SAGAY: Of Tiempo del Muerto and Tinggulutom


44828932_1324803434329057_1908314700450365440_nLife in sugar cane plantation is not as sweet as its produce. It is neither  a romantic scenery of a rural setting, nor an  idyllic  paradise where the wind  is soft and  the  sun rises and sets with the  promise of   much awaited rest for the   day’s toil.

The truth is  sugar plantation workers earn an unbelievable  slave wage of    Php 500 to Php 750 weekly wage, or Php 83.00 to 125.00 (USD 2.31) a day. This is  way below the minimum wage which is in itself very low also,  of only Php 245 per day for farm workers in sugar plantation or haciendas.     Still there are those who receive P40 per day (USD 0.75) for  particular work of  weeding the plots or harvesting the canes.  A conversation with a  farmworker  revealed that  usually, the contract for labor per hectare is at Php 1,600.00 (USD 29.70). Practically, harvesting or even weeding is done collectively by a 10-member group to do the work in a hectare of field for four days.  So, on the 4th day,  each worker  will be receiving P160.00 or P40.00 for each day of  work.  “You  cannot really do the work alone and earn that P1600. Otherwise you will die before you reach the 4th day. The scorching sun, and a hectare is too much for a single person to work on, ” says a farm worker.  After telling that to me the farmer just  smiled  with  a deep, heavy sigh, as he wipe his face with his rough and rock-hard hands that   have known  pain and agony of  an exploitative situation.

44771219_1991167567609186_1907017354039001088_nDecades after decades, the farm workers, along with their families have been enslaved by the feudal bondage spawned  by social injustice.  Generations of slaves explain why the richest land owners maintain their wealth and power . According to  Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA),  1,860 big landlords owned the 40% or the 424,130 hectares of sugar lands in Negros Island.

The first time I heard “tiempo del muerto” brings in a image of tombs, and funeral,  of wailing and grieving.  “Tiempo del Muerto “   or Tigkiriwi (hunger)  for the sugar workers  means  a dead season for the them, or a time of death. It is a off-milling season, a time when the sugar plantation workers do not have income especially because they do not own the land. This tiempo del muerto signals  that hunger is   intensifying its  grip on the  sugar workers who live the live of  “slaves.”- The sugar plantation workers struggle for survival more than ever during the tiempo del muerto as they face    poverty, hunger, disease and  violation of their human rights and dignity.

It is but justifiable that   the farmers and the poor must rise against the system of injustice and violence that bred modern-day slavery  and inhuman situation of the people.  They take steps   so that their children will not experience the curse of miseries of tiempo del muerto.

This assertion comes in different   forms, such as  dialogues, strikes, protests,  assertion of the right to till the land, assertion of their legal rights .   But at the very least, what the farmers need is to feed their families during the period of the tiempo del muerto.

Historically, the poor farmers’ assertion for their rights to fight and struggle  for agrarian reform had been met  with fascist  retaliation.  Worst, the state agents  would put  blame upon the farmers for killing their fellow  farmers.  The military and the government agencies  would always blame the revolutionaries who fight for transformation – the Communists Party of the Philippines and the NPA for the killings, or the farmer-workers   organization . They become  the easy  scapegoat  to cover up the state accountability to aggressively  take an action to implement land reform. The long years of waiting for the implementation of genuine land reform remains an elusive dream.  The legitimate and moral demand for land for the tillers are not heeded.  The Sagay   Massacre is not the first massacre that happened in our country.    Among the killings and massacres in our recent history are  the following:


According to the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), under President Rodrigo Duterte, one farmer is killed every two daysTo date there  are 172 farmers killed under his term.


Poor and landless farmers live in constant food insecurities . There seem to be no quiet nights for the poor farmers who  are cultivating the land every day of their lives. Yet,  the fruit of their labor is offered to the coffers of the wealthy landlord, while they are left with empty hands, most of the time heavily indebted.


44607398_342255339916932_3889681692184543232_n.jpgThe Bungkalan (Land Cultivation) is an organized collective action of the farmers to plant vegetables that would sustain their families and save them from hunger when the Tiempo Muerto comes.  In the case of the Sagay farmers, they planted, legumes, corn,  sweet potatoes, and banana.  Instead of begging for charity and alms from merciful people, they opted to be self-sufficient by nourishing the land with legumes, so it could yield food that is basic needs of the farmers and their families .  The night of their first  day of their Bungkalan was tragic- 9 people were killed including  3 women and 2 minors.

The brain behind the massacre of the nine people did not want the farmers, who are regarded as “slaves,” to be empowered.    Only a tyrannical rule can do such an attack on farmers.

Only  through  genuine agrarian reform that the  farmers will be set free from  years of feudal bondage.  ##






Norma P. Dollaga

Kapatirang Simbahan Para sa Bayan (KASIMBAYAN)







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