Farm workers are calling for higher wages as they battle every day to put food on the table.
By SINAG JOAQUIN
MANILA — A recent survey shows that 34 percent of Filipino families have rated themselves as ‘food poor.’ The Social Weather Stations indicated in its September 10 report added that 11.6 percent of Filipino families, or an estimated 2.9 million, experienced involuntary hunger during the period.
These figures cannot be truer for those who toil to produce food for the country.
“That’s what is painful,” 51-year old Rogelio Bantillo Jr., a sakada or sugar farm worker, said in a phone interview with Bulatlat. “We work in a sugar plantation but we buy sugar from the grocery at 100 pesos per kilo,” he shared.
One kilo of sugar could not last for 15 days, he said, so he has to buy retail at five pesos for around 40 grams of sugar a few days before the next payday. He said this has been their life inside Hacienda Del Rosario, a sugar plantation in barangay Granada, Bacolod City, Negros Occidental.
Very low wages
For his work inside the hacienda, Rogelio is paid 410 pesos a day, the minimum wage mandated by the Regional Wage Board of the Department of Labor and Employment. But the said rate is only good for five months (July to November) or during daily system (arawan), he added. This is the season when there is no work related to cultivation and farm workers are on call to do cleaning or road repair, Rogelio explained.
Situation becomes worse during cultivation period, Rogelio said, because the pay is much lower. They call this ‘pakyaw system,’ where a group of 10 sakadas are paid a packaged rate of 1,800 pesos. This means each sakada gets only 180 pesos for a day working on the sugar plantation.
“It can never be enough,” the sakada said. He said his family manages to eat thrice a day but with no viand. For him, he eats only twice a day. His first meal is before he goes to the farm at 6:30 a.m. while his second is already at around 4:30 p.m. when he arrives at home from work. “We have no food during work hours,” he said.
Rogelio sends two children to school, one in elementary and one in senior high school. He brings them to school by his motorcycle but only when he has money to buy gasoline. At most times, his children would just walk two kilometers to go to the barangay hall where a shuttle going to school is available. “When my kids arrive from school, they are just so tired. When I look at them, I just weep in silence,” he said.
At most times, he said there is no choice but to loan from retail stores around the hacienda just to make ends meet. “Our salary is used only to pay our loans,” he said.
Replaced by machines
The sakadas counterparts in the town of Guimba, Nueva Ecija are not doing any better. In fact, the farm workers here have been replaced by machines, Reynaldo Rodriguez of the Liga ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Guimba said in an interview with Bulatlat.
During harvest season, Reynaldo said only 20 percent of the farm workers in their town are able to land jobs because their work as harvesters has been replaced by a ripper, a farm equipment that can harvest rice grains from four hectares of rice fields, a job that can be done by 100 farm workers.
Ironically, Reynaldo said most of the farm workers here have no work during harvest season which lasts up to six months. They just wait for the next cropping season to land jobs as rice grain planters where they are paid between 300-400 pesos a day. In this case, most of them are forced to look for work in neighboring towns and provinces just to make ends meet, Reynaldo added.
Backyard farming seems to be the most sustainable and unfailing for the farmworkers.
In a separate interview with Bulatlat, Juanito Flores, 64, a farm worker in Guimba, said his family manages to survive by planting vegetables on vacant lots around the rice fields. Juanito used to own around 7,500 square meters of agricultural lot, an inheritance from his father. However, he said he was forced to sell his farm in 1983 as he was unable to sustain his farm due to high cost of farm inputs and equipment.
In the meantime, women farm workers from the Sumifru (Philippines) Corporation manage a corn farm to help alleviate their conditions after they were displaced in 2019 when management refused to honor their collective bargaining agreement. Sumifru is a Japanese multinational company and is engaged in the sourcing, production, shipment, and marketing of various fresh fruits, primarily on the export of quality Cavendish bananas, pineapple, and papaya. The company operates more than 12,000 hectares of plantations in Mindanao, a 2014 report from Davao Today said.
Melodina Gumanoy, secretary general of Nagkahiusang Mamumuo sa Suyapa Farms (Namasufa), said in an interview with Bulatlat that they decided to form their organization to continue the struggle for better wages and workers’ condition even as they are now unemployed. Although theirs is a hand to mouth existence, they find solace in collective effort to keep ends meet.
As the world commemorates World Food Day 2022 with the theme, “Leave no one behind,” food producers from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao call for higher wages and agricultural support in the midst of hunger and continuous food insecurity particularly among those who spend each day producing food for the community. (RVO)