Hundreds of sakadas or migratory sugar workers recruited from Mindanao have become victims of a giant human trafficking scam when they were brought to Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac to work during the kabyaw or annual sugar harvest and milling season which started in November 2016.
Danilo “Ka Daning” Ramos, secretary general of the national agriworkers center Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) said that the sakadas sought UMA’s assistance through OGYON or Organisasyon sa Yanong Obrerong Nagkahiusa, local farmworkers’ union affiliated with UMA based in Bukidnon province.
A total of 43 sakadas from different towns of Bukidnon were “rescued” by UMA during the holiday season. The sugar workers were also immediately assisted by the offices of Sec. Judy Taguiwalo of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Sec. Rafael Mariano of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and Undersecretary Joel Maglunsod of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).
“This despicable practice of exploiting sakadas for the kabyaw season has long been uninterrupted in Hacienda Luisita,” said Ramos, who noted that during the Hacienda Luisita strike and massacre of 2004, among those arrested by police – even believed killed and then disappeared – were a number of nameless migratory sugar workers whose barracks or living quarters were then situated near the picketlines.
At least 160 of around 800 to a thousand sugar workers reportedly recruited from Mindanao have come from the province of Bukidnon. The rest come from other Mindano provinces such as Cotabato and Davao.
The sacadas were recruited by Greenhand Labor Service Cooperative (GLSC) managed by a certain Billy Baitus, based in Polomolok, South Cotabato. In Malaybalay, Bukidnon, the recruiters were identified as Oscar Sihagan and Evangeline Balmores.
According to OGYON, Greenhand was requested by the Cojuangco firm Agrikulto Inc. to procure a thousand sugar workers or cane cutters to work in Hacienda Luisita. Agrikulto, which is known to be headed by Jose “Peping” Cojuangco Jr, was reportedly bought by the sugar mill, Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) in 2015. CAT is still owned and managed by the Cojuangcos headed by Fernando Cojuangco, with Martin Lorenzo, a scion of the Lorenzo landlord clan of Mindanao.
“Like the Cojuangco-Aquinos, the Lorenzos are also notorious for exploitation of agricultural workers and massive landgrabbing for the expansion of their banana plantations in Mindanao,” said Ramos.
Agrikulto, Inc. is currently the biggest proprietor of the illicit aryendo or leaseback system in Hacienda Luisita.
“The existence of Agrikulto is glaring proof that BS Aquino’s land reform is a monumental failure. After grabbing lands from local Luisita farmworkers, they are now exploiting new workers from Mindanao,” said Ramos.
Minors, lumad among trafficked sakadas
Four out of the 43 rescued sugar workers are minors. More than half (24) are lumad of the Manobo tribe.
Two needed immediate medical attention. The first one, a senior citizen, was already sent home, while another is currently confined at a public hospital in Quezon City for a head injury. Doctors recommend immediate surgery but the family requests that the victim be treated in Mindanao.
During the administration of Pres. Fidel V. Ramos, under the government's privatization policy, the National Steel Corp. was turned over to the Malaysian investors in 1995.
In 2004, Indian investors took over and the steel mill shutdown in 2009.
According to the statement of Rep. Belmonte, the Philippines made a mistake in awarding the NSC to the Indians. The NSC was acquired by Pramod Mittal's Global Steel Holdings Ltd. from creditor banks in 2004 for a total price of P13.25 billion including an upfront cash of P1 billion while the remainder was to be paid over an 8-year-period.
The privatization of the National Steel Corporation under the Ramos administration was overseen by the former Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary Mar Roxas.
The National Steel Corp. during its glory days became the first government corporation to obtain an ISO-certification, it is complete with staff houses and other real estate assets inside its sprawling premises.
NSC was also the first government corporation to be declared Employer of the Year and also the first government corporation to be bestowed AIM's Award for Managerial Excellence in people development.
During its peak, NSC supplied 62 percent of the Philippine total flat steel demand (34 percent for hot-rolled products; 75 percent for cold-rolled products; 69 percent for tinplate products). It used to directly export an average of 4,000 MT per month to China
NSC generated R12 billion in annual revenues and earned a net income of P500 million every year, after paying duties and taxes of R1 billion yearly to the government.
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