"SACADAS" or seasonal farm workers from Bukidnon and other parts of Mindanao who said they were recruited to work in Hacienda Luisita but ended up supposedly working in near slave-like conditions gathered in Cagayan de Oro City Wednesday, January 11, to demand justice and to seek redress from government.

More than a thousand workers were supposedly recruited by Greenhand Labor Service Cooperative to work in sugar plantations within the Hacienda Luisita compound, many of them coming from Bukidnon, Cotabato, Davao provinces, Misamis Oriental, and Lanao del Norte.

Mario Memper, from Bukidnon and one of the sugarcane workers or "sacada" hired by Greenhand, said the employment agency began hiring in the province, August last year.

Dozens of farm hands from Bukidnon applied and were hired.

Based on the contract, the workers would be given free food, rice, medicines, and housing, with benefits like Social Security, PhilHealth and Pagibig.

“The recruiters promised us with what they called the ‘Tarlac Package’ which also included a daily wage of P450 on top of the benefits and free provisions," Memper said.

Mario Magnaran, a worker from San Miguel village, Maramag, Bukidnon, said he was attracted by the "Tarlac Package" but was dismayed the promises were not fulfilled by the employers.

Before he was recruited, Magnaran, 58, was contractual worker at a large agri-company in Bukidnon.

During the first month, Magnaran said he and the other workers were given P2,500 as cash advance, but he was only able to send P1,500 to his family as the P1,000 was deducted for items given to them like kitchenware.

Instead of a daily wage, the workers were paid based on the actual work they did.

The workers, he said, lived in a house about two hours’ trip from the plantation within the Hacienda Luisita in Mapalacsiao village, Tarlac, and were forced to wake up as early as 3 a.m. to go to the sugarcane field.

When it was clear that the management had no plan of fulfilling its obligation to give them the "Tarlac Package," Magnaran said they decided to escape. Workers from other areas did the same.

Last December 28, the 36 workers, including four minors, from Bukidnon packed their bags and, with the help of the social welfare department, left the Hacienda Luisita compound.

Magnaran said they stayed for a few days at the Department of Agrarian Reform building in Quezon City. On Wednesday, they arrived in Cagayan de Oro and left for Bukidnon the same day.

According to UMA (Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura), the workers will file criminal charges against the contractors and employers including Greenhand, Agrikulto Inc. and Central Azucarera de Tarlac for human trafficking.

Earlier, the sacadas have already filed labor complaints against the officials of Greenhand and its principals at the National Labor Relations Commission in San Fernando City, Pampanga, last week.

“The (sacadas) were subjected to worst forms of exploitation and contractualization in Hacienda Luisita,” said Danilo Ramos, UMA secretary-general in a statement released to the media Wednesday.

The condition of the workers, he said, were worsened by the Department of Labor order 168, adding the “modern-day slavery” experienced by the sacadas is “technically legitimized by such Dole (Department of Labor and Employment) order.”

The order, Ramos said, practically allowed the employers of these sugarcane plantations to sign sacadas as slaves.

“There is even an order specifically for sacadas that institutionalizes the oppressive ‘pakyaw’ wages or group rates, and allows for the employer to oblige sacadas to pay for work tools and facilities,” Ramos noted.

As they went home in Bukidnon, the workers said they will demand justice for what happened to them at the hands of the sugarcane owners and their functionaries.