Negros Sugar Workers Hold “Tiempo Muerto” Protests

August 10, 2016

By UMA Pilipinas

BACOLOD CITY – Tiempo Muerto (dead season) or the annual off-milling season in the sugar industry spells extreme hunger and bitter suffering for the thousands of affected farm workers and their dependents here in the country’s reputed “sugar bowl.” During this lull between planting and harvest, workers are left without any source of income.

Danilo Ramos, Secretary General of the national agriworkers center Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), joins sugar workers from different Negros Occidental municipalities in protests here in Bacolod City today, as they demand immediate aid from concerned government institutions such as the Departments of Labor (DOLE), Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the Provincial Government.

“Sugar workers bear the brunt of tiempo muerto every year. They try to look for other modes of decent employment or livelihood but these are obviously scarce because Negros – in this day and age – is still dominated by a decrepit monocrop industry and by centuries-old feudal oppression,” said Ramos. Land monopoly and the traditional reign of hacienderos are still very much pronounced in Negros Region, where around 48% of Philippine sugarcane is produced.

The protest actions which will run until August 12 are led by the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), UMA’s local affiliate in Negros, and the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) in Negros.

Since June, or since the waning of the sugarcane harvest and milling season, farm workers have begun staging local protests and campaigns to ease the effects of tiempo muerto in various Negros municipalities and sugar districts such as Murcia, Don Salvador Benedicto, Talisay City, Silay City, EB Magalona, Manapla, and Escalante City. Tiempo Muerto will last until mid-September, when some of the haciendas begin cane harvest.

NFSW Chairperson Roland Rillo said that the protests are for the sugar workers’ very survival, as the dreaded tiempo muerto crisis period has “had a double whammy effect on sugar workers this year.” Like many other Philippine provinces, Negros Occidental was also hit by drought caused by the El Nino phenomenon since late last year until the first quarter of this year.

According to NFSW, the sugar haciendas can only offer “budgeted work” during tiempo muerto, usually non-productive tasks with fixed rates of only P500 to P1,000 every 15 days on average. “It redounds to a measly P8.33 to P16.66 budget per head per day for a family of hacienda workers with 4 members,” said Rillo.

On the other hand, sugar barons and mill owners who belong to the so-called “old rich” profit from the sweat and blood of their workers. A recent survey conducted by NFSW shows that sugar planters – or the usual hacienderos and their‘aryendador’ (lease agents or financiers) scions — amass an average of Php 80,000 net income from a 1-hectare sugarcane farm.

Sugar workers demand that the provincial government’s Php 40 M calamity funds, and the multi-million Social Amelioration Fund (SAF) handled by DOLE, be utilized to provide immediate relief to affected sugar workers.

Aside from immediate aid, UMA also called on the Duterte administration to heed the farmworkers’ demand for genuine land reform and national industrialization. “Tiempo Muerto will continue to be a season of hunger and death for sugar workers every year, if the country’s fundamental land problem is not seriously addressed,” ended Ramos.

Reference: Danilo Ramos, Secretary General, UMA, CP # 09994363493