President Rodrigo Duterte has proven that he does not think twice about naming names, a strategy that seems to be more about shock and awe, and instilling fear in the fearless, who are also powerful and moneyed.
And while many of us shake our heads at the daring of this man — unlike any other president we’ve had in recent memory, really — many also shake their heads in disgust: this is against the rule of law, this is against due process, this is trial by publicity.
But of course we’ve put our politicians and leaders through the latter in different ways in the past, and we’ve seen this tag-team of government, mainstream media, and social media taking down a political “enemy” for all the world to see. In those instances, the one who points out the injustice is the minority, dismissed as merely “noisy.”
In the case of President Duterte though, it seems public opinion is divided on this name and shame enterprise. I’m just waiting to see who else he’s ready to take down a notch or two from their … ehem … feudal lord status.
Money, politics, sugar
Dead season or Tiempo Muerte is about as old as feudal relations in this country. A 1985 feature article on Negros Occidental farmers in Los Angeles Times (Nick B. Williams, Jr., Sept 1985), speaks of this dead season to have been, in the beginning, a matter of mere time: literally, the season between planting and harvest.
But in 1975, sugar collapsed, and of course the ones who suffered the brunt of it were sugar farmers — oppressed as they already were by their feudal relationship with sugar plantation owners. (This happened during Ferdinand Marcos’s Martial Law, which was also purportedly about economic development.) By 1985, there was a growing insurgency, given hunger and malnutrition, anger and discontent among the peasant class.
A PCIJ study from 2014 reveals that from 1990 onwards, the sugar business would go through an almost constant rise and fall, though by 2012, “Negros Island’s sugarlandia grew from just 121,249 hectares in 1990, to 183,051 hectares” (Julius Marivels, April 2014).
It’s important to point out that while sugar plantations grew, this did not mean an improvement on the working and living conditions of farmers, owing to their feudal relationship with plantation owners — and the latter’s, uh, lifestyles: “Indeed, the sweet reed has sustained the affluence of many hacendados or landlords particularly of Negros Occidental who, by many accounts, are mostly given to opulent consumption, gaming, and partying.” (Mariveles).
Probably a measure of the strong hold of feudal relations in the country is how we continue to be faced with exactly this same crisis, 30 years after. But of course there is also the fact that in this country, the ones who hold feudal power are also the ones who hold political power.
“The ties that bind sugar workers and hacendados have been constantly affirmed in a parade of Philippine elections. Members of many hacendado clans are perennial winners of local elective positions to this day. As a power circle also called “the sugar bloc,” they have propped the path to victory of candidates for president and other national positions by delivering either campaign funds or votes, or both. Indeed, aside from sugar, some scholars say packing votes for their favored politicians has become a second cash crop in Negros where “hacienda politics” rule.” (Mariveles)
Worse than dead season
In 2016, things are no different. Or things may be worse given climate change and its repercussions on an agricultural country like the Philippines.
The past week, hacienda workers who are part of the National Federation of Sugar Workers and Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas in Negros launched a three-day protest action, reminding us all that no matter the President’s appointment of progressives at the Departments of Agrarian Reform (DAR), Social Welfare (DSWD), and Labor and Employment (DOLE), there remains a need to shout loud enough to be heard given as well the many issues that need to be dealt with across all sectors.
The workers’ demands are simple enough. First, the release of the P40 million in Quick Response Funds that was authorized by the governor, given the state of calamity declared in April this year. Second, a demand “for food aid in a time of crisis” from the provincial DSWD. Third, the request that “unclaimed and undistributed Social Amelioration Fund (SAF)” be used by DOLE to aid these hacienda workers at this time. (UMAPilipinas Press Release, Aug 10)
After all, limited work in the sugar plantations have kept farmers’ earnings to P500 to P1000 EVERY 15 days, or P8.33 to P16.66 per person per day for a family of four. (PR, Aug 10).
This is not limited to Negros Occidental: “Hunger during off-milling season is also felt in other major sugar-producing areas such as Bukidnon, Isabela, Tarlac, Pampanga, Batangas; and Leyte and Panay islands.” (PR, Aug 11)
And because the sugar plantation owners also hold political power, it becomes easy for existing laws to be violated as regards just wages. “Minimum wage rates prescribed by regional wage boards are blatantly violated by hacienderos and aryendadors who perpetuate the oppressive “pakyaw” or piece-rate scheme.” (PR, Aug 11)
“Wages can be as low as P13 a day in Isabela, while P200 a day is the highest average daily wage rate in all other areas. It is still very common for workers to use up all their wages in debts <…> even before they actually receive the money,” says Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) Sec. Gen. Danilo Ramos.
This is utterly unacceptable, especially when one considers how the sugar bloc was a solid voice during the last electoral campaign, throwing its support behind a son of Negros, never mind that their farmers were going hungry, never mind that they were in dire need of assistance.
In 2016, one hopes the President will get just as angry about this oppressive state of affairs, and finally talk about feudal lords and hacienderos, under whose watch farmers and their families are impoverished and oppressed, neglected and dying.
We hope we won’t have to wait too long.