Communique of the NPFSS Summit Workshop on the Situation of Agricultural Workers in Plantations
Resist Expansion of Agribusiness Plantations (REAP) led the “Workshop on the Situation of Agricultural Workers in Plantations” last March 25, 2021. The sectoral workshop is part of the nationwide effort to know the plight of the different sectors in food production and agriculture, craft an action plan, and present it in the upcoming National People's Food Systems Summit headed by AgroecologyX.
The fourth in a series of food systems workshops under the National Peoples’ Food Systems Summit, this sectoral workshop tackled the different issues agricultural workers are facing. Breakout sessions were also held to provide a platform for participants to craft resolutions and recommendations on the topics discussed.
Among the speakers were Gi Estrada of Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), Butch Lozande of the National Federation of Sugarcane Farmers (NFSW), Cris Panerio of MASIPAG, and Bong Labog of Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU).
Gi Estrada of UMA discussed the current condition of agricultural workers in the Philippines. Estrada expounded on the neoliberal policies of the Duterte administration that further aggravates the slave-like conditions of farmers and agricultural workers. He forwarded the call of agricultural workers in plantations for just wages and benefits, respect for human rights, genuine agrarian reform, and national industrialization.
Pj Dizon discussed the exploitative working conditions inside the 12,000-hectare plantation owned by Sumifru Phils Corporation. Dizon is a member of NAMASUFA-NAFLU-KMU, a duly registered local union and the Sole and Exclusive Bargaining Agent of Sumifru workers in Compostela. Dizon alleged that the multi-national corporation is infamous for union-busting, red-tagging, and even assassination attempts on unionized workers. Despite the rampant attacks on their union, he said they would persist in their collective struggle for regularization, living wage, and freedom of assembly.
The situation of sugar workers in sugarcane plantations was discussed by Butch Lozande of NFSW. He said that agricultural workers' wages remain in the lowest, slave-like levels despite profits amassed and vulgar opulence displayed by hacienderos. The most prominent landlord clans in the country use their political influence and state power to maintain their oppressive class rule in the semi-feudal, semi-colonial Philippines. Lozande also expounded on workers’ situation during the pandemic, where restrictions on movement and lack of financial services exacerbated the suffering of sugar workers.
Desiano Talbo, an agricultural worker from Palawan and a member of Palawan NGO Network Incorporated (PNNI) shared the situation of plantation workers in Palawan. Talbo said agricultural workers in their province are paid meager wages. Oliver Tredez of CISA further expounded on the unbridled land grabbing of foreign plantations on indigenous peoples’ ancestral domains.
Cris Panerio discussed the network’s critique of the United Nations’ Food Systems Summit. Panero said that many groups are concerned that the Summit will serve only to further corporate interests at the expense of our farmers. As a response, Agroecology X is organizing a parallel national summit to drum up public awareness and support towards agroecological initiatives and towards a genuinely pro-people food system.
Bong Labog, Chairperson of KMU, discussed the history of the May 1 Movement as well as the current conditions of workers in the country. Labog said that workers are not only exploited, but their freedom to assembly is also heavily curtailed. He said that labor groups call for a stop in the implementation of the Joint Industrial Peace and Concern Office, an anti-labor policy that is violative of fundamental rights of workers to form unions. He also forwarded workers’ demands for national minimum wage, humane working conditions, and respect for human rights. Labog highlighted the fundamental alliance of peasants and workers in the plight for genuine agrarian reform and national industrialization.
In the afternoon session, the speakers and participants from various provinces actively discussed their issues, demands, and recommendations that will be forwarded to the government’s Food Security Summit.
In closing, Tonying Flores of UMA said this workshop shed light on the issues and demands of agricultural workers, which will be forwarded to the upcoming UN Food Systems Summit. Flores exclaimed that the fight persists despite state-sponsored attacks, as genuine change can only be achieved through the united and collective struggle of workers and peasants. #