that six grueling negotiations aimed at settling the four-month long strike of sugar mill and farm workers of Hacienda Luisita have been derailed by the Cojuangco-Aquino family, owners of the Hacienda Luisita, Inc. (HLI) sugar plantation and Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) sugar mill and refinery in Tarlac City (120 kms north of Manila).

Interviewed at the picketline here, union leaders said the last negotiations nearly collapsed Feb. 24, when management refused to give in to workers’ demands to reinstate unconditionally 73 permanent and seasonal farm workers belonging to the United Luisita Workers Union (ULWU) and 35 officers of the CAT Labor Union (CATLU) earlier dismissed by management.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), through Bishops Florentino Cinense and Paciano Aniceto, along with Tarlac Gov. Jose “Aping” Yap have brokered the negotiations held since the start of the year in Angeles City and Tarlac.

The deadlock surfaced amid reports that the Cojuangco-Aquino family who owns the hacienda are set to close the CAT and go on a land conversion scheme, thus further threatening the future of the hacienda’s 6,000 plantation and milling workers.

Aside from the demand for reinstatement of laid-off workers, the negotiations tackled the plantation workers’ demands for wage increases and additional man-days (working days) as well as similar wage increases and benefits for the sugar mill workers.


ULWU president Rene “Ka Boyet” Galang, a permanent worker who was retrenched on Oct. 1 last year while Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) negotiations were ongoing, said management agreed to reinstate the 30 permanent and 43 seasonal sugar farm workers on the condition that they would become “mere members” or casual workers under the HLI Master List.

The CBA of 1993-1996 stated that Master List members (or casual workers), totaling 4,900, are guaranteed 423,000 man-days for every cropping season or an average 86 man-days for every worker. This actually meant only one to two man-days a week at P194.50 a day. Most pay slips of sugar farm workers have revealed, however, that workers only take home P9.50 a week after loans and social and health insurance are deducted.

Permanent employees, on the other hand, work five times a week for the entire cropping season and get P5,800 monthly wage while seasonal workers work five times a week for four months (during milling season). During off-season, they are casual workers with only one or two man-days a week.

Ang mangyayari, makikipag-agawan pa kami sa isa o dalawang araw na patrabaho sa mga nasa Master List,” Galang said at a mass meeting after the Feb. 24 negotiations.

Nenita Mahinay, lead counsel for the two unions, described the management offer a violation of the labor code that provides that permanent employees cannot be demoted as contractual or casual workers.

CATLU president Ricardo Ramos, on the other hand, said that the management had agreed to reinstate only 17 of the 35 dismissed union officers, with management deciding on who should be rehired. 

On both issues, Tony Pido, lead counsel for management, said the management’s decision on the reinstatement was based on financial constraints. “There is nothing personal here,” he said, adding that the HLI has been losing money in the last three cropping seasons and that the CAT has incurred millions of losses due to the strike.

Hidden agenda

Romeo Capulong, United Nations Judge ad litem and senior consultant of the two unions, said there is a hidden agenda behind the management’s decision on the reinstatement. “If it is purely an economic issue,” Capulong said, “management will actually be getting more from the unions’ offer to help solve the companies’ financial problems.”

“If they have financial problems, we are willing to help find solutions,” he said.

Clarifying Capulong’s point, Ramos said that once the strike is lifted, about 10 to 20 of its officers and members are headed for retirement anyway. And this would mean more savings for the company, Capulong said. 

Galang, on the other hand, said that one of ULWU’s retrenched officers would retire as soon as the hacienda resumes operation. More will follow him, he said, because some of their members are at retirement age.


Both union leaders also assailed management for its callousness even if they have already lowered their demands. From a staggered increase of P100 for permanent, P75 for seasonal and P60 for casual workers. ULWU has lowered its bargaining pleas to a standard P60 to the present P20 or a paltry P2.50 more than what management gave for the first three years of the CBA cycle (P17.50).

ULWU, Galang said, has likewise agreed to the no-guaranteed man-days for the rest of the year.

Meanwhile, Galang said the management has backtracked from its original agreement to have 70 percent of the workload to be manualized while keeping the 30 percent mechanized. The union originally demanded that the production process (including the use of pesticide) should be done by the farm workers to assure them of additional man-days. The management has refused, however.

Mechanization combined with the HLI’s land use conversion program, has significantly reduced the farm workers’ man-days, the ULWU president said.

CATLU, on the other hand, has lowered its demand for wage increase from the original P150 per day to P32 a day for two years. It also lowered its demand for a signing bonus from the original P30,000 to P15,000.

Management however said it would only follow the mandate of the labor department to give a P15 a day for two years (or P7.50 a day per year) and a signing bonus of P12,500.

Rafael Baylosis, another senior consultant of the two unions, countered that management should defer from dealing the labor dispute in a legalistic manner by following the DoLE order.

A seasoned labor leader and negotiator, Baylosis said the management’s decision should be based on the main reasons why the strike took effect in the first place. “Ayaw ng management ibigay ang kahilingan ng mga manggagawa at manggagawang bukid,” he said.

The least management could do, he added, is to reinstate the retrenched farm workers and dismissed mill union officers for their families’ survival. Giving in to this demand, he further said, would not even be enough to give justice and redress to those who have been martyred at the picket line on Nov. 16 in what has been called the Hacienda Luisita Massacre. The massacre claimed the lives of seven farm workers and wounded hundreds of others.

Closure and land conversion

Meanwhile, Ramos and Galang warned that the management’s hard line stance on the reinstatement could be attributed to its plans to close the CAT and fast tracking the land conversion of the sugar plantation.

On Feb. 16, management reportedly told scabs at the CAT it would be forced to close the milling operations due to financial losses. Management representatives told the scabs that, unlike the striking workers, they would receive separation pays upon filing their resignation.

Still, some of the colorum workers have not received their pay for two months despite management’s pledge to give them an eight-hour night differential and 20 percent additional daily wage for not joining the strike.

ULWU leaders cited unconfirmed reports that businessman Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr. of the same Cojuangco clan has leased about 2,000 hectares of land in HLI to be used for purposes other than sugar production.

The Cojuangcos acquired the 6,443- ha plantation in 1957 from its original Spanish owners, the Tabacalera. The land was supposed to be awarded to its tillers 10 years later as stipulated in the Cojuangcos’ loan agreement with the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS).

For not complying with the agreement, Marcos agrarian reform officials filed a case against the Cojuangcos in 1981. They won the court case one year before the ouster of Marcos in a people’s uprising in 1986. 

After taking over as president, a Cojuangco heir, Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino, implemented the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) with land distribution as her administration’s centerpiece. Cojuangco-Aquino placed Hacienda Luisita under the Stock Distribution Option (SDO), a scheme that distributed corporate stocks rather than land to the farm beneficiaries.

Fifteen years of implementation the SDO in Hacienda Luisita is nothing but a failure, Galang said.

The farm workers have, in fact, petitioned for its revocation since 2003 but the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), the government agency mandated to monitor the SDO implementation and its effects on the farm beneficiaries, has failed to act on this. Bulatlat



© 2004 Bulatlat  Alipato Publications

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