By DAWN CECILIA PEÑA
MANILA – Agricultural workers filed complaints before the International Labor Organization on June 23 against what they deem as state-sanctioned union-busting, harassment, and political killings.
Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) and National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) urged the ILO to help in holding President Rodrigo Duterte accountable, especially for agricultural workers suffering from slave-like conditions in big haciendas and plantations.
“Agricultural workers have experienced five years of hell under President Duterte. We must not only end this hell but hold him accountable for his crimes against workers and peasants,” said UMA Chairperson Antonio Flores in a statement.
In a press conference titled “Defend Agri-Workers from State Terrorism,” Donna Miranda of UMA said that with the continuous expansion of haciendas and plantations, workers are forced to gamble their livelihoods in the hands of rural capitalists.
“Here they receive wages that are even lower than the legal standard of the government. About P9.00 ($0.18) is the minimum wage documented under this administration, which were given to sugarcane workers of Hacienda Luisita who fell victims to human trafficking,” Miranda continued.
The ILO has a three-member Commission of Inquiry that is responsible for carrying out a full investigation of the complaint. Its website states that the commission, too, is responsible for ascertaining all the facts of the case, and making recommendations on measures to be taken to address the problems raised by the complaint.
According to UMA’s data, many of the 333 peasants killed since 2016 were agricultural workers involved in land disputes – victims of land-grabs committed by force or through duplicitous contracts.
NFSW secretary general Butch Lozande echoed UMA’s findings. He said that since January 20, 2017, there are 16 NFSW leaders and members who have been killed in the island of Negros alone.
“Until today, we have not attained justice for their deaths,” Lozande lamented.
Lozande also cited the Sagay 9 massacre in October 2018, wherein instead of the perpetrators, the victims and survivors were charged with multiple murders and multiple frustrated murders by the police.
“More than 100 land rights and human rights activists have been killed in Negros under the Duterte’s presidency. Until now, militarization is still persisting in areas where farmworkers, unions, and farmer’s associations affiliated with NFSW are settled,” Lozande said.
Now almost in his last year in office, Duterte has been criticized for failing to fulfill his campaign promises that were anchored on ending labor contractualization, establishing a national minimum wage, and implementing genuine land reform.
The Duterte administration is also the slowest and poorest distributor of land under the already flawed agrarian reform program.
Lawmakers are also pushing for Charter Change that will allow foreign multinationals to own parcels of lands in the country, among others. Farmers fear that this will lead to more landlessness among their ranks.
“Agricultural workers demand that this tyrannical fascist be kicked out of office, and we will exhaust all avenues to back up our demands – from the haciendas and plantations we work in, to the International Criminal Court and International Labor Organization where Duterte’s crimes must be scrutinized and condemned,” Flores ended.