TARLAC CITY -- The National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), a nationwide federation which made significant impact among sugar mill and field workers’ unions during the Marcos martial law era, was reestablished through a National Congress last May 30 to 31 in Bacolod City.

This was gleaned in a statement sent to SunStar Pampanga by the sugar workers’ group Wednesday.

NFSW, whose influence remained in Negros Island since the 1990s, was re-established as a nationwide federation of sugar workers amidst a martial law declaration in Mindanao

NFSW, founded in 1971, was formed out of the sugar workers and peoples’ struggles in the late 60’s and start of the 70’s. NFSW dared to advance sugar workers’ issues during the dark days of Marcos martial law.

Around 150 delegates from prominent sugar areas across the country – including Bukidnon, Cotabato and Davao, where sugar workers are affected by the blanket Martial Law declaration in Mindanao attended the NFSW national congress. Most delegates came from Negros Island, while representatives of sugar workers’ unions and associations from Panay, Batangas, Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac, Isabela, and Cagayan, vowed to strengthen the NFSW.

John Milton Lozande, secretary general of NFSW, said that sugar workers are resolute in the aim to consolidate the federation as the militant national federation to forward the interests and well-being of workers in the sugar industry, strengthen and sustain coordinated mass campaigns, and advance the mass movement to attain victories for sugar workers.

“The NFSW now adds its voice to the campaign against Martial Law in Mindanao and its possible nationwide implementation. Our ranks emulate the fierce stance of the NFSW founders who dared to stand against the Marcos dictatorship,” said Lozande.

“Martial law and the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus is tantamount to the surrender of our democratic rights. Sugar workers in the mills and sugarcane fields including the most-oppressed sacadas from Negros and Mindanao must now learn to stand up for their rights and get organized, especially amid this martial law declaration,” added Lozande.

Sugar workers fear that the snag in the peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) would also embolden state security forces to further its repressive policy against organized workers, “But these unfortunate developments are not stopping NFSW from supporting the talks and pushing for genuine land reform and national industrialization. The roots of the armed conflict must be addressed for the country to achieve a just and lasting peace,” said Lozande.

NFSW must take pride in its history against the Marcos dictatorship, according to NDF chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison, who sent a solidarity message for the congress. Even when many members were arrested during the said period, NFSW persisted in its organizing work. A number also joined armed struggle against the Marcos dictatorship after its leaders and members were arrested.

Because of its creative and daring organizing work, NFSW membership grew to 30,000 at the start of the 80’s. NFSW was also a founding member of the Kilusang Mayo Uno, which was established in 1980.

It could be said that NFSW's mass struggles contributed to the downfall of the US-Marcos dictatorship, which was ousted in a popular uprising only months after the Escalante massacre in September 1985.

“Militarists and imperialist lapdogs in the Duterte Cabinet should never underestimate the people’s movement, including the organized ranks of the sugar workers nationwide. For so long, they have endured oppression and repression from hacienderos and compradors who have utilized state and private security forces to deny them of their land, labor and human rights. We are referring to the Hacienda Luisita massacre in 2004, and the recent killings of prominent sugar workers leaders and organizers, Ariel Diaz of Isabela, and Alexander Ceballos of Negros.

“NFSW together with the rest of the Filipino people will never be cowed by martial law. We will resist it in all its forms and eventually prevail,” ended Lozande.

NFSW will stage a protest rally on June 1 in Bacolod City, to protest Duterte’s Martial Law declaration.