“The Cojuanco-Aquino clan has a lot of explaining to do why Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) allowed the illegal recruitment of some 1,000 sakada (sugarcane workers) from Mindanao and subjected these sakada to slave wages and slave-like working conditions in Hacienda Luisita,” according to Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael 'Ka Paeng' Mariano.
“This problem has been festering since November 2016 and to this day, the Cojuangco-Aquino family has brazenly brushed aside efforts to remedy the situation. In particular, ex-President Benigno Simeon Cojuanco-Aquino III has remained silent on the issue. It is shocking that former President Benigno Aquino can turn a blind eye and a deaf ear toward this gross social injustice and violation of human rights committed by his own family against the Mindanao sakada,” Mariano said.
He added that former Tarlac Rep. Jose “Peping” Cojuangco Jr. even told the media in January that Hacienda Luisita did not need to hire laborers, including “sacada” (cane cutters) recruited from Mindanao, because the estate uses mechanical harvesters to cut and collect sugar canes.
Cojuangco is one of the owners of the remaining lands not covered by agrarian reform in Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac province.
Mariano said a probe conducted by DAR and DOLE proved the former Tarlac Representative’s assertion to be false.
Reports received by the DAR revealed the following facts:
On August 2016, Agrikulto, Inc. requested the recruitment agency Greenhand Labor Service Cooperative to procure in their behalf some 1,000 sugarcane workers or cane cutters to work in Hacienda Luisita. Agrikulto business manager Lito Laus signed the request letter.
Agriculto, Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT), the biggest sugarmill in Central Luzon.
The Cojuangcos-Aquinos and the Lorenzo family jointly own CAT. Fernando Cojuangco serves as President and COO of CAT while Martin Lorenzo is its chairman and CEO.
Of the approximately 1,000 sugarcane workers recruited in Mindanao, some 160 sakada came from the province of Bukidnon. They arrived in batches to Hacienda Luisita since the first week of November 2016.
The Organisasyon sa Yanong Obrerong Nagkahiusa (OGYON), a local affiliate of the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA Pilipinas), affirmed that a number of their member-farmworkers were recruited as cane cutters or sakada and transported to Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac.
Many of the recruited lumads were unable to read and write and were recruited through verbal agreements or upon endorsement of lumad chieftains.
Recruited lumads were promised a “Tarlac package” consisting of a daily wage of P450 plus benefits, including free meals and lodging, plus travel to and from Hacienda Luisita. They were also promised P7,000 cash advance in three tranches.
According to recruited lumads, the recruitment agency Greenhand promised lumad chieftains or datus that if they were able to recruit people to work as sakadas, Greenhand would help them in their ancestral land claims. Billy Baitus, manager of Greenhand Labor Service Cooperative, said the work in Tarlac is part of a livelihood project of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte.
Pastor Bernie Caha, related to one of the farmworker who escaped, shared to Mariano “upon arriving in Tarlac, the recruited sakada were taken to barangay Mapalacsiao near the CAT sugar mill in Hacienda Luisita. They were made to live in a poorly ventilated bunkhouse guarded by armed security men.”
“Some of the recruited sakada were made to stay in makeshift tents and animal sheds in the middle of sugarcane fields until they have finished their quota for cutting and hauling cane.”
“Work started at 4 a.m. and finished at 5 p.m. Workers paid for their own food and provisions. Congee and sardines comprised a meal for a team of eight to 13 persons. Some worked without eating. They did not receive any of the benefits promised to them.”
“Instead of daily wages, the recruited sakada were made to accept a pakyaw rate (group rate) of P220 per ton for cutting and hauling cane, based on a quota of 18 tons a day for a sakada group composed of 8-13 cane cutters. Sugarcane workers can only cut 10 tons a day and fill two trucks a week, making their take home pay at less than P100 per day instead of the promised P450 daily wage plus benefits, Caha said.”
Actual payroll records showed that recruited Mindanao sakada in Hacienda Luisita received weekly wages that ranged from P66.21 to P898.20 a week or from P9.40 to P128.31 a day. The minimum wage for plantation agricultural workers in Central Luzon is P334 a day.
“This is a classic case of human trafficking disguised as labor-only-contracting,” Mariano said.
He added that since December of last year, the three agencies—DAR, DOLE, and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) had been assisting the UMA in the rescue of sugarcane workers who escaped from Hacienda Luisita.
So far, there have been 108 sakadas from December to March of this year, Mariano said, adding that many Mindanao sacadas who fled from Hacienda Luisita—some hailing from as far as Sultan Kudarat province—are still in Luzon because they do not have the means to travel back to their homes.