Negros Occidental is the sugar bowl of the Philippines but why are sugar farm workers in the streets protesting?
We are in what they call the “Tiempo Muerto” or the dead season, and sugar farm workers have no other means of livelihood meanwhile. They don’t own the lands they toil and because it’s the dead season, there’s no work for them in the farm.
And it’s not like they have savings from the harvest season.
This is Leni, a farmworker in the sugarcane fields. She’s holding up her payslip which states that her take-home pay for 15 days work only amounted to P43.42 or roughly a dollar. It is what was left of her salary because of the deductions from the rice and other supplies that she takes on loan from the farm’s cooperative store.
The tiempo muerto comes every year, and every year the farmers have no choice but to weather hunger until such time that they can farm again — to bring home a dollar.
Wilfredo, on the other hand, has to be creative. He walks four kilometers everyday from his home to to the shore to collect any seafood that he can feed his family. It’s his only choice lest they starve.
That is why the sugar farmworkers have organized to protest. They have been holding pickets in Bacolod and Escalante cities in Negros for three days running. Their demand: access to Negros’ P40 million calamity fund and the multi-million Social Amelioration Fund (SAF) to provide immediate relief to affected sugar workers. Negros declared state of calamity last april due to El Niño, which made tiempo muerto all the worse.
More than the aid, sugar farm workers want to avail of their right under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), the government’s land reform program.
In 2010, the Supreme Court affirmed its earlier decision that CARP includes sugar lands and should therefore be distributed to farmers. CARP has been around for more than two decades but until 2011, there were more than 981,000 hectares of lands still undistributed.
“The failure of the government’s land reform program CARP is most visible here in Negros. Farmworkers will not have to beg for aid during tiempo muerto if their initiatives for food security are given full support,” said Danilo Ramos, Secretary General of the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA).
One controversial CARP case is the Hacienda Ilimnan in Sta. Rosa, Murcia. According to the Hacienda Ilimnan Farm Workers Association, the land has been considered for land reform since 1993 but that nothing happened for years until 2010 when the provincial government bought the land.
The Department of Agrarian Reform already issued Notices of Coverage to 205.3 hectares of the land but noted that it was just the first step under CARP and that farmers are still barred from taking over. It has resulted to a standoff between workers and the provincial government, with armed soldiers and cops guarding the area.
“Negros has a long history of struggle against exploitation and oppression by the island’s elite who also hold powerful positions or influence in national politics,” said Rolando Rillo, Chairperson of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW).
There is a bill filed in Congress to address the kinks and loopholes that is slowing down land reform and sugar farm workers in Negros are hoping that DAR, under the new Duterte administration, would finally be on their side.
“Tiempo Muerto will continue to be a season of hunger and death for sugar workers every year, if the country’s fundamental land problem is not seriously addressed,” said Ramos.
[Entry 161, The SubSelfie Blog]
About the Author:
Reports and quotes from the National Federation of Sugar Workers, the local affiliate of the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura. UMA is the national progressive center of unions, federations, associations and organizations of agricultural workers in the Philippines.