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Farmers protest sugar mill closure, abrupt loss of livelihood

Planters bring rotting sugarcane to posh Bonifacio Global City to dramatize plight

Farmers’ groups asked the authorities to take over operations of a Batangas sugar mill they say closed down due to the government non-stop importation policies as well as failure to stop smuggling of agricultural products into the country.

Representatives of more than 12,000 sugar farm workers of the Central Azucarera de Don Pedro, Inc. (CADPI) in Nasugbu, Batangas protested in front of mill operator Roxas Holdings, Inc. (RHI) in Taguig City on Friday, March 17, demanding immediate aid for their abrupt loss of livelihood since December of last year.

Dumping dried up and rotting sugarcane shoots in front of RHI’s headquarters to show the status of their un-harvested and un-milled crop, the protesters also pressed the government to re-open the mill instead of relying on sugar imports.

They were joined by members of the Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), and the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW).

CADPI, one of the oldest and biggest raw sugar producers in Luzon, filed for permanent closure last December 15 after “experiencing operational and financial challenges affecting the sugar industry in the Batangas area.”

The closure affects 10,980 hectares of sugarcane areas and has so far left 4,584 sugarcane planters bankrupt.

UMA spokesperson and NFSW secretary general John Milton Lozande said CADPI’s abrupt closure ignores its existing milling contracts with small planters as well as its service agreements with several hauling partners.

“Sugar farm workers who cut and load sugarcane from the fields to the milling facilities have been jobless since December. The RHI Agri-Business Development Corporation (RADC) also entered into crop loan and contract growing agreements with various sugar planters who are not yet paid due to the mill closure,” Lozande said.

Dried and rotting sugar cane the farmers brought to a posh corporate headquarters to dramatize their sudden loss of livelihood. (KMP-supplied photo)

Lozande also revealed that the farmers held a dialogue with Department of Agriculture (DA) undersecretary Domingo Panganiban last February 15 who promised to have their crops milled at the Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT).

Lozande said that both the DA and the Batangas provincial government agreed to fund the cost of transporting 60 to 70 truckloads of sugarcane to CAT, but remains unfulfilled until the planters’ crops have gone way past their regular harvesting period.

The affected farm workers and planters are demanding that the promised fund be used for compensation for their losses instead.

Aside from the uncontrolled smuggling of sugar into the country, KMP chairperson Danilo Ramos blamed the situation to the government’s “non-stop importation” policy, with the latest Sugar Order instructing the importation of some 440,000 metric tons of sugar.

“The government should support local sugar farmers and planters instead of relying on sugar imports,” Ramos said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

NUJP-Batangas slams PNP’s policy on no media access to spot reports

By Lottie Salarda / NUJP Media Safety Office

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines-Batangas Chapter slammed a new Philippine National Police (PNP) Regional Office IV-A policy disallowing members of the local media to access spot police reports “unless a clearance is secured from its national headquarters.”

The policy has been enforced since June 19, 2018, the local media group said.

NUJP Batangas said they were notified through the official email address of Batangas PNP.

Marlon Luistro, GMA Network’s stringer in Batangas said he was informed by Batangas PNP PIO Police Senior Inspector Hazel Luma-ang Suarez that the prohibition is in accordance with existing national policy.

 “Lahat ng police stations (ng Batangas), ayaw magbigay ng police report. Itinuturo lahat sa PIO nila. Hindi nagbibigay ng information ang Chiefs of Police nila. Nagtataka kami bakit hindi nila binibigay iyon. Yung ibinibigay lang nila ay yung mga press release ng mga accomplishments nila,” Luistro said.

“Sa bago nilang policy hindi na namin naibabalita ang ibang nangyayari, katulad ng stabbing, shooting incident at iba pa,” Luistro added.

Luistro learned, however, that there is no such policy in place in other provinces.

Batangas journalists wrote to Chief PNP Police Director General Oscar Albayalde last September 24 to seek clarification but have yet to receive a reply.

They have also requested a dialogue with Albayalde as well as Batangas and Calabarzon police directors.

Upon learning of their letter to the Chief PNP, PSI Suarez called Luistro on his cellphone asking why Luistro’s group brought the issue before the office of the Chief PNP.

Luistro told Suarez that they only wanted clarification on the new policy from Albayalde himself. #

Co-workers condemn murder of Batangas election officer

Commission on Elections (Comelec) employees condemned the murder of an election officer in a Batangas town Monday, saying the killing highlights the culture of impunity prevailing in the country.

The Comelec Employees Union (EU) in a statement said it condemns in no uncertain terms the brutal killing of Mabini, Batangas election officer Noel Miralles who was gunned down by two still unknown assailants in Bauan town.

Miralles, 53, was about to board a tricycle in Barangay 4, Poblacion in Bauan when shot by “riding in tandem” assailants, killing him on the spot.

Comelec-EU president Mac Ramirez said the victim was a cheerful person who loved karaoke.

“I could not imagine Noel having enemies,” Ramirez said.

A former journalism colleague said the victim previously worked as a writer with the Philippine Information Agency and as a broadcaster with defunct Batangas City radio stations Radio DZBR and DWAM AM in the 1990s before joining the poll body as election officer.

“[He was] humble, unassuming, kind. I can’t even imagine why he should be killed, unless work related in Comelec, especially Bauan and Mabini areas,” Miralle’s friend and colleague Nomer “Bong” Macalalad told Kodao.

Macalalad said he hopes Miralles’s murder will be an exemption to the “notorious” string of unsolved murders in Bauan for the past 18 years.

Another source told Kodao that Miralles handled several electoral fraud cases when he served as election officer of Bauan.

Bauan has been ruled by the Dolor dynasty led by its patriarch Ryan for decades.

Municipal officials of Bauan have yet to issue a statement on Miralles’ killing.

Comelec-EU said the killing of Miralles highlights the prevailing culture of impunity in the country.

Comelec-EU noted that Miralles’s murder came at the heels of the killing of Office of the Ombudsman assistant special prosecutor Madonna Joy Tanyag in Quezon City and Fr. Richmond Villafor in Zaragoza, Nueva Ecija.

“The killings must stop. The culture of impunity in the country must end. We demand no less than justice,” the group said.

Election officers and employees nationwide will wear black tomorrow, June 13, to call for justice for Miralles as well as all other victims of senseless killings in the country, Comelec-EU said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)