DOLE gave sugar farmers' amelioration fund to planters – Bukidnon farmers

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/13 Dec) – Where is our sugarcane amelioration bonus? This was the question some 150 farm workers asked the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) during a protest rally from December 5 to 9 in front the provincial capitol here.

The farm workers, belonging to the Kahugpungan sa mga Mag-uuma sa Bukidnon (KASAMA) and Organisasyon sa Yanong Obrerong Nagkahiusa (OGYON), have sought the intervention of the provincial government on their plight, including the underpayment of the minimum wage rate and the non-compliance of work benefits and other issuers.

It took two days for Vice Gov. Jose Ma. R. Zubiri Jr., a sugar scion, to meet the farmers in a dialogue on December 7. He said the farmers should report to him who among the Bukidnon sugar planters were violating labor laws.

Zubiri then called for the presence of DOLE-Bukidnon director Saturnino Escobido and the provincial chiefs of offices of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Office and the Department of Agrarian Reform.

The Social Amelioration Bonus due to sugarcane farmers was coursed through the planters instead of the farm workers in Bukidnon, Escobido admitted in a meeting with the farmers’ groups and an irate Zubiri.

The farmers demanded that the bonus should be coursed directly to the farmers’ groups, not the planters.

KASAMA leader Danilo Menente admitted that only few of the workers received the bonus and if they did, the amount was for pittance.

Under the Sugar Amelioration Act of 1991 or Republic Act 6982, the DOLE shall set aside 10 liens, which is equivalent to P10, in every LKG (50 kilos) of sugar produced.

This will go to the Social Amelioration Fund (SAF), of which 80 percent should go to Social Amelioration Bonus while the remaining 20 percent goes to an economic project for the farm workers, maternity and death benefits and administrative support.

The farmers’ groups asserted that most of the sugar workers, especially the seasonal and pakyaw-based workers, do not know the social amelioration and its benefits.

Escovido vowed to do something to grant the groups’ demand for direct distribution to the farmers, and thus doing away with coursing the money through the planters as conduit.

The fight of Bukidnon farm workers is not the first in the country. The National Federation of Sugar Workers has demanded since 2006 that the government should release the unclaimed Social Amelioration Fund to the farm workers, and to the unions and workers’ associations. As of that year, unclaimed SAF already reached P150 million.

Zubiri told the picketers that the provincial government has passed an ordinance for the strict implementation of labor laws in the province’s agricultural plantations.

But Menente told reporters the ordinance covered only firms, which contracted laborers. “What about those in the informal sector?” he asked.

The farmers told Zubiri that Bukidnon’s sugar cane workers only receive about P120 per day. The Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity Board has set the minimum wage rate for agricultural workers in southern Bukidnon at P252 per day.

Zubiri tasked Escobido to address the problem. Escobido said the sugarcane workers were consulted. But the farmers lamented that only unionized sugar mill workers, not sugar cane farmers, were consulted.

Escobido vowed to include the sugarcane workers in the upcoming regional consultations of the RTWPB in Cagayan de Oro City. (Walter I. Balane / MindaNews)