March of the Hungry in ‘Tiempo Muerto’

“Tiempo Muerto” (dead times) are bad times for cane workers. They go hungry because there is no work and are neglected by landowners. Last Aug. 17, close to a thousand hungry-stricken sugar workers and farmers trooped to the office of the provincial government in Negros Occidental to demand immediate food and production subsidies.

By Karl G. Ombion

BACOLOD CITY – Close to a thousand hungry-stricken cane workers and farmers trooped to the office of the provincial government in Negros Occidental, Aug. 17, to demand immediate food and production subsidies.

The sugar workers, looking haggard and tired, came from sugar plantations in EB Magalona, Manapla, and Toboso, and the cities of Silay, Talisay, Victorias and Escalante, in northern Negros.

They came to Bacolod City without any prior notice. Some said in the local language, Ilonggo, that “the off-milling season in the sugar industry have caused us tremendous hardships and sufferings”.

Alex Vicera, regional vice-chairman of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), said that they came to demand rice, noodles, canned goods, as well as seeds and tools for production to cultivate portions of idle and abandoned lands in their respective areas.

“The hunger in the haciendas,” Vicera said, “is getting worse, because of no work, and the neglect of the hacienderos to the plight of their workers.”

Vicera said they decided to go to the provincial government because they see no other recourse. “We think that it is their responsibility and we know that they have something to give to provide us with temporary relief,” he said.

After the dialogue with provincial officials, the sugar workers were given 20 sacks of rice, 10m boxes of sardines. In reaction, Vicera said, “These are not enough, but better than nothing. Surely, we will return to put the government to task for remising on its responsibility and accountability, especially in terms of providing lands, and production subsidies.”

Negros Occidental Gov. Joseph Maranon told the farmers to submit livelihood proposals with the names of the officers and members of their organizations so that they could be given appropriate assistance. His office, he added, has given livelihood projects to others who had sought similar assistance.

Negros is largely a monocrop sugar-based economy. The off-season in sugar industry dubbed “tiempo muerto” (dead times) runs from April to September every year. During this period, work in the haciendas and mills stops. It is termed “tiempo muerto” because activities are practically dead in most parts of Negros. Majority of the more than 300,000 sugarworkers and their estimated two million dependents move to urban areas, coastal villages, and others to neighboring islands, to look for work.

NFSW leaders interviewed by Bulatlat however said that for some years now, “tiempo muerto” lasts for more than six months. NFSW claims that the sugar industry continues to suffer due to massive importation of sugar, and rising inflows of smuggled sugar in the domestic market by “monopolist sugar traders.”

This is the reason why, according to NFSW, the march of hungry sugar workers and peasant families to Bacolod happens almost throughout the year. (

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