Collectively however they gripe that what they actually receive is a minimum of P9.50 a day or for many others only P9.50 a week. This, they say, is due to the fact they are only allowed one to two working days a week, giving them less than P400 a week to live through. Government statistics show that a family of five needs not less than P500 a day for a decent living.
Yes, Mesa said, they have a hospital as well as educational, rice and sugar loans from the HLI management but he emphasizes that these are all just loans. “Libre umutang pero may bayad” (You can borrow money but you have to pay), he said. Deducting these loans, taxes and union dues, a typical farm worker is usually left with only P9.50 for a week. Workers showed their pay slips to Bulatlat to prove their point.
In fact, the educational allowance of P4,000 per year has also been cancelled this school year, he added.
With their low wage, the sugar farm workers are forced to do odd jobs like vending foods while women do the laundry or work as “special offer” ladies selling soap and toothpaste.
The strike that started Nov. 6 and is on going at press time is quite unprecedented, retired sugar farm worker Ernesto Basillio, said. The strike is the second in the farm workers’ half a century of struggle for land reform, he says.
How it started
Basillio is now 89. He was only 12 in 1927 when he was hired as a seasonal worker for Hacienda Luisita, then owned and operated by its original Spanish owners, the Compania General de Tabacos Filipinas (Tabacalera).
Their first union was called Hacienda Luisita Labor Union (HLLU) with Comedes Romero, also a worker, as president. However, Basillio said Comedes sided with management and went against the interest of the sugar farm workers.
“Dahil nagigising na ang mga manggagawang bukid nuon, nagbuo kami ng sarili naming unyon” (Being more aware of their rights, the farm workers formed their own union), he said.
In 1956, Basillio became a co-founder of the United Luisita Workers Union (ULWU). ULWU ran against HLLU in the union elections with a man he only remembers by the moniker “Batangas” running for president. Their candidate, who hailed from Batangas, won.
Despite ULWU’s victory, the management refused to recognize it, Basillio recalled. They went on strike for four days, forcing the company to backtrack.
Overall, however, the sugar farm workers’ struggle for land reform and for better working conditions had been paid for by many lives.
Ben Pamposa, 68, a retired sugar farm worker and former chair of the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala or Alliance of Farm Workers in Hacienda Luisita) recalled that in 1960 former ULWU president Domingo Viadan was killed after serving two years as union leader. Viadan was leading his co-workers in petitioning government for the distribution of the hacienda land to the small farmers.
Before martial law was declared in 1972, a peasant leader in the hacienda, Cecilio Sumat, disappeared. Sumat was leading the workers in their campaign to implement an agreement between the Cojuangcos and the government that the sugar plantation shall be distributed to the tenants 10 years after its acquisition by the Cojuangcos in 1958.
Since 1972 when the country was placed under martial rule, Pamposa said, “yellow” or pro-management union leaders started infiltrating the ULWU. Most of them were fielded by the Cojuangcos themselves in an attempt, he said, to co-opt the union.
Apparently, the attempt to weaken the union’s militancy paid off. Since 1987, Pamposa said, progressive peasant leaders ran for union posts but never succeeded.
Then in 2000, two peasant organizers from the regional peasant group, Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon (AMGL or Peasant Alliance in Central Luzon), went missing. Reports said the two were abducted by soldiers after leading a string of campaigns against the Stock Distribution Option (SDO). They have not surfaced to this day.
Today, labor militancy continues to draw threats even as union leaders are tagged as “New People’s Army (NPA) sympathizers.”
Even before he won as ULWU president in June, Rene Galang, who also chairs Ambala, has been the target of military harassment with both groups branded as a “front” of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the NPA.
Pamposa said Galang is considered the first progressive union president. But in the middle of the CBA negotiations, Galang was laid off as a hacienda employee. His retrenchment and that of 72 other HLI workers who have not received their separation pay is now on appeal at the National Labor and Relations Council (NLRC).
And while justice has not been rendered to the victims of the Nov. 16 massacre, Marciano Beltran, an ex-army soldier and chair of the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Tarlac (AMT or Peasant Alliance in Tarlac), was gunned down in front of his own house on the night of Dec. 8. Beltran’s son attests that before dying his father pointed to soldiers as his assassins. A key witness to the massacre, Marciano was set to testify in Congress about the Nov. 16 incident.
Mang Pering, after serving 40 years as casual worker in the hacienda, said he never saw the fruits of his labor much less felt being a “co-owner” of the hacienda. Shares were supposed to have been distributed among the farm workers under the 1989 SDO system.
He recalled that in 1992, while cutting tree branches in Barrio Alto, he accidentally slipped and fell to the ground hurting his left shoulder. Suffering a fractured bone, he underwent surgery at the St. Martin de Porres Hospital inside the sugar mill compound.
He received no compensation for the accident and worse, his hospital bills and medicines were deducted from his weekly salary. When he retired six years ago, his separation pay amounting to P15,000 was not even enough to pay for his accumulated hospital bills.
It took a few more years for Mang Pering’s daughter, Flor, to pay his debts through deductions from her own salary as a casual farm worker.
It is not surprising, Mang Pering now says, that his family joined the strike since Day 1. Flor was even hit in the left shoulder while her brother was hit in the buttocks during the violent dispersal of Nov. 16.
The Versolas continue to support the strike, visiting the picket line to watch documentaries on the massacre, help in the kitchen chores or just exchange views with anyone. Mang Pering says that their forefathers’ struggle to finally own the land that is rightfully theirs rages on. (Bulatlat.com)