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Sugar barons funded at the expense of small farmers

TARLAC (Mabuhay) : The National Federation of the Union of Agricultural Workers has expressed disappointment and anger at the president of The Philippines, Noynoy Aquino, as well as the Department of Agrarian Reform, Department of Agriculture and the Sugar Regulatory Administration for providing billions of pesos of public funds to finance sugar block farms.

The union described the scheme as being something new and devious, saying that it heavily favours the business interests of the big sugar barons—like the Aquino-Cojuangco family, that owns the controversial Luisita Hacienda, and the hacienderos in general.

John Milton Lozande, the acting chairperson of the union and the secretary of the National Federation of Sugar Workers, said in a press release on September 3, “This multi-billion peso budget will benefit only President Aquino’s kin and other big hacienderos and sugar barons, probably including the Liberal Party and its allies.”

Lozande says that Proceso
Alcala, the secretary of the Department of Agrarian Reform, and the administrator of the Sugar Regulatory Administration, Maria Regina Bautista-Martin, have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to introduce a convergence programme on the local sugarcane development.

He adds that the Department of Agrarian Reform has also announced it will provide a 424.6 million peso ($77.2 million) assistance subsidy for sugar block farms.

Lozande adds that the sugar administration has allocated 30 million pesos ($5.45 million) for block farms on top of the 1.7 billion peso ($30.9 million) block farm budget sourced by the Department of Agriculture through the General Appropriations Act of 2015 and
the Sugar Industry Development Act.

He stressed that no one believes Alcala or Aquino when they say that the sugar block farm programme will improve the lives of farmworkers.

“Only the hacienderos and sugar barons will receive funds from these government agencies, because they control the block farms. Even the funding for farm equipment and farm to market roads, which we all know is mired in corruption, could be used by the ruling party for next year’s presidential elections,” Lozande added.

The union says that it believes that the Aquino administration is being most insensitive in publicising the allocation of billions of pesos of public funds to landlords, while thousands of farmworkers are currently mired in poverty and hunger due to the dead season, when the sugarcane industry temporarily grinds to a halt for four to six months before the next milling season begins.

He pointed out that on the island of Negros, thousands of farmworkers under the local affiliate of the Union of Agricultural Workers and the National Federation of Sugar Workers conducted a series of protests from the end of July to highlight their plight during dead season.

The Department of Agriculture says that for a three year period, it will fund 99 block farms nationwide, including 10 on Hacienda Luisita.

“With this plan, the Department of Agriculture alone is allocating a hefty average of 4.288 million pesos ($750,400) per block farm. What’s more, the funds are coursed through the Sugar Regulatory Administration and the Department of Agricultural Reform,” the Lozande says in the press release.

Sugar block farms are a consolidation of small farms into 30 to 50 hectare lots to take advantage of plantation-scale production. The union says that essentially, block farms are designed to re-concentrate land back into the hands of landlords and their minions, who act as farm managers.

“Under block farming, agrarian reform beneficiaries only retain ownership of the land on paper, while they are rehired as farmworkers. Block farming enjoys financing schemes, much like various Agribusiness Ventures Agreements, such as joint-ventures, contract growing, leaseback and others,” Lozande esplains.

The union is claiming that the majority of sugar cane farms that were supposedly distributed to farmers under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Programme are already back in the hands of the big hacienderos and sugar barons.

Lozande maintains that in Negros Occidental, 80 per cent of the beneficiaries have had their land put under onerous lease agreements with landlords or big sugar planters, while it is widely believed that most farmworker-beneficiaries in Hacienda Luisita have had their lot allocations leased to financier-dummies of the Cojuangco-Aquino family at an extremely low rate of 7,500 pesos ($1,132) per 66 hectares per year.

“Agri-workers know how corrupt Alcala, Aquino and his whole cabal of hacienderos and trapos in the Liberal Party are,” Lozande stressed. “They will earn the ire of starving farmworkers nationwide come election time.”