AGRARIAN Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano hit out on Tuesday former President Benigno Aquino III for keeping silent on the recruitment of seasonal contractual sugar farmers, locally called sacada, from Mindanao at the Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac.
“Why is ex-PNoy mum on slave-like condition of sakadas in Hacienda Luisita?” Mariano asked, demanding that Aquino and the rest of the Aquino family answer the sacada complaints of unfair labor practices.
“The Cojuangco-Aquino clan has a lot of explaining why Central Azucarera de Tarlac allowed the illegal recruitment of some 1,000 sacada [workers] from Mindanao and subjected these sacada to slave wages and slave-like working conditions in Hacienda Luisita,” Mariano said.
“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,” he added.
He said the former president has “turned a blind eye and a deaf ear” toward the gross social injustice and violation of human rights committed by his family against the Mindanao sacada.
Former Tarlac congressman Jose “Peping” Cojuangco Jr. told the media in January that Hacienda Luisita did not need to hire laborers, including cane cutters from Mindanao, because the estate has been using mechanical harvesters to cut and collect sugar cane.
Cojuangco is one of the owners of the remaining lands not covered by agrarian reform in Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac province.
But Mariano said a probe conducted by the Department of Agrarian Reform and Department of Labor and Employment proved Cojuangco’s assertion to be false.
In August 2016, Agrikulto Inc. requested the recruitment agency Greenhand Labor Service Cooperative to procure on their behalf some 1,000 sugarcane workers or cane cutters to work in Hacienda Luisita with Agrikulto business manager Lito Laus signing the request letter.
Agrikulto Inc. is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Central Azucarera de Tarlac, the biggest sugar mill in Central Luzon. The clan of the Cojuangcos-Aquinos and the Lorenzo family jointly own company.
Of the approximately 1,000 sugarcane workers recruited in Mindanao, some 160 sacada 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, a local affiliate of the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura, affirmed a number of their member-farmworkers were recruited as cane cutters or sacada and transported to Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac.
“Many of the recruited [Mindanao tribesmen called lumad] were unable to read and write and were recruited through verbal agreements or upon endorsement of lumad chieftains,” DAR said.
Recruited lumad were promised a “Tarlac package” 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.