Penalize GMA, Not Sugar Workers – Sugar Workers’ Group

A leader of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) has raised concern over reported plans by the U.S. to impose penalties on all sugar exports from the Philippines should the Arroyo government fail to address a complaint initiated a few months back by the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF). He said that penalties should be meted directly on the Arroyo regime, not on sugar workers.

BY KARL G. OMBION
Bulatlat
Vol. VII, No. 33, September 23-29, 2007

BACOLOD CITY – A leader of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) has raised concern over reported plans by the U.S. to impose penalties on all sugar exports from the Philippines should the Arroyo government fail to address a complaint initiated a few months back by the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF). He said that penalties should be meted directly on the Arroyo regime, not on sugar workers.

The ILRF complaint, submitted last June before the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, cites the Arroyo regime for violating workers��� freedom of association and right to organize and join unions. Citing data from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the ILRF petition stated that in 2006 alone, Philippine trade unionists and labor activists experienced 110 assaults on picket lines, 102 physical assaults and injuries, 41 instances of torture, 33 killings, 40 abductions, 748 instances of intimidation, 946 grave threats, and 159 illegal arrests or detentions, and 1,097 instances of blocking, breaking up or violently dispersing demonstrations.

The U.S. is reportedly considering the imposition of a penalty of P662 ($14.61 based on an exchange rate of $1:P45.31 as of Sept. 20) for every ton of sugar exported from the Philippines should the Arroyo administration fail to respond satisfactorily to the complaint.

“Penalize President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, not the sugarcane growers, for her policy of killing all legitimate dissent and democratic opposition to her administration,” said NFSW’s John Milton Lozande.

“We are fully aware that the imposition of penalty of P662 for every ton of sugar export to the U.S. will hit the medium and small sugar producers, especially the agrarian reform beneficiaries,” NFSW’s. “An estimated 90 percent of the sugarcane growers (are) small and poor agrarian reform beneficiaries and medium sugarcane growers.”

Lozande said that in Negros, the names of NFSW leaders Edwin Bargamento, Manuel Batolina and Mario Fernandez are in the long list of victims of summary executions perpetrated by the military and its “death squads.” Meanwhile, Lozande said, NFSW Education Committee staff member Perseus Geagoni’s forced disappearance “still brings a painful experience to his wife and children,” Lozande also said.

“They are genuine and sincere labor activist who have sacrificed their lives serving the exploited and oppressed sugar workers of Negros; they die against the backdrop of intense workers and peasants repression in the sugar industry,” Lozande said.

Lozande stressed that hacienda workers continue to live in a very miserable existence. Whenever the workers complain of their meager income and unpaid salaries, they are slapped with job termination and union repression, he said. “The lives of agrarian reform beneficiaries (who) comprise the bulk of sugar cane growers had deteriorated and were displaced due to lack of capital and support from the government; laborers still have to bear the low salaries and massive retrenchment in the sugar mills, industrial and commercial establishment, ‘flexible labor schemes’ implemented under the GATT-WTO (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade0World Trade Organization) agreement gives way to massive contractualization and union busting (which violate) the right of workers to job security,” he said.

Lozande further said, citing data from Kartapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights), that to date more than 880 activists and government critics have been killed and more than 184 missing since Arroyo assumed presidency and launched her own version of U.S. President George W.Bush’s so called “war on terrorism. “

“Even majority of medium and big planters condemn such high (numbers) of political killings,” he said.

“(But) why should the crimes of human rights violations and trade union repression will be charged against the sugarcane growers when it is PGMA that should be responsible?” Lozande however said.

“Let us not allow the world pressures and penalties for GMA’s terrorist campaign be passed on to the sugarcane growers and sugar workers; instead let GMA be punished for her acts,” he said. Bulatlat / With a report from Alexander Martin Remollino

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