“Bungkalan (land cultivation) is their only way to survive.”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – To feed their families, sugar workers in different parts of Negros Occidental have occupied land and planted food crops.
On Monday, July 11, more than 40 sugar workers occupied Hacienda Ilimnan in barangay Sta. Rosa, Murcia town to plant food crops.
Since 2008, the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) has embarked on a campaign for land cultivation as a means for sugar workers to survive the tiempo muerto, a period between planting and harvesting of sugarcane. Tiempo muerto, which usually lasts from April to September, spells hunger for thousands of sugar workers in Negros islands, considered as the country’s sugar bowl.
Dolly Celedonio, secretary general of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP)-Negros, said sugar workers neither receive any food subsidy from government nor benefit from the so-called social amelioration program (SAP) during the dead season.
The SAP, institutionalized in 1974 through Presidential Decree No. 621 and enhanced by Republic Act No. 6982 in 1991, mandates benefits for sugar workers, including cash bonus and socio-economic related programs. Celedonio said nine out of ten sugar workers do not receive SAP and landlords are the ones claiming it from the Department of Labor and Employment.
“Bungkalan (land cultivation) is their only way to survive,” Celedonio told Bulatlat in an interview.
Land reform beneficiaries
According to the Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (Uma), more than 100 hacienda workers sought for coverage of Hacienda Ilimnan in the agrarian reform program of the government sometime in 1993. In 1998, the Department of Agrarian Reform in Murcia town had the beneficiaries sign the Application to Purchase and Farmers Undertaking (Apfu), a promissory note to ensure amortization payments under the law.
In 2010, however, the Arguelles family sold the 155-hectare property to the Provincial Government of Negros Occidental. Since then, the land has been the subject of a long running legal battle between the land reform beneficiaries composed of hacienda workers and the provincial government.
In May 2016, the Bureau of Legal Assistance of the DAR Central office issued a decision denying the Application for Exemption filed by the Provincial Government.
On July 12, a dialogue was conducted between the representative of the hacienda workers and the Provincial Government Legal Office, Jose Maria Valencia, with the presence of the Chief of Negros Occidental Police Office and PARO Tess Mabunay of DAR – Negros Occidental.
Uma said the dialogue ended in a deadlock with the Chief of Police of Murcia threatening farmers of arrest and detention if they enter Ilimnan.
Despite threats of imprisonment, the farmworkers stood their ground.
Danilo Ramos, Uma secretary general, said, “We laud the courage of the farmworkers in Hacienda Ilimnan.”
On July 14, Negros Occidental Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr. deployed elements of the Provincial Public Safety Company of the Philippine National Police, the 303rd Infantry Brigade of the Philippine Army and private security personnel with intent to disperse farm workers who have embarked on land cultivation.
Criminalization of agrarian struggle
Celedonio said that sugar workers also occupied 164 hectares of land in Don Salvador Benedicto and more than 2,000 hectares in Bago City. They planted palay, mongo, corn and fruit trees.
Celedonio said sugar workers were charged with common crimes. Eleven farmworkers in Hacienda Pura, also in Murcia town, were slapped with grave coercion, usurpation of property and robbery.
Genuine agrarian reform
Uma reiterated its call for the enactment of a genuine agrarian reform bill.
Anakpawis Partylist Rep. Ariel Casilao filed House Bill 555 or GARB in the 17th Congress.
“Long after the expiration of the bogus CARP law, beneficiaries still suffer harassment from authorities who are supposed to protect the interest of tillers. A new and genuine land reform law must be put in place to protect our farmers and farmworkers,” Ramos said.