While most people rared to go back to work last Nov. 6 after a long vacation, farm workers of Hacienda Serafica who have long been suffering from unjust working conditions have decided to stop working and hold a picket. According to them, they intend to stay until their demands are met.
By Johann Hein B. Arpon
Medardo Estrera of Barangay (village) Labrador, Ormoc City spent 43 years of his life as a sacada (seasonal sugar worker) under the Hacienda Serafica and Sons Corp. The government repeatedly promised to give him a parcel of land but to this day, it has remained simply that: an unfulfilled promise. In 2003, he decided to retire, frustrated and already having difficulty hearing.
Cesario Cambuhon, on the other hand, from Barangay Bayog, Ormoc City spent 45 years working for Hacienda Serafica. Like Estrera, he has yet to own a parcel of land.
Estrera and Cambuhon’s stories reflect the plight of sugar workers who have tilled the sugar plantation of Hacienda Serafica since 1961. Despite two People Power uprisings, they said that their sorry plight remains – landless sacadas earning a measly P60-70 ($1.10-$1.29, at $1=P54.42).
At a little past midnight of Nov. 6, members of the Progressive Alliance of Brgy. Labrador-Alyansa sa Mag-uuma Alang sa Reporma sa Yuta-Samahan han Gudti nga Parag-uma ha Sinirangan Bisayas (PABL-ALMARYU-SAGUPA-SB) set up a picket at the 64-hectare sugar plantation of Hacienda Serafica.
This move was replicated by members of the Brgy. Bayog Farmers and Workers Association-Alyansa sa Mag-uuma Alang sa Reporma sa Yuta-Samahan han Gudti nga Parag-uma ha Sinirangan Bisayas (BBFWA-ALMARYU-SAGUPA-SB). At dawn of Nov. 7, they also held a picket in their village, part of the other sugar plantation of Hacienda Serafica, this time consisting of 185 hectares.
Both sugar plantations, the sacadas claim, are under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). As long-time workers of the two plantations, they are the direct and legitimate beneficiaries.
Sugar workers say Herminigildo Serafica, who established the hacienda, came to them in 1961 and started “borrowing” their lands so that he could plant sugar canes.
Farmer Ananias Manulat for one recalls how the elder Serafica came asking for his family’s lands. Manulat told Serafica that he would first harvest the corn but Serafica assured him he would just pay him the equivalent amount of the harvest. Four decades later, not a single payment has been made, said Manula. Worse, after several years, the borrowed lands soon became official properties of H. Serafica and Sons Corp., leaving the peasants landless and toiling the fields for the Seraficas.
With their lands converted to sugarcane plantations, they became farm workers and have ceased planting crops such as cassava, sweet potato, corn and mongo beans for their subsistence, further degrading their quality of life.
The hacienda farm workers said they were subjected to very low wages, provided very little health benefits. They also accused the management of not implementing the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) and manipulating the Certificate of Land Ownership Awards (CLOA) so that illegitimate beneficiaries can be awarded land.
The CBA between management and the Sugar Workers Association of H. Serafica and Sons Corp.-Leyte Farm Industrial Labor and Drivers Organization (LIFELDO) signed in 2000 stipulates that a P10 ($0.18) annual increase will be added to their current P60 ($1.10) daily wage.
The workers, however, got hold of a document submitted to the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) by their employer stating the daily wage of workers as P143/day ($2.63), a far cry to the actual rate they are receiving. In fact, a document they signed deemed to be just an official record of their union membership was attached to the CBA and made it appear that they were actually receiving P143 ($2.63) daily.
It was only six months ago that the company gave the P10 daily wage increase.
On the other hand, the Progressive Association of Brgy. Labrador (PABL) denounced the alleged collusion of another peasant organization, the Brgy. Labrador United Farmers Association (BLUFA), with the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in the issuance of the CLOA. PABL said BLUFA chair, Gaudioso Potot, who is concurrent chair of the Barangay Agrarian Reform Committee (BARC), has been facilitating the issuance of CLOAs to non-eligible beneficiaries.
Their unrewarding toil prompted the sacadas to organize themselves and take concrete steps to claim the land. According to Maria Gablina who has been working at the hacienda since 1971, “we have to take over this (land) because this is ours and if we will not claim this, all lands will eventually be awarded to illegitimate beneficiaries and we will end up starving.”
They demanded the cancellation of CLOAs awarded to non-tenants/workers of the hacienda; implementation of their CBA, in particular, and genuine agrarian reform in general; and an end to militarization in the countryside and in the urban areas. They also opposed the collusion between the BLUFA and the DAR;
At present, they have been receiving reports that military will try to dismantle their picket lines. DAR is reportedly set to visit to the picket lines to conduct a dialogue.
The workers believe their struggle will not be easy and that they are in for a long wait.
“(The) picket will stay until our decades-old quest for land we can call our own will be realized”, said Conrado Gomez, PABL chairperson. Preempting a long struggle, Bernardo Toreta, chairperson of BBFWA called on other sectors to be in solidarity with their struggle. “Our organizations are inviting other sectors who share our aspirations to stand in solidarity with us, integrate in our picket lines and we would welcome any support that will be given to us,” added Toreta. (Bulatlat.com)