Living on the Edge: The Sacadas of Hacienda Luisita

Colonial flashback

The present sacadas of Hacienda Luisita are a flashback of the Spanish colonial period, where farm workers used to harvest as much as nine tons daily. The sacada system emerged with the formation of commercial haciendas in the Philippines in the 19th century. In that era, vast fertile lands tilled by peasants for centuries were expropriated and converted into sugar and other export-producing agricultural estates.

As early as 4 a.m., sacadas are fetched from their bunkhouse and head for the plantation to cut cane from 6 a.m. to 12 noon. Nine to 11 sacadas finish harvesting a truckload of cane in a day, which roughly weighs 11 to 15 tons.

Like the union members on strike, the sacadas receive wages way below what they are supposed to get. Based on a supposed P90 pay for every ton of canes cut, a sacada should be receiving P504 for 5.58 tons of cane. But the payslip of one sacada for Oct. 10-16 shows a gross pay of P334.80 for the same work – which is short by P169.20. The daily wage of some workers is actually P56 (roughly $1).

Before the strike, P50 per day was deducted from their salary for their food supply. These days, the contractor shells out money to cover the food supply of the sacadas.

After months of back-breaking work, the sacadas are finally sent back to their provinces. Such temporal work has become the sole means of living for these workers. Like overseas contract workers who struggle for renewable contracts and work in the same foreign country year after year, many sacadas have worked for decades in the Hacienda Luisita, going back to their home provinces in between milling seasons.

Such a permanent state of transience remains: peasants, prevented from tilling their own lands due to landgrabbing and conversion, are eventually forced into itinerant and contractual farm work schemes devised by big landowners in order to maximize profits.


In the sacada system, silence is the rule. The extremes of exploitation and oppression are known only to the contractors and landlords. Especially after the Hacienda Luisita massacre, the sacadas were warned by their employers to shut up and never talk to reporters.

In the course of interviewing the workers, a yellow van suddenly stopped by the bunkhouse. Two contractors alighted shouting and cursing. They were furious at the sacadas for talking to the press “without permission.”

Yet, the preliminary fact sheet issued by human rights alliance Karapatan lists many sacadas as victims of the Nov. 16 massacre.

Several witnesses recall the deaths of an unidentified sacada father and his child from the plantation area near Gate 1. The baby suffocated and died due to the tear gas hurled by the police at around 3:45 p.m. Enraged, the father rushed toward the police and soldiers but was felled by a hail of bullets. Their bodies were never found.

Based on the eyewitness accounts the death toll in the Hacienda Luisita massacre may be higher than the seven martyrs who were buried a few days after the incident. Till now, the missing sacadas remain unnamed, uncounted, and unaccounted.

Although they were not part of the strike, the sacadas, especially those in the adjoining plantation to the CAT, were also apparently subjected to various forms of post-massacre military harassment.

The chronology of events compiled by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance) showed that around 4-5 p.m. of Nov. 16, after the barricades briefly disbanded due to the rain of sniper fire, around 30 police and military men came out of the CAT compound and combed through the plantation, ransacking the sacadas’ and other farm hands’ bunkhouses.


Witnesses heard screams coming from the bunkhouses for around 30 minutes: they were cries of fear and pleas for mercy. The same witnesses said that more than 40 Visayan sacadas and other hacienda workers were forced by the military out of the bunkhouses at gunpoint, in single file, their arms raised to their head, and herded into the CAT compound. Thirty-nine of them could not be accounted for until now.

A number of sacadas testified to human rights groups about mistreatment by their military and police captors. In a sworn affidavit gathered by Karapatan-Tarlac, a sacada said he and 14 others were arrested by agents of the police and military. “Tinadyakan kami, sinuntok at ikinulong sa Camp Macabulos hanggang kinabukasan ng alas singko ng hapon” (We were kicked, beaten up and detained at Camp Macabulos until 5 p.m. of the following day.)

The same sacada worker said many of their property were lost. Three of his fellow workers are still missing. He could not remember their names, however.

In a separate sworn affidavit, another sacada from the same group related: “Pinapanood ko ang mga nangyayari sa picketline. Nakatayo ako sa labas ng aming tent kaya tanaw ko ang nagaganap na batuhan. Umabot ang teargas sa aming tent.” (I was watching what was happening at the picket line. I was standing outside our tent that I could see the stones being hurled from everywhere. Teargas canisters reached our tent.)

The sacada continued, “May mga taong kumuha ng tubig. Tumulong ako sa pagdadala ng tubig. Nilapitan ko ang isang kasamahan kong sacada na nandoon mismo sa harapan ng Gate 1 sa bandang kanal. Biglang nagputukan kaya dumapa ako doon mismo sa kanal. Nakagapang ako ng mga dalawang dipa nang tamaan ako sa ibabaw ng aking ulo. May pumalo sa aking likod at nakita ang suot niyang pantaloon na fatigue ng Army. Narinig ko ang sabi niya, ‘Tayo!’ at ako ay tumayo at naglakad pabalik sa aming tent. Naglakad ako papuntang Texas at doon ako nakisabay ng tricycle papunta sa ospital sa loob ng CAT.” (Some people scrounged for water. I helped bring water [to the picket line]. Then, I came near a fellow sacada standing in front of the Gate 1 near the canal. Suddenly, I heard gunshots. I hid inside the canal. I was able to crawl for two meters when a bullet whizzed above my head. Somebody hit my back and by reflex I saw the batterer wearing a pair of Army fatigue pants. ‘Get up!’ he yelled at me. I stood up and walked back to our tent. I walked until I reached [village of ] Texas and from there, I rode a tricycle to the hospital inside the CAT.)

The sacadas’ testimonies point to the indiscriminate nature of police and military violence during the strike – where all people outside the CAT compound, whether union member, hacienda resident, sympathizer, or sacada, were all similarly subjected to rounds of gunfire and beating. Like the hacienda’s resident peasants and workers, who harbor a long history of struggle, the sacadas hold many testimonies of hardship under the injustices perpetuated, they say, by the Hacienda Luisita’s owners and management. There may be more accounts waiting to be documented – a risky task if one considers the state militarization to secure the hacienda from any sign of social ferment.

As the rain subsides, our group decides to leave for security reasons. “Aalis na kayo?” (You’re leaving?), one sacada asks. We nod, say a hurried farewell, and trudge back through the cold mud and rain, away from the bunkhouses that are home to the sacada workers. (

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