“Kidapawan should not be another Escalante, Mendiola or Luisita.”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – At 13, Hernani Barros started working in a sugar plantation in Hacienda Lulu, barangay Sta. Rosa, Murcia, Negros Occidental. The year was 1973 and the daily wage he received was P3.50 (US$ 0.07).
Florida Sibayan started working in Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac at the age of 15. Until before sugar workers held a strike in 2004, Sibayan was receiving P9.50 ($0.20) pay per day.
Arlene Aman, 36, a farmer from Arakan, North Cotabato, lamented that all the corn she planted died due to extreme drought caused by El Nino.
The three joined together in a media forum dubbed as “Tiempo Muerto: Reporting on Hunger and Poverty in the Countryside” held April 21 at the Sikat Inc. in Quezon City.
Barros, secretary general of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), said, “For landless farmers, it’s always tiempo muerto.”
Tiempo muerto, a period between planting and harvesting of sugarcane, spells hunger for thousands of sugar workers in Negros islands, considered as the country’s sugar bowl. It usually lasts from April to August but with the drought caused by El Nino phenomenon, tiempo muerto could extend until September.
All of them have learned how to fight for their survival.
Barros said the situation of sugar workers remains the same. They still work from dawn until dusk in exchange for a pittance.
Barros said that during the dead season, many sugar workers would migrate to urban centers to find jobs, mostly as construction workers or domestic helpers. Others look for seasonal work in other plantations.
The NFSW initiated bungkalan (cultivation) in some haciendas, where farmers plant food crops for domestic consumption.
Sibayan, chairperson of Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala), and her fellow farmers have also started their bungkalan as early as 2004. They have planted palay, vegetables and fruit trees on lands that were previously planted to sugarcane.
Since all their crops died, Aman and her fellow farmers from Arakan went to Kidapawan City on March 30 to demand the release of calamity funds. “We adults can endure hunger but when our children started complaining, we could not afford not to do anything,” Aman, a single mother of three, said in Filipino.
Their fight against hunger and poverty has always been met with violence and repression.
Barros said at least 38 farmers in Hacienda Ilamnan, barangay Sta. Rosa, Murcia, Negros Occidental were charged with forcible entry when they planted mongo, cassava, sweet potato and peanut.
“Is that illegal? They were just planting food?” Barros said in Filipino.
In Hacienda Luisita, there have been many incidents of destruction of food crops since the historic April 22, 21012 Supreme Court ruling ordering the distribution of land.
Just last month, individuals linked to the Cojuangco-Aquino clan ordered the destruction of over 20 hectares of crops in barangay Mapalacsiao, Hacienda Luisita.
Since September 2014, farmers filed criminal charges against those who destroyed their crops but the Department of Justice has been sitting on the case.
Meanwhile, police forces fired upon the barricade of some 5,000 farmers on April 1 in Kidapawan City, leaving two dead and scores of others injured.
Land, food, justice
The peasant leaders — one from Luzon, another from Visayas and the other from Mindanao – are united in their call for land, food and justice.
Danilo Ramos, secretary general of Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (Uma), said the violence in Kidapawan is reminiscent of Escalante massacre in 1985, Mendiola massacre in 1987 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wsXocipaJKA and Hacienda Luisita massacre in 2004. In all these massacres, Ramos noted that not one has been punished.
“Kidapawan should not be another Escalante, Mendiola or Luisita,” he said.
Ariel Casilao, first nominee of Anakpawis partylist, said that for as long as agricultural lands are controlled by a few landlords and foreign transnational corporations, farmers would continue to suffer from hunger and poverty.