Hacienda Luisita Grinds to a Halt; Workers
Vow to Continue Protest
It may be an uphill
battle, but the 4,000 workers of Hacienda Luisita, Inc. decided to take
matters into their own hands by declaring a strike last Nov. 6. Armed with
a sense of history and social justice, their leaders vow to continue the
protest and now they are demanding the land which should have been
distributed to them in the past.
BY DABET CASTAÑEDA
Thousand sugar farm workers block the main gate of Central Azucarera de
Tarlac – Sugarcane workers in Hacienda Luisita, Inc. (HLI), the country’s
biggest sugar plantation owned and managed by the family of former
Philippine President Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino, used to look forward to
kabyaw or the plantation’s milling season that starts in October and
ends in six months. At this time, however, operations at HLI have ground
to a halt.
Instead of reporting
for work, around 4,000 sugarcane workers and milling operators trooped to
the main gates of the Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT), the Cojuangcos’
sugar mill located in Barangay (village) Central inside the family’s
compound in Tarlac
City at exactly 12 noon on Nov. 6 to
declare a strike.
Both the United
Luisita Workers’ Union (ULWU, the sugarcane workers’ union) and the
Central Azucarera de Tarlac Labor Union (CATLU, the milling operators’
union) declared a work stoppage after their separate Collective Bargaining
Agreement (CBA) negotiations reached a deadlock.
ULWU President Rene
Galang said that they gave the following demands to the management: 1)
that retired seasonal and permanent workers be replaced by their next of
kin or by casual workers; 2) that daily wages be increased by P100 ($1.77,
based on an exchange rate of P56.35 per US dollar) for permanent workers,
P75 ($1.33) for seasonal workers and P60 ($1.06) for casual workers; 3)
that laboratory and other hospital fees at the St. Martin de Porres
Hospital inside the hacienda be waived as stated in the
Option (SDO) agreement; and 4) that
additional benefits such as two-month Christmas and service bonuses be
Three of at least 50 truckloads of sugar
cane sit outside the gates of Central Azucarera de Tarlac as sugar farm
workers stage a strike.
But the HLI
management, represented by Tess Liwanag and three other lawyers, rejected
the workers’ demands which resulted in a deadlock in the CBA negotiations.
To add insult to injury,
327 permanent and seasonal workers were
effective Oct. 1, including Galang and eight other union officers.
On the other hand,
CATLU President Ricardo Ramos said they had the following CBA demands: 1)
that management implement an across-the-board increase; 2) two months
gratuity pay or the amount twice their salary rate multiplied by their
number of years in service as their retirement benefit; and 3) a P30,000
($532.39) signing bonus for each union member after the signing of the CBA.
Ramos said that CAT
management gave the following counter-proposals: 1) a P12 ($0.21) increase
per day to be added to the CAT workers’ current daily wage of P309; 2) a
lump sum of P2 for two years; and 3) a signing bonus of P 12,500.
Reyes said that the
management’s stand was unacceptable because according to government
standards, a family of five would need a minimum of P14,000 a month to
provide for three meals a day.
But while the
Cojuangcos gave a counter-proposal to CATLU, they did not do the same in
negotiating with ULWU. Galang said that the management told them that it
would not give in to any of their demands because it is losing money.
Challenging this, the union leaders demanded that the company’s financial
statement for 2003 and its operational expenses in the last five years be
presented for scrutiny but management has not produced the documents,
HLI losing money?
The HLI’s audited
financial statement shows that it incurred losses amounting to
P165,782,608 ($2,942,016.11) in 2004 despite posting gross sales of P
However, in a
Bulatlat interview Nenita Mahinay, lawyer of both ULWU and CATLU, said
that the losses of the plantation were due to the bloated figures of the
sugarcane workers’ salaries.
While the HLI
financial statement showed that P226,944,903 ($4,027,416.20) went to the
salaries of the sugarcane workers, Mahinay said that this was based on
423,393 guaranteed mandays (total number of workdays in a year).
According to Galang,
the actual number of mandays was only 341,852 based on the actual number
of days worked by all sugarcane workers in 2004. The total salary of the
sugarcane workers actually amounted therefore to P110,042,767.50
($1,952,844.14), representing only 26 percent of the company’s expenses.
This means that HLI’s
total losses only amounted to P48,880,472.50 ($867,444.06) in 2004.
Recomputed salaries of
(in Philippine peso)
341,852 mandays x P194.50/day
workers x P5,800/m0 x 12 months
workers x P5,800/mo x 5 months maximum work load
Benefits – 25%
managers 25 x P20,000/mon x 12 mons
supervisors and managers 25% of salaries
Salaries as recomputed by HLI workers
The Cojuangcos have a
reason to disregard the HLI, Reyes said, because it does not determine the
profitability of their milling and refinery business. The HLI contributes
only 200,000 tons or less than 25 percent of the CAT’s sugarcane supply
because 750,000 tons or almost 75 percent of the supply comes from other
plantations in the same province.
babalasubasin lang ng mga Cojuangco ang mga taga-plantation dahil wala
naman silang masyadong pakinabang diyan” (The Cojuangcos will really
oppress workers from the plantation since they do not benefit much from
it), he said.
The only time the
plantation area becomes profitable, he added, is when it is sold and
converted to industrial enclaves. Documents acquired by the sugar farm
workers show that the Cojuangcos earned not less than P750 million ($13.31
million) from 1998 to 2002.
Distribute the land to sugarcane workers
If it is true that
the HLI is not profitable for the Cojuangcos, the HLI workers demand that
the land be distributed to them rather than have the plantation converted
to industrial enclaves, Mahinay said.
Cojunagcos to distribute the land to the sugarcane workers is not an
ambitious undertaking, Mahinay said, because this would only mean the
fulfillment of the past governments’ agrarian reform program.
that Don Jose Cojuangco was able to purchase Hacienda Luisita and the CAT,
collectively known then as the Tarlac Development Corporation (TADECO) on
March 31, 1958 by loaning funds from two government agencies, the Central
Bank of the Philippines (CBP) and the Government Service Insurance System
(GSIS). Their loan, however, stated several conditions, among them the
distribution of the land to small farmers in line with the government’s
social justice program, Mahinay added.
government officials have inquired from the Cojuangcos as to what has been
done to implement the conditions, Mahinay said. But, she added, the
Cojuangcos often answered that the fulfillment of the condition cannot be
In 1980, the Marcos
administration, the political archrival of the Cojuangcos and Aquinos,
filed a case against the owners of the hacienda (Civil Case No. 131654,
Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Manila, Branch XLIII) to comply with the
terms of the CBP and the GSIS to turn over the hacienda to the then
Ministry of Agrarian Reform (MAR) for the purpose of distributing the land
to the hacienda’s small farmers or tenants.
Court records showed
that the Cojuangcos contended that the order was unenforceable because: 1)
the hacienda is outside the scope of any land reform program; 2) there
were no tenants or small farmers in the hacienda; and 3) that there was no
agrarian unrest in Hacienda Luisita.
On Dec. 2, 1985, the
Manila RTC handed down the verdict in favor of the government, compelling
the hacienda owners to turn over the land to the MAR for appropriate land
immediately put the case on appeal at the Court of Appeals (CA).
Odds against sugar farm workers
One of the Cojuangcos’
heirs, Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino, became president of the country after
Marcos was toppled by a popular uprising in 1986. During her term,
agrarian reform became her centerpiece program and thus paved the way for
the institution of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).
Through the CARP,
Mahinay said, Cojuangco-Aquino expanded the agrarian reform coverage to
include sugar farms. It was also the former president who introduced stock
distribution option (SDO) as a means of artificially distributing the land
that, Mahinay said, was actually her way to evade the order of the Manila
RTC in 1985 to distribute actual parcels of land to small farmers and
On Aug. 23, 1988, the
Hacienda Luisita, Incorporated was established and served as a spin-off
corporation of the TADECO for the purpose of operationalizing the SDO in
Hacienda Luisita. In effect, the SDO meant that the sugarcane workers’
right to land distribution has been exchanged for shares of stock and made
them co-owners of the hacienda, Mahinay explained.
However, the SDO
agreement only meant to give 33.3 percent share to sugar farm workers,
Mahinay said, and indicated that the Cojuangcos have virtual control of
the corporation with 66.7 percent shares.
To make matters
worse, court records showed that the CA dismissed the case against the
Cojuangcos on May 18, 1988 or two years after Cojuangco-Aquino became
president, Mahinay said.
incorporation of the hacienda, however, Galang said sugar farm workers
experienced greater hardships due to their
diminishing mandays caused by mechanization of sugar cane production and the land use
According to Galang,
they will continue to campaign for the scrapping of the SDO and for the
distribution of the land to small farmers and tenants. Bulatlat
by Dabet Castañeda
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